Cat Talk and Cats Talking

If you’re in the area, I hope to see you on Thursday night at the Wisconsin Humane  Society for a fund raiser and talk, “Dogs Have Owners, but Cats Have Staff.” I don’t get asked to talk about feline behavior as much as I’d like to, so this is a special treat for me. I find it interesting that although cat lovers love their cats dearly, in general, as a group, they tend to be less likely to read books about their behavior or go to talks about cat behavior. However, I hear that almost 150 people are signed up, so join me and others to celebrate all things feline.

Willie and I were reminded of the importance of reading feline postures and expressions just a few days ago. We were visiting my yoga teacher Scott Anderson, to get some exercises for Willie (more on that later!), and Scott’s 2 cats were in the room. “No problem,” Scott said, they’ll leave the room when Willie comes in.

The cats apparently hadn’t read that particular script. Buddy, an orange tabby laying a few feet from the entrance, went stiff and still as Willie and I walked into the room. Running up the stairs away from Willie was apparently not in his playbook. We walked past him without incident, and focused on the greeting between Willie and Scott, who acted like long lost friends re-uniting after an extended absence. It was the yowl from a second cat that caused all three of us to turn around. And there, like characters out of a movie, stood two cats in full attack mode, bodies like inverted U’s, fur raised, and pupils dilated. They both stared straight at Willie, yowling like animals in a horror movie, and began advancing toward him with their heads down, and their eyes laser focused.

People don’t seem to believe me that one of the most frightening cases I’ve ever had as a behaviorist involved cats. Not Rottweilers or Dogos or “Pit Bulls”, but two little cats who behaved exactly like the two described above, except in that case they were after me. The hair went up on the back of my neck as they stalked toward me with the  hair-curling yowls that only cats can produce when they are angry. Very very angry. I picked up my large canvas briefcase and held it between me and the cats as I exited the living room.  Rarely have I been so sure that I was in serious danger.

Willie apparently felt the same way. Although Scott got the cats out of the room as quickly as possible and they never got within ten feet of us, the cats literally scared the crap out of Willie. While licking Scott’s face after he returned from removing the cats, Willie’s back began to round in that “Oh-my-god-he’s-about-to-shit” kind of way and I ran him outside and within seconds he spurted diarrhea within a few feet of the door. Poor Willie. We did a series of exercises that helped to relax him and he seemed none the worse for wear that evening.

But what a reminder how important it is to be able to “read” an animal. I have to admit, the aggressive yowl of a cat is hard to mis-interpret. There’s little that can get your attention better than that. But here’s another feline vocalization to get your attention. This video of a cat being brushed is, at the moment, my all time favorite cat video ever. And I’d love to hear your opinion of the emotional state of this cat…

 

 

What about you? Ever had a use it’s “yowl” vocalization on you? I’m happy to say that I’ve never heard Sushi come even close. Just like most dogs never go hard in the eye and threaten us with the potential of injury, most cats don’t become as aggressive as the one Willie encountered. Let us know, a few readers asked for more conversations about cats, and I say “Meow” to that. (Sorry.)

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Willie had a set back last week that was tough for all of us. Back on the leash and in the crate all the time, after working his way up to a few hours loose in the house in his hobbles. The good news is that he is better after 3 days of rest. The bad news is that I am still struggling with the opinion of his surgeon and physical therapist that Willie simply will never be a sound dog. The surgery repaired his bicepital tendon, but he has two medial ligaments that were badly damaged, probably years ago in another incident, and he’ll most likely always have trouble with them. I haven’t given up on more treatment, whether it’s Reiki or Laser or, or, or ….. But right now I can’t add anything else to our treatment plan; we spend 2 half days a week going for PT and underwater treadmill work, his PT at home takes a long time each day and if I told you what I was spending on him right now I’d have to kill you.

So we’ll go one day at a time. After all, I have some physical issues that will never be “cured” that I manage, so Willie and I will just do the same thing. Willie got to be off leash in the hobbles last night for 2 hours. Granted I spent all the time on the living room rug cuddling with him to keep him relatively quiet, (it was a sacrifice) but still, one step forward. I was hoping to let him start working sheep by mid November, now it’s by the end of the year. And the first day I can bring out a toy? Oh my, be still my heart. Sushi, on the other hand, has loved Willie being on leash for all these months. Maybe she’s sneaking in when I’m gone and opening his crate door?

Comments

  1. Kelsey says

    I love that video. I’ve got a cat who does the same thing when you hit just the right spot along her back while scratching. She’ll even move herself into position directly under my hand to get me to start.

  2. says

    I feel as though the cat is conflicted. Her ears are back and continues to lick her lips. It’s possible her back end is a little itchy. My guess is that the brushing feels both uncomfortable and pleasurable…as itchy usually feels.

    I always wished more people were interested in their kitties instead of looking at their situations as unchangeable. My cat is who introduced me to B-Mod. Ironically, that cat was funny about being brushed in the same spot as the kitty in the video. There were times he did yowl when I pushed it too far with his brushing. Yowling was usually followed with a swat.

  3. Beth says

    I have never heard a cat make such a noise! Mine loves to be brushed while she’s eating, but she does more typical displays of cat posture and she purrs. Watching the video, I hate to say but the first thing I wondered is if said kitty is going into heat? Queens in heat make some god-awful noises.

  4. Fjm says

    I am so sorry to hear about Will – I hope you can find a way to manage his physical problems and still let him do all the things he loves most.

    I’ve been reading cat books for nearly 50 years, and I find it interesting that I read academic studies of cats living a semi-domesticated life long before there were similar studies of dogs. It’s as if cats were sufficiently wild to make them a respectable species for academic study, while dogs were not. But I am not surprised people in general read and write about them less. Think of the huge quantity of books about how to train dogs to meet human requirements – people with cats are usually very quickly trained that the role of the human is to bend all their intelligence to understanding and meeting the requirements of the cat – with the result they don’t have much time left for writing books! Cats have very cleverly bypassed the whole “dominance” debate – they know that a human is honoured by their attention, and there is simply no room for argument. And anyone who tries anything other than reward based training on a cat is liable to quickly find themselves minus the cat (gone to find a more salubrious dwelling), and probably minus rather a lot of skin as well, so that is another whole area of publication removed! Books about caring for cats tend to focus on how we need to change our human environment to make it more suitable for cats – rather as we would if keeping a wild animal – rather than forcing the cat to adapt to us, as is so often the case for dogs.

    There are many things I love about cat research, though – especially the idea of a cultural, rather than innate, propensity to share space and resources. And I find it reassuring that Tilly cat still tries to teach both me and the dogs to hunt – they could probably survive for quite some time on the prey she brings home for them. But most of all I love waking up in the morning to four warm round lumps on the bed, and being greeted by purring cats and wriggly dogs!

  5. says

    I do wonder why cat owners, as a group, don’t seem to be as interested in endlessly reading about their pets as dog people are.

