As a life-long cat person, I was intrigued when I saw Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet by John Bradshaw. It’s a bit heavy-going, consisting primarily of scientific information rather than the usual anecdotal information found in cat books, but there’s some very interesting material here.
The first several chapters deal with the history (both evolutionary and domestic) of the house cat. There is archaeological evidence that cats have lived with humans for over 10,000 years, but recorded historical evidence only beginning about 3,500 years ago in Egypt. The history of cats in Egypt is bizarre and quite interesting. Cats were evidently both beloved as pets and used as sacrifices, although the two types seem to have been quite separate, with the sacrificial cats being bred in catteries by monks.
There’s also information about how cats got from one part of the world to another as well as lots of information on feline genetics. All very interesting material, particularly the section on cats being true carnivores. Dogs can fairly easily be fed a vegetarian diet since they are actually omnivores and can manage to use alternate protein sources. Cats need much more protein than dogs and even require specific types of protein for optimal health, including those that contain the amino acid taurine. Bradshaw states that cats cannot taste sugars (which I understand to be the standard scientific view) which leads me to wonder (not for the first time) why I have had several cats who just loved peaches. Ah, the mysteries of cats.
Scientists can be as dense as anyone else, but it was rather shocking to find out that studies were done in the 1950s showing that since puppies need to be handled by humans from the seventh week of life in order to be well-adjusted to interacting with people that it was simply assumed that the same held true for kittens. Canines and felines are vastly different animals, whether wild or domesticated, so making that assumption was rather dim.
Turns out, kittens need to be socialized to human contact earlier than puppies. Three weeks seems to be the optimal time, shortly after they can see and hear. Before that, they are almost entirely driven by their sense of smell as well as sensing heat (to find their mother and littermates). So, kittens born in a home where they are more likely to be handled regularly are more likely to make good pets than those born in a shelter unless the shelter takes the time to make sure kittens are handled at least fifteen minutes a day, preferably more.
There’s an interesting section on catnip which I will leave for you to read, but I will mention that only about two-thirds of cats are susceptible to it but that big cats (lions, tigers, whatnot) are also affected by it. I would give a couple of dollars to see a big cat on a catnip high!
Another interesting behavioral note was on cats and boredom with toys. I’m not likely to try to duplicate the author’s studies, but he found that cats who bore quickly with toys (and that’s most of them, in my experience) like toys that show evidence of change. That is, they like things they can tear up better than those that remain undamaged. It seems that cats equate toys with prey and if they can’t tear that darned mouse up, they can’t be bothered.
Quite a bit of space is devoted to cats and their relationship to other cats. Bradshaw takes great pains to point out that cats do not adapt to the presence of other cats nearly as well as dogs adapt to other canines in the household. Many cats would prefer to live without any other cats at all, but even those who will accept other cats should be introduced very carefully. He suggests getting two cats from the same litter if at all possible if you want more than one cat, but outlines a specific method for introducing a new cat into a home with an existing cat. It is a method I’m familiar with and one that most cat behavior books reference, but a very good idea for the inexperienced cat owner to find out about.
There is, of course, a section on cats and their relationship to people as well. I was familiar with most of the information there, but there were some interesting thoughts and anecdotes.
The final section is about the cat of the future. Bradshaw is concerned, given the genetic link to how friendly a cat is likely to be as well as how cat-friendly and how prey-driven, that the cats best suited to domesticity are usually neutered and that the less suited (feral cats) may be the primary breeding stock in the future. It’s certainly a conundrum.
Overall, a very interesting book but not a quick, light read. This book and many others on cats, dogs, and other pets are available at the Joplin Public Library, so come down and have a look.