    I know that’s a sweeping overgeneralization, but my sister recently adopted a nine-year-old cat with a history of neglect after its owner passed away, and when I canvassed my cat-owning friends for recommendations on good books and resources to help her through a not-so-easy adoption, they all came up blank. I’m pretty sure that if I’d posed the same question to my dog-buddy crew, the hard part would have been getting them to STOP talking!

    So to the extent you ever feel inclined to write about feline behavior, I for one would love to learn more. :)

  6. says

    A cat stalked my BC three months ago. It was our late night walk she was on a leash. The cat started following us with rounded back flattened ears and growling. I was scared for my dog, and I certainly do not want to have her bite a cat. So far she just like to herd them, and chase (which happens when a cat comes into the fenced patio). I ended up throwing something at he cat while holding dog behind me! I think the cat would have attacked.

    Very sorry to hear about Willie. My dog has an injury that flares up at times–I understand the frustration/sadness/worry.

  7. Suzan says

    A long time ago, I had a cat that sometimes stalked me. One day, while washing my face over the bathroom sink, the cat jumped on my back, dug in his claws, and literally attacked me. Then he was as sweet as pie for the rest of the day. I never trusted him after that. I love all animals, but I stick with dogs now. :-)

  8. says

    she is making the “nyumminyummi it feels so good” noise.
    she is also getting overstimulated. many cats start out liking brushing, patting, and then get overstimulated, turn around and whack you. it isn’t that they didn’t like what you were doing, its just it was too much of a good thing. I’d keep an eye on her tail, when it starts lashing, stop brushing.
    if you only played me the sound track I’d be hard pressed to say what the cat was saying. the growling is not what you want to hear but the ‘nyumminyummi’ noise is a good thing. the two cats on my lap decided to leave just in case when they heard her.
    when in doubt, especially when growling is involved, back off.

  9. Kathy says

    Reiki can be done as a distance treatment – it would add no time commitments to your schedule if you wanted Willie to try it. Happy to assist if you wish.

  10. Melissa says

    I’ve been bitten badly enough by a cat to require IV antibiotics. Granted, I was trying to do a wellness exam and vaccinate it. I do not recall any yowling. Oddly enough, felines still fascinate me and some of the best cat writing I have recently encountered was “Effects of nutrition choices and lifestyle changes on the well-being of cats, a carnivore that has moved indoors” by Zoran and Buffington in the Sept. 1, 2011 JAVMA. Be forewarned, the article and references are 11 pages.

  11. Marguerite says

    Well, playing the videos turned out to be stimulating for the rat terriers here! I think I’d handle both cats with the welding gloves I use with the cast-iron bakeware, through.

    Speaking of welding gloves, a friend was telling me about a flying squirrel his cats brought in as a gift. While he was taking a long and very surprised look at the critter, it bit right through HIS welding glove.

  12. Alexandra says

    I think the cat in the video is borderline overstimulated and much more vigorous brushing would probably result in kitty whipping around to bite/swat or bolting out of the room.

    Our cat is pretty feisty. She was a rescue, and spent most of her early life in a cage at the shelter. She isn’t skittish like she used to be, but she can get overstimulated from petting and will suddenly get fed up and bite although not hard enough to break the skin. Over the years we’ve learned where her limits and favorite spots are (and not to touch the forbidden belly, no matter how cute & fuzzy it looks when she rolls over) and rarely provoke that response. Not long after I got her, she ambushed me while I was bent over getting something off the floor and clawed my back… I managed to grab her and unceremoniously carried her by the scruff out of the room and dumped her on the floor and stomped off. Fortunately that was the only time she tried it. It took me a while to get her to tolerate claw trimming. I started with one toe and a time, lots of treats, and worked my way up. She was fine for years, but now that she’s a senior and probably a bit arthritic, she gets very growly when I trim her claws now. I try to be gentle, and just tell her to knock it off as I feel like she’s all “sound an fury, signifying nothing” because she’s never actually tried to bite me in earnest. She has bitten my husband on a couple of occasions when he tried to shoo her off of his laptop that she was using as a nice, warm, heating pad. I think his approach to her was a bit tentative so she felt like she could make him back down (and she was right! I had to go her her… bad kitty!).

    She apparently does find my presence soothing though, because when I take her to the vet she is entirely docile if I am there, but on the few occasions I’ve had to drop her off and leave her for an exam I’ve gotten phone calls from the vet’s office that they were unable to examine her because she was “fractious” as they put it. The last time I tried this, I actually had to go back and get her out of the cage myself because she was so wound up. I heard her growling all the way in the lobby, and apparently she was screaming/biting/scratching at anyone who tried to touch her. Amazingly, she was sweet as pie as soon as she saw me and I picked her up.

    I’ve been stalked (and ambushed) by many a cat over the years, and certainly if they were much larger than 10 or 15 pounds it’d be pretty scary and I doubt we’d keep them as pets, but I can’t imagine being scared of such a small animal. That said, I do think that cats are furry little ninjas and have a lot of “presence.” My older lab is very intimidated by cats, particularly ours who stalks and chases her from time to time (sigh) although occasionally the dog does get brave and chase the cat back. The girls have a bit of a love-hate relationship; I think they enjoy the chasing, but are both also a little afraid of each other. My younger lab seems very oblivious to Kitty’s temper tantrums, and actually seems to be forging a decent relationship with our cat, though kitty maintains a strict no touching policy with the dogs.

    I love reading about all kinds of animal behavior, and more about cats would be great – there are not that many resources out there!

  13. Beth says

    I did want to add that I am terribly sorry to hear about Willie. Poor guy. He’s had far more than his fair share of issues to work through.

  14. Jennifer Hamilton says

    Wow…cats are so hard to understand. For example, we have a cat that boards at our pet resort. He will seek you out lovingly for attention, rub on your leg, and beg to be pet. You can pet him exactly two times and he is an angel, loving every moment. On the third pet, he attacks viscously leaving numerous punctures and very bloody human arms and legs. We have to warn all of the staff to NEVER pet him more than twice in a row. Despite this warning, there’s always someone who thinks that they can read cats better and have a special way with them. Inevitably they try the third pet and come out of the room all bloodied up. (I was one of those people too…and paid the price of numerous punctures.) But if you only pet him twice and ignore his begging for more petting, he’s stays super sweet. I suspect it has something to do with his arousal level hitting some threshold. Whatever is going on for him, it’s very strange behavior indeed!

  15. Jennifer Hamilton says

    One of the scariest animal attacks I ever had was from a cat I was caring for while her owner was out of the country. She had been staying at my house for over 4 weeks and we had a great, positive relationship. Not a single negative issue until one day she walked into the kitchen while I was sweeping the floor with a small broom. She looked at the broom, arched her body, let out a large hiss/howl, and then literally sprang onto my face, neck and shoulders with teeth and claws fully engaged. She bit into and clung to me with such commitment that I literally had to grab her with tremedous force, yank her off of me, and throw her to the ground. When she hit the floor, she ran to the other room. It was so unexpected and so extreme! It was a very scary experience.

    She spent the rest of her time with me locked in my extra bedroom and I only went in the room holding a trash can cover as a shield when she needed food, water, or a change of cat litter.

  16. Cassie says

    I agree kitty is overstimulated. A lot of kitties will growl, do the nibbling motion with their mouth, or sometimes, turn around and bite or scratch the person doing it. I think these sorts of touches are “pleasant until its too much” kind of things.
    This could also be a mild form of feline hyperesthesia syndrome. In some cats with hyperesthesia syndrome brushing or petting will lead to them furiously chewing on themselves, jumping up and running as if bitten by something, or doing any number of odd behaviors . (feline hyperesthesia syndrome can include a huge array of demonstrated behaviors with many different triggers, even to the point of being seizure like).
    Cats are tricky, and it is much harder for me to teach restraint and handling of cats than dogs. Their signals are often so much more subtle, and they often display conflicting signals and you just have to have a good feel for if the cat is a biter or a freezer. (Thankfully *most* cats freeze up when frightened in the exam room).
    Most, but not all cats I handle are not willing to attack unless I approach. This makes life a lot less stressful in the vet clinic. Then there are the other ones :)
    My best friend had a cat for a long time who despised me. His wife and I were left alone with the cat one night and had to fight him off with a pillow as we backed into another room. Lucky (the cat) was howling, stiff backed, hard eyed, and approaching quickly. We couldn’t leave the room until , my friend returned to handle him.
    I have learned from working in vet clinics that a cat unwilling to be handled will not be handled. They are wild. They are powerful. They are full of very sharp bacteria laden weaponry. I have not yet been bitten, but this is because I have been very careful to quit while ahead and use sedation when needed. I have also been lucky. (big part of it)

  17. lin says

    As others have noted, brushed kitty looks on her way to being overstimulated, although her eyes are not as dilated as poor NONONO cat. Although, like Beth, I wondered if she might be going into heat.

    I volunteer with the kitties at the shelter, and often when I’m brushing or stroking them, I’ll stop and let them indicate (with a nudge) that they want me to continue or not. I keep a watch on their tail and ears, but sometimes the tipping point is awfully sudden. But I think only one or two in the 5+ years I’ve volunteered have drawn blood. They’ll put their teeth or claws on me, but not dig in. And when you consider the stress they are under in the shelter, that’s awfully good.

    Poor Willie! I’d hope he’d have a little more respect for Sushi after this, but he probably doesn’t generalize the experience. Best of luck to you on his physical improvements.

    Thanks for the kitty conversation; wouldn’t mind more. :-)

  18. says

    Long time cat owner and cat lover, currently feel adrift without one in my life.

    That said, growing up the nastiest animal I ever interacted with was a cat. There were some not-so-nice animals in the neighborhood I grew up in – a mutt that lived its whole life staked out on a ten foot lead in its front lawn, for instance, and a very intimidating german shepherd that used to chase kids on bikes – but nothing to compare with Junior. When I was eleven, the family next door went on a vacation and asked me to feed their cats and change the litterboxes. One of their cats was an ancient Persian who just hid under the furniture, but Junior?

    Junior used to lie in wait for me in the laundry room next to the litter boxes. As I would try to enter the room, Junior would pounce on me, attacking my legs with claws and teeth. It would often take me upwards of half an hour to get into the room to be able to change the cat boxes. I hated him and I HATED that job!! I felt bad for Junior because he was often handled rather badly by his family’s rambunctious younger children (at one point I witnessed him dragged up the stairs by his tail by the 6-y-o girl) but he really was a nasty piece of work.

    ===

    Our own cats have always been idiosyncratic about vocalization and the ways they like to be petted. Some love belly rubs, some hate them; some will give frequent “corrections” with teeth and claws, and our family cat who just passed away this summer was the gentlest creature I’ve ever known – never used his teeth or claws on a human in the whole eleven years of his life.

  19. Fjm says

    I’ve just tried the cat video on Tilly – the nyumnyum noises got no more than an ear flick, but the yowl towards the end actually woke her up enough to lift her head and check. I agree – borderline over stimulation. I would be stopping the brushing right there! The lip licking is interesting too – both of mine were rescue kittens, and Pippin in particular loves to knead and suckle when he is cuddled. Unfortunately his kneading can penetrate all but the heaviest clothing, so cuddling quickly comes to an end. It is so deeply rooted a behaviour that 8 years of hearing Ouch! and being ejected from whichever lap he is on have made no difference to it. He is an indoor/outdoor cat, a little arthritic after a car accident, and uses his front claws to give himself purchase when climbing, so I don’t want to trim them.

  20. Sue says

    It seemed to me the cat had mixed feelings and was on the edge of a physical warning. The ears, the underlying growl were protests in my opinion. It also seemed the individual with the brush was aware of the fine line–the actions were quite measured to get the vocal response without escalating it. This video left me uneasy since I felt it was intentionally provoking the cat for a ‘funny’ clip, somewhat similar to the canine that’s being scolded for getting the treat package.

  21. says

    I agree with some of the others, that cat is right on the verge of “okay, I liked that in the beginning, but now it’s getting really annoying so cut it out!” Though I’ve never heard one make that sound…

    A truly angry cat is terrifying, and I’ve lived around cats my entire life. My brother’s big male cat mauled my dad’s hand once (dad was trying to bring cat inside, cat DID NOT WANT to go inside). I still remember coming back into the house (I was out when this happened) and seeing a trail of blood leading into the kitchen. Had to go to the hospital, stitches, IV antibiotics.

    Funny thing is (yes, I can even find humour in that kind of story…) that that cat, Smokey, is in my eyes very docile. Well, maybe not docile, but he gives you plenty of warning before disemboweling you. Of our two current cats, he’s the one I trust more if a kid wants to pet him. The female gives you very little warning, she just turns on you.

    I would LOVE it if you wrote on cat behaviour! :)

  22. Rachel says

    I see a lot of people referring to the arched-back-growly-advance as the cat stalking. I’m not sure that’s the correct terminology. In my mind, a stalking cat is silent and getting ready to pounce. The more aggressive looking posture and growling is more defensive – trying to look bigger to deter scary people or dogs. But I’m not really an expert.

    And I think the ears-back posture is not exclusive to being angry or scared. One of my cats regularly puts her ears back when she is sitting on my lap purring and making biscuits. I can’t remember the other cat doing this, so maybe it is just an idiosyncracy.

    But I would agree with the other people that say that this cat is looking a little overstimulated and may be reaching the swatting-threshold. One thing I’m curious about is that the people are brushing her lower back, but she doesn’t stand up and put her booty in the air. It was my understanding that that is a reflex with cats (both my cats do it everytime I touch their lower back area). If my cat made this noise, I might stop petting. Although if my cat always made this noise (and it never seemed to escalate to swatting or scratching) or I had some other indication that this was not a noise of pain or irritation (like if she solicits this brushing stimulation or something), then I probably wouldn’t think it is a big deal.

  23. Beth says

    Beth with the Corgis here, and wanted to post quickly again to agree with someone upthread who noted if cats were any bigger we could not safely keep them as pets. I say this as a cat-owner and cat lover. They are tame, not domesticated. Big difference.

  24. Elizabeth Sarin says

    I have an 8 year old (spayed) female tabby whom everybody knows I adore. She gives new meaning to the term “companion animal,” and is just an all around wonderful cat! About a year ago unemployment forced me to move in with my Mother in Michigan. My cat (Poppy) came with me, and immediately was introduced to my Mom’s cockapoo, “Poco” and my Mom’s very large (neutered) male cat, “Squeak.” Because of the dramatic throaty singing and defensive posturing of the two cats when they were around each other, a baby gate now separates mine and Poppy’s space from the rest of the house. The few times I removed the gate to see if the cats could tolerate each other, did not last long because Squeak’s aggressive demeanor scared me. He walked low to the ground with tunnel vision and I was unable to break his concentration; he looked to me like he was stalking. Poppy hid behind a door and twisted her body and flattened her ears. I have ended these failed introductions by moving Poppy to a safer place as I was unable to interrupt Squeak’s tunnel vision and stalking approach with loud sounds or a broom. I have been told by two vets that Squeak’s behavior is “normal” dominance, that the two might fight, but will ultimately adapt to one another’s presence.
    All I can say is that I personally feel afraid of Squeak, and his behavior around Poppy seems aggressive. He remains very intent on trying to get to Poppy. He learned to jump the baby gate, which has since been replaced with a taller one and now he will sit at it and get that bizarre look in his eyes and actually shake the gate trying to get to Poppy. His tail is always big and fat when he is doing this, and Poppy never approaches him. From the description I am giving you, would you be able to comment on whether Squeak’s behavior is typical dominance or actually a more dangerous form of stalking. Squeak is at least twice Poppy’s size, and I would guess that while she would put up a good fight, Squeak could do her a good bit of harm if not kill her. Am I being overprotective? Thanks. ( PS: Poppy and the dog do fine. The dog loves her and wants to play, but respectfully backs away when Poppy offers a quiet hiss!)

  25. Rebecca says

    The cat in the video is trying to eat, and is being pretty patient about being annoyed with a brush.

    Elizabeth, a book called “Cat vs Cat” (and other books by that author) is a good resource for introducing two cats to the same area.

    That said, I have two cats who will always need a referee around when they have access to each other. They both instigate altercations pretty deliberately (as in, walk calmly up and smack the other cat until there is a negative reaction. And then there may be blood. Seriously.), but I don’t think either of them will ever yield, and they live in a house, so it’s harder for them to either move out of each others’ territories or avoid one another with space and timing. Therefore, I use doors, and when they are loose together, they do positive things in sight but not reach of one another, like partake of tasty treats, or play with the laser toy back and forth. It took a long time to get to that point.

    Once cats seriously chew on one another, they very often hold lifetime grudges. Fight it out is bad advice. It might be normal behavior, but we have them in abnormal surroundings (enclosed in a house).

  26. trisha says

    Here’s my take on the video: Based on the cat’s vocalizations and facial expressions, I agree with several comments that the cat is highly ambivalent. I’d guess, and that’s all I’m doing, is that puss is right at the edge of “love this” and “over-stimulated to the point of irritation.” I think the mouth movements, which you’ll see actually entrain almost exactly with the brush strokes, are the most interesting part of the entire video. It’s as though the feeling of the brush strokes stimulates the cat, in a chicken-or-the-egg kind of way, to lick. Instead of “move tongue–feel lick on fur,” it’s “feel lick on fur–move tongue.” That is indeed how the brain can work, I’ve just never seen an example of it quick like this.

    Regarding Elizabeth’s problems between the two cats, you have my sympathy. Besides litter box problems, that was the most common reason I saw cat owners. I agree with comments that the behavior is NOT predatory. Hunting cats are silent, low to the ground, head and tail down, and never pilo-erected. What you are describing is pure out and out intra-specific aggression, and you are right that your other cat could be badly injured. It’s not dominance, it’s not predation, it’s territorial. I can’t, in this format, do a consult on aggression between 2 cats, but I’d at least keep the cats from being able to see each other. A see-through gate is not your friend right now. Once they are out of sight, you can try to introduce the new cat’s smell to the aggressor, paired with tasty cat treats. This could take several months just by itself. I’ll write a blog sometime in the future about introducing cats; meanwhile, keep them out of visual contact, it’s just making things worse.

  27. Julie says

    Agree with earlier poster — I love all animals, but I don’t *get* cats! When I was a petsitter I took care of a few “psycho kitties” (purr, purr, please pet me, hissss-chomp, purr, purr, come back!) Years ago, my own inside-only cat got out in the yard and was very scared and upset, puffy as a cottonball. When I tried to walk over and get him he attacked my leg, bit through my jeans, giving me a deep puncture. My cat-loving neighbor helped me herd him back into the house. I went to her house to wash my wound, then went home about 20 minutes later. When I opened the front door, there was my darling kitty, still all puffy and hissing and yowling at me. I couldn’t get into my own house for a couple of hours! I was afraid of him for days. Yeah, they’re definitely not dogs.

  28. JJ says

    I enjoyed your video on cats. One of the most interesting tid-bits from the video is the idea that pet cats may be in the *process of being domesticated*. That pet cats have both traits of domesticated and non-domesticated animals.

    (At least, that’s what I remember hearing. A co-worker borrowed the video and then lost it. He says he is still looking, but I last saw it a year ago… The point is, I haven’t seen the video in a long time, so I may not be remembering the details correctly.)

    If true, I find that fascinating since cats are so numerous as pets. It’s also fascinating because I read a book once that said that the pet ferret has all the biological indicators of being fully domesticated. I think it would be strange for a ferret to be fully domesticated, but a cat not.

  29. JJ says

    I want to thank everyone for sharing their stories about their cats! It brought back vivid memories of a cat we had when I was growing up. He seemed to like being petted. He would start out purring on my lap. Then at some point, he would attack/scratch (drawing blood) and then leap off and run away. I never understood it and grew to be afraid of him somewhat/not want to pet him any more.

    I’ve been on the fence about getting a cat for 5 years now – going back and forth. Hearing these stories again has made up my mind about getting a pet cat. No thanks. :-) I’ll just enjoy seeing everyone else’s kitties.

  30. JJ says

    Finally, I want to commiserate with Trisha on Willie’s medical issues. Even if you do everything possible for your dog, it is heartbreaking to go through everything and still not have a great outcome.

    I put my dog through two major leg surgeries with the understanding that doing so would bring him to such a state of health, that not only would it remove all pain, but he would once again be able to participate in agility. Instead, he ended up in more pain than when we started. I remember how very depressed I got when I was told that the problems would be permanent.

    I hope that this is just a little bump on Willie’s climb to full recovery. If it is at all possible, it will happen since you are doing all you can for him. The point is that I can understand how very hard it is to even being to contemplate a different possibility. My heart is with you.

  31. Beth with the Corgis says

    I’ve slightly changed my moniker because there are several Beth’s who post here. :-)

    I wanted to expand on what I said about cats being more tame than domestic, in my opinion.

    There are purebred cats out there selected for specific traits, but the majority of pet cats come from long lines of “accident” kitties. Some are born to feral queens and captured by rescues. Others are born to pet kitties who got out at the wrong time and bred to a mate of their own choosing (someone else’s pet, or just as likely a stray or feral cat). Regardless, very few of us have cats who were actually selectively bred for multiple generations.

    And if you look at the behavior of puppies compared to kittens— if kittens are not handled from birth, they are extremely wild and not only don’t seek out humans, they will actively try to attack them at worst, run from them at best. Similarly, a strictly inside-only house cat, handled by loving humans from kittenhood, will quickly revert to wild-animal behavior if loose outside. Not ALL cats do this and I’ve had strays who had clearly been out for awhile and actively sought people, but many people have trouble re-capturing their own cats once they get outside. While certainly some of this is do to the rapid sequence of events involving a cat’s fear response, the fact is that squirrels act just as tame as many people’s escaped cats.

    I have a friend who has a Ragamuffin cat, selectively bred to be docile and have a minimal flight response. This cat tolerates being picked up and carted around by toddlers. Most of our own cats would not put up with this, though, and if our dogs behaved the way our cats do, many of us would be tearfully talking about having them euthanized. For example, my own sweet lap-sitter, Boo, just the other day got royally annoyed when I took Her Highness off the computer desk and put her on the floor. She tried to go after my foot to express her frustration. When I managed to block her from doing that with a well-positioned magazine I was reading, she leaped up and nailed my arm. I did just what cat people say not to: I made a lot of noise in her direction with the magazine and scared her. I realize this can backfire and don’t recommend it, but honestly I reacted out of pain and surprise myself and in this case I was fortunate that it seems to have conveyed the message that it was the behavior that made me unhappy because she was quickly back to being docile and furry. Still it was a bad move on my part because some cats will escalate and others will quickly think that the person who did that is mean and scary and to be avoided at all costs.

    My point, though, is that if one of my dogs plotted a way to get in a retaliatory bite minutes after I had frustrated them and they’d had plenty of room to back away and redirect, I would consider the dog to be dangerous and unpredictable. For a cat, it’s just one of those things we learn to live with.

  32. Beth with the Corgis says

    Whoops, should have said “docile and purry,” not “docile and furry.” She was still quite furry, even whilst attacking me. :)

  33. Dianna says

    I think the cat is saying, “Yeah, baby…right there…that feels great!” Cute video! I’m not to savvy on cat talk even though I own one. My cat is just a cat. Meows like a cat, rubs against my leg like a cat and loves to be scratched behind the ears and under the chin!

  34. Joanna says

    I have your DVD of the same talk and I loved it! I’d like to learn even more about cat behavior but I’m not sure what resources are out there. Any suggestions?

    I have a behavior question, also. I’ve noticed that my cat lip-licks at dogs when he’s uncomfortable. Is this a natural cat behavior, functioning as lip-licks do in dogs (calming signal, sign of discomfort, diffusing tense situation, etc), or is this something he learned from dogs?

  35. Alexandra says

    Beth with the Corgis – oh I completely agree with what you said about cats vs dogs and domestication. The cat we had when I was a kid had been a stray, yet was extremely social, loved petting and handled, and I even trained him to do a few tricks. He was very doglike! ;) Yet in spite of all that, this cat bit two of my boyfriends in high school out of apparent jealousy and bit *me* deeply enough to leave a permanent scar on my arm in what really appeared to be punishment for my petting the other household cat (my cat then proceeded to beat the snot out of my stepmother’s cat for being on the receiving end of petting from his favorite human… that was not a good day all around!). A dog who’d drawn blood on three people would probably have been euthanized. With my current cat, I have not so much trained her to leave my stuff alone as structured my house so that I don’t have anything she can break. For example, I never could get her to stop scratching the sofa, so I gave up and bought a leather one that would be uninteresting to scratch.

  36. Kerry says

    I am allergic to cats, so I’ve never had one. Reading these comments makes me pretty ok with that. I definitely can say that I prefer pet ownership from animals that won’t bite or scratch if they don’t like the way I pet them.

  37. Rachel says

    Interesting about cat domestication. So in dogs, the theory is that we kind of co-evolved, right? The less fearful wild dogs could hang around closer for scraps and stuff and natural and sexual selection moved them to the point where people could interact with them a bit. And then only after all that did artificial selection start affecting anything. And it’s really only been in the past couple hundred years tht artificial selection has become vital for pet dogs.

    With cat, like someone said, pet cats are still hardly ever the result of artificial selection. Which suggests their levels of domestication would be similar to dogs back when they were living more on the fringes of human society rather than as pets / workers.

    And just like with the wolf-dog hybridization post the other day, cat-wild cat hybridizations result in cats that have significantly different behavior challenges than regular cats. Not to say that regular cats are all that behaviorally perfect, but hybrids are more difficult to care for and keep entertained. To me this suggests that cats to have some “domestication genes” in their DNA just like dogs do. Maybe these genes are not to the same level as those of dogs (yet), but I think there’s a case for saying that cats are domesticated to some extent, not just tame.

  38. Fjm says

    I’ve been thinking more about cat research, and the differences between living with cats and living with dogs – I have always said that living with a cat is like living with another adult, while living with dogs is like living with a child. Dogs stay dependent, and we expect them to adapt to our lives; cats (my indoor/outdoor cats, at least) have their own private lives, and can, at a pinch, earn their own livings – perhaps that is why we are more prepared to adapt our lives to them. Having said that, my cats don’t require me to take them out, come rain or shine, several times a day, or to make time for fun and play, so perhaps it all evens out over time!

    I am fascinated by the cooperation I see between my cats and dogs. The Siamese I had as a child would knock food down to my mother’s miniature poodle as the dog waited below; when both wanted to come in they would take it in turn to whine or miaow. Tilly, as I have said, definitely tries to teach my two dogs to hunt, and will happily share her prey with them (I don’t think the dogs would be nearly so long suffering about sharing with her if it were theirs to start with!). Tilly also seems to learn by observation in a way the dogs struggle with – it didn’t take her long to realise that the dogs seemed to get a treat for sitting nicely in the kitchen, so now she is there, sitting in line, whenever the treat pot comes out. She also has a very simple way of ensuring any dogs in the house, resident or visiting, treat her with proper respect – she just gives them a light whack every time they go past her for the first week, and has little trouble with them after that. Pippin, meanwhile, is twice her size, and bigger than either of the dogs, but would be constantly bullied if I did not set and maintain the household rules.

  39. rheather says

    I think the cat in the video is on the edge of hyperthesia. I’ve had several cats that would have thrashing seizures if you forgot and rubbed to the lower back.

    I had a street tom that came to live with me who had a no-pet zone past his shoulder blades. He’d whirl and bit-without breaking skin-if I forgot. But with time he could be rubbed all down his body. He taught me a lot about judging how much stimulation a cat can take.

    And I’d love more books on cat behavior.

  40. em says

    Fascinating! One of my favorite authors described cats as “a law unto themselves” and I’ve always agreed. I’d love to see more popular studies on cat behavior because it is just so widely variable between and even within individuals. I used to have a feral colony near my old apartment that was better entertainment than Wild Kingdom-I never before appreciated that cat social dynamics were so complex.

    Personally, the three cats I’ve owned have run the gamut of feline temperament. I had female from a kitten-beautiful but eeevil, Sophia actually isn’t a bad cat, but she hates to be handled. She likes company and attention, and to rub up against humans, but she doesn’t want humans to reach out and touch her. Some face and head rubbing will be tolerated, but generally no contact with her back or tail. The belly is right out, needless to say. With positive reinforcement, (she DOES like food), I’ve gotten her to the point that she will tolerate being picked up and held for 10-20 seconds. I use this time to do really quick physical assessments (I worry that my looky-no-touchy cat may face health consequences because I can’t easily detect lumps and bumps and physical condition issues the way that I can with my gentler felines) Curiously, she gets along great with the dogs. When vexed by too much handling, she will hiss and growl, swack with claws and bite with determination. She will not attack unprovoked, however. Really objectionable behavior on our part will result in yowling, but it’s unusual.

    My second female, Fiona, was a feral kitten (approx. 5 mos when I picked her up from outside my house). I know with 100% certainty that she was not handled by anyone before that age. She loves everyone. She can be slightly shy around strangers, but she warms up quickly to new people and loves to be held and cuddled. Constantly. Of all the cats I’ve known, she is the most reluctant to use violence against humans. The only time she’s ever taken a soft-pawed bat at someone was the day my husband didn’t realize that her odd struggles next to him on the bed were the result of him SITTING ON HER TAIL, which likely didn’t hurt (soft surface) but was pinning her in place. She never hisses or growls at humans, but she will at the dogs.

    She is, however, the source of the most godawful noise I’ve ever heard from a cat. My husband and I were startled out of a sound sleep one summer night by a noise that can best be compared to the scream of a mountain lion-beyond yowling, this noise could pierce eardrums. We ran out of the bedroom, convinced the cats must be killing each other or at least in mortal danger. Two of my three were crouched, saucer-eyed and brush-tailed in the hallway, while Fiona was flinging her body against the windows of the front room, fully enraged and shrieking like a banshee at a half-grown intact tom who had had the nerve to venture onto our front porch. I chased him away, but she remained very aroused and angry. I moved to touch her (against my husband’s warnings) and surprisingly, she did relax a bit, calming enough that that I could pick her up. When my other cats stopped looking so terrified and I felt ok about leaving her with them I was able to go back to bed (they never seriously fight, and are not ordinarily afraid of one another, though they play- wrestle and Sophia soft-paw smacks to stake her claim on doorways).

    Still, an angry cat packs more scary per square inch than any other animal I’ve ever seen. Those huge eyes and fanged wedge-head—couple that with the mountain-lion screams, and even while the rational part of my brain was saying that she is only a nine-pound animal, the worst she could do is scratch me up a bit, my monkey-brain was gibbering with terror. I wonder if humans have some instinctive fear of angry cats, the way that we seem to have of snakes?

    My third cat, who has sinced passed away, was a really big (20lb) neutered tom, adopted as a 9mo. stray. Creamsicle Cat would do an even more exaggerated ‘air lick’ when we’d get just the right spot on his back, but unlike the video cat, he seemed calm and unambivalently happy when doing so-he purred right along with his eyes at half-mast and his feet kneading. He could be goaded into hissing and clawing in extreme circumstances, but he was generally a marshmallow who loved physical contact and attention, and tolerated all manner of indignities at the vet without any attempt at retaliation. He did lay down the law for the dog, though. He greeted Otis for the first time with the hard-eye deep growl, and low head, and took a very deliberate step toward him. Otis took a very deliberate step back, and the two were fine ever after.

    Creamsicle Cat and Fiona could be safely kept at fifty pounds, I think, but Sophia? She’s borderline at ten. I suspect that the ‘wildness’ and dangerous edge of cats could be selected out of the pet population fairly easily, as there are certainly cats who almost entirely lack this temperamental facet, regardless of origin or upbringing, (indicating to me that there is a very strong genetic component) but I also suspect that for many people, this quality is part of cat’s inherent attraction. Attractive or not, it’s definitely a useful trait in an animal small enough to present an easy target for a dog (or, sad to say, human) but asked to coexist with them, especially since cats are typically not protected the way that a dog of that size would be, and the population of barn cats, strays and ferals seems destined to preserve this part of their nature.

  41. em says

    Ooh, I had another quick thought on the subject of cats and authority. I’ve always operated under the assumption that cats have no repect for it, that they can be convinced to do things in exchange for rewards, but that they are absolutely imperious or downright hostile to attempts to impose ‘discipline’. My experience bears this out. When my cats did things that I objected to (clawing the carpet, messing with our old TV antenna), no amount of discouragement from my side would prevent them from doing it-pushing them gently aside, shouting, clapping, flinging soft objects (near,not at), even water guns did no good at all. They’d bob and weave and come right back, more determined than ever. Clear, right?

    But here’s the weird part. They DO respect the DOG. Despite showing no discomfort around him whatsoever (they’ll sleep with him), if the cat starts scratching the carpet, all Otis needs to do is lift his head and give them his “librarian stare” (not overtly hostile or aroused, just pointed) and they will stop AT ONCE, go away and do something else. Why? I f I had to guess, I’d suppose that there is some part of even my swaggery-est cat which isn’t quite sure that he won’t eat them, but I’m really wishfully hoping that he’s just clued into some sort of feline eye-contact/body-language code that I haven’t managed to crack.

  42. Lisa H says

    I’ve owned 2 neutered indoor-only cats, from kittenhood till their old age. The 1st cat (Bob) would occasionally stalk me – ears flat, posture low & creeping, no piloerection – then nail me, usually behind the knees. I was afraid of him at times & would either grab him immediately & put him into another room or get my husband to grab him. He never stalked my husband, and Bob also had that behavior of pet me, pet me, cuddle wham bite just as suddenly. There didn’t appear to be a pattern as he would initiate most contact (because he was unpredictable I generally wasn’t initiating)and may love it indefinitely, or could lash out in minutes or an hour. He tended to avoid people visiting though liked to be in the same room. I got Bob from a farm litter at 8 weeks and he was always friendliest 1st thing in the morning then it was iffy the remainder of the day. I got a 2nd cat when Bob was 4 and while Ponczka wanted to be buddies, Bob simply tolerated (no aggression) him till Bob passed at age 13. Ponczka on the other hand was always the sweetest cat till shortly before his death at age 16. I imagine he no longer felt very well by then so handling was probably less comfortable for him. His only act of aggression was a month before he died- he bit my 7 year old niece on the hand – he was curled up in the middle of the couch in the middle of a large family get together & she, I assume, was trying to pet him. She developed an infection by morning & had to take antibiotics. With 2 dogs in the house now I doubt I would get another indoor cat & I have mixed feelings about having an outdoor cat.

  43. LynnSusan says

    I find cats completely fascinating. They are complex,but more subtle in their communications with humans than dogs are. And they are so often underestimated in their emotional spectrum.

    I would also like to recommend Pam Bennett Johnson’s books, “Cat vs. Cat” and “Starting from Scratch” I have recommended her books to many of the families who adopt the kittens my friends and I tame in our little rag-tag TNR effort.

    The cat in the video makes me very uncomfortable. Cats are so sensual,and their tactile reactions can be so intense,that they sometimes can’t distinguish what is pleasure and what is pain. That poor cat is exercising tremendous self control.

  44. trisha says

    Just finished my talk on cats to the Wisconsin Humane Society in Milwaukee, loving reading the stream of comments. Too tuckered to say much more than: 1) part of my talk includes an argument that cats are not domesticated fully (in agreement with several comments, such good ones, very thoughtful) AND don’t decide whether to get a cat based on the comments in this stream! Remember I started with an example of aggression, and that elicited other stories of same. We could be telling horror stories about dogs too and scare the pants off of anyone reading….! Most cats may be independent but they are more often super cuddly and friendly and sweet. Sushi will tell you all about if you just ask her….

  45. Fjm says

    I do agree about the lack of aggression in cats – the only time I had problems with mine was when Pippin was young. I adopted him and his brother from a shelter as kittens, and they were inseparable in the house, playing together, sleeping together and washing and cuddling each other. Then when they were 7 months old Mallow vanished, never to be seen again, despite the whole village helping to look for him. It was shortly before Christmas, and Pippin built up a head of frustrated play steam that had him jumping out at my sister’s ankles and attacking them just a bit too hard (she has a fondness for warm fluffy slippers, which may explain why he always chose her feet!). I tried to take the edge off with lots of games, but it was only when I found Tilly early in the New Year that things really relaxed – she gave him the kitten companionship he was missing. They drifted apart as they got older, and prefer more personal space these days, but I suspect that much of the “attack mode” play in cats is down to lack of other opportunities to express an important natural behaviour.

  46. says

    One of my trickyest cases involved one overt agressive persian cat. Huge, black, yellow big eyes. I think about his growling and my back hair stands still. He would wait for his owner in the middle of the room, look her in the eye and growl. He kept it going until she escaped (and he would then run and attack her legs) or she would confront him (overt attack trough her trousers). For HOURS at a time, even if she managed to get out of the room, close the door and leave.
    Kind of OCD in his aggressive behavior.
    By some kind of miracle he responded to behavior modification and medication. Now is a purring cat, I swear, I still don’t believe it. The only thing she can’t do now is wear jeans+tennis. Never knew why, cat hates the combination. ???
    Sorry to hear about Willie. In the other hand, I myself have some chronic issues, some back arthritis, and just live with it! Mi dog has arthritis too (age, he’s ten now), and with some exercises and medications, he lives kind of unconfortable but happy. Hope he gets better and can get back to his sheep.

  47. Beth with the Corgis says

    I agree, Trisha, that we are telling the “worst of” stories. Boo, who I mentioned above, is sweet and cuddly most of the time. She has a bad habit of “beating up” one of the Corgis, but always does so with claws retracted fully; she just likes to crack poor Maddie in the head for reasons not apparent to me (or, apparently, to Maddie, who harfs in protest and confusion). She never cracks Jack. But otherwise, she is generally non-aggressive, even when she is tearing around the house playing and fully piloerected. She is a very confident cat who will protest if you do something she does not like. However, I should have pointed out that she is a young cat (just coming up on 2) and my experience is that sudden outbursts of aggression seem, in many cats, to peak in young adulthood and wane from there. One of my favorite sights is walking in a room and seeing all three of my pets sprawled out on floor and furniture, sleeping away within feet of each other, the lot of them with bellies exposed.

    When I do the dogs’ nails, I always crate one while working the other. Since one of my dogs needs a constant supply of treats to tolerate nail-trimming, I have to crate the cat as well or she steals the treats (much to the distress of the dog). So I put Maddie in her crate, Boo in Jack’s crate, and do Jack’s nails. When we are done, I give a treat to Maddie and a (dog) treat to Boo as well, for being a good girl in her crate. I really ought to capture a picture of the two of them sitting in crates side-by-side, facing forward, with the same alert expressions as they await treats.

    My last cat, my sweet departed Alice, had most likely never been handled when I found her as a six-week-old kitten. It took me a couple weeks to be able to handle her, though she’d crawl up next to me at night to sleep. From then on, though, I was “her” person and she never hissed or scratched at me. The only time she scratched me was by accident, trying to crawl over my shoulder while I was trying to put her in a carrier for a much-hated vet trip. She would yowl in protest and try to get away, but I could do anything to her and she would not ever retaliate. To other people she was either indifferent (my husband), afraid, or hostile (as a result of the first two). But never to me.

    And I think that is the crux of what makes so many of us love cats and want to keep them, despite their persnickety ways: so often they bond strongly to one person, whereas a dog might have preferences but tends to bond to the whole family. Our cats are OUR cats, they make no bones about it, and there is something that flatters the monkey-brain that em mentions to have an animal that shows mostly indifference to humankind, but acts as if the sun rises and sets over us.

    I have often asked people who “don’t like” cats if they ever had one. Most say no, and I have known several people who became converts after having one. One can suppose what it’s like to have a dog just by visiting friends with dogs. One does not know what it is like to have a cat til one has been chosen by a cat.

  48. Alexandra says

    Yes, very true about don’t judge cats by these stories – the cat that I had growing up was a *beloved* family pet and other than those couple of bites (none of which required medical attention) he was a fantastic pet for the 15 years we had him. I miss him to this day and it’s been almost 20 years since he died. My current cat has some issues but she spends 99% of her time being cute sleepy and/or entertaining. I put her on my shoulder while I do stuff around the house and she just rides around up there.

  49. Rachel says

    Oh – sorry. I didn’t mean to suggest that cats being on-average less domesticated than dogs means they are bad pets.

    My two cats are probably alley cats genetically (I think they were a result of an accidental litter to a random pet cat in Texas – the story of my aquisistion of them is long and boring), but they are really excellent pets; I never thought I was a cat person until I met them. They are warm, purry, playful, cuddly, and friendly to anyone that comes in the house (actually they are a million times better with strangers than my shy dog is). And I’m pretty sure they scare vermin out of my apartment – I’ve never seen them with a mouse, but there are some mice in and around my building.

    My point is that just as in dog adoption, finding the right cat takes diligence and thought. I don’t think many shelters really do temperament testing with cats (at least I haven’t heard of it), but that would be pretty excellent in helping people find the cat they want (furniture-with-fur or cuddly or playful or friendly or aloof or …).

  50. Kat says

    As I type this our 11 month old grey tuxedo cat is playing hockey with something he found. His name is The Great Catsby and he is turning into a great cat. He and the older cat (age 9), Meowzart, have their squabbles and some of the noises they make can be blood curdling but Meowzart has become much more active and confident since we added Catsby to the menagerie. Catsby delights in tormenting and wrestling Meowzart but he also looks after him; a couple days ago the dog, Ranger, who knows better, chased Meowzart down the stairs and Catsby leaped on him all claws extended. Catsby is 10 lbs and Ranger is 90 lbs but Ranger definitely came off the worst in that exchange if the pained yelps were anything to go by. Most of the time Ranger and Catsby are good buddies and play together happily; tag is probably their favorite game although sometimes they wrestle which is very funny to watch given their size discrepancy. I derive endless entertainment watching the way they all interact. Meowzart, who in the four years since we adopted Ranger hasn’t been willing to stay in the same room with him still watches warily but remains in position in the room since we added Catsby to the mix. Catsby can and does take anything he wants away from Ranger–bones, chews, dinner–but obeys the house rules because Ranger enforces them. Both cats are indoors only and the dog is indoor/outdoor. The one time Catsby tried to leave the house he was very surprised when Ranger refused to allow it and once Ranger added the hard eyed herding stare Catsby quickly retreated and hasn’t once tried to go out since. The cats are not allowed on the kitchen counter and Catsby has quickly figured out that the only time he might get away with it is if Ranger is outside and the humans are all in another room.

    I read everything I can find on cats but, having lived with cats all my life, I seldom find much information that I haven’t already gleaned myself through a lifetime of observation. I’d love to see something along the lines of Bradshaw’s Dog Sense written about cats. Cats are fascinating creatures and I’ve always thought that Kipling captured it best in his Just So story about the Cat Who Walks by Himself and all places are alike to him. Dogs made an agreement to unite with humans and have co-evolved; cats, on the other hand, made a trade agreement they’ll kill vermin in exchange for a place by the fire.

  51. Sharon C. says

    Trisha, do you have recommended reading for raising cats that are adaptable? There seems to be a ton of writing for dogs, but very little on how to raise a stable cat who doesn’t fall apart if you change the curtains or take it home to your parents for the weekend. (My daughter has a new kitten!)

  52. Larry C. says

    Sorry to hear about Willie’s prognosis. I have a Blue Picardy Spaniel who managed to rupture both cruciate ligaments. Twin TPLOs http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tibial-plateau-leveling_osteotomy left her with good use of her rear legs, but the stress and excitement of hunting led her to strain her capabilities, leading to lameness and pain. Regretfully, I had to retire her from hunting. Now she runs at her own speed, and with minimal pain meds leads a comfortable life. You and Willie may have to accept a more limited lifestyle in the future.

  53. Wendy says

    About Willy : what are the options if he doesn’t improve? I am a bit afraid to mention the A-word after all the time, effort and money you all have invested.

  54. says

    As a vet tech who faced off against aggressive dogs near daily, I was always much more afraid of cats. I’ve never been bitten by a dog, but I had to go to the hospital on three separate occasions after cat bites.

    The scariest thing is a cat with misdirected aggression. They really aren’t in control of their actions, and most of them will make this unholy screaming yowl when they’re in that state. Basically they get frightened by something (a sudden noise, a stray cat outside) and redirect the response to the nearest living thing, which is often either their owner or another cat in the household. My female suffered from it, but I could usually get a towel over her and get her safely contained until it passed.

    Our hospital had a case where a cat with misdirected aggression trapped both the husband and wife owners in their bathroom for over half an hour. The wife was badly bitten before they managed to barricade themselves in. The husband had to climb out the window and call animal control from a neighbor’s house. Animal control somehow managed to trap the cat using two laundry baskets, and then wrapped cords around it to hold the baskets together. They brought the cat to us, and we just put it in a dark room overnight. She was a totally different, loving cat in the morning. I also knew a couple who had two cats, and one cat misdirected on the other after seeing a stray outside and afterward could not be around the other cat without trying to kill her. They had to basically split the house in two and each cat had half the house.

  55. says

    I have to agree with some others that think the cat in that video might have been just about ready to lash out – the meowing and yowling seemed to look like the cat is in conflict and getting overstimulated.

    Also agree that a lot of cat owners, myself included, put up with cats that lash out after being over stimulated and would never put up with that from a dog….

    That being said, I have three very loving cats…as Trisha points out. Real lap warmers. Just like dogs, all have different personalities.

  56. says

    i’ve heard cats in the shelter making a similar noise while eating :) its pretty funny. all cats are happy when they are eating. mine even kneads the ground sometimes lol

  57. EmilyS says

    interesting posts here and interesting to compare to dogs.
    how many cats are killed for being “aggressive” for the kinds of behavior described, or legislated against?
    how many dogs are killed for similar behavior, or legislated against?

    I’ve always said there are different rules for cats and that they are “allowed” to do things no other domestic animal is. (but then the defense is that they’re not really domestic. but not really wildlife either)

  58. Beth with the Corgis says

    Emily, I think the determining factor is size. We had a cockapoo when I was a tween and teen that bit me about 3 or 4 times. We never would have tolerated that behavior from one of the “big” dogs but she only weighed about 15 pounds and the damage was minimal.

    I also had a gerbil that would bite whenever you’d pick her up. Again, size being the determining factor because she was not considered a threat, just a nuisance.

    When my Corgis jump up on strangers (so hard to train them not to when strangers give treats to leaping dogs over my protests; I’ve gotten firmer with demanding that people ask them to sit) they all say it’s ok. They would not say the same if a Dane leaped on them.

    I think that size, not species, indicates what we tolerate. Having ridden horses, I can say that 400 pound ponies are allowed to do things their full-sized cousins would be corrected for.

  59. says

    My experience as a vet tech and later as a dog/cat sitter is much the opposite as ‘Triangle’. Very few cases of intense aggression in cats–they seem to take the escape route if offered, but too many dog aggression to remember. But I have had the experience of aggression in one cat spreading rapidly to an all out brawl. Same with dogs though. Aggression is contagious. That kind of energy transfers quickly.

  60. em says

    I just wanted to pipe up in defense of cats in veterinary settings…all three of my cats were TERRIFIED by the whole experience of going to the vet. They were nervous in the crate, freaked out in the car, petrified by the sounds and smells of all the strange animals in the office. Two of my three would be comforted enough by my presence to keep it more or less together (only Sophia would lash out with serious intent), but they spent the entire trip on the razor’s edge of total panic. Many, many cats live very sheltered and confined lives, with limited interactions with strange people and environments. It’s not surprising to me that cats are more apt to lash out when in a clinical environment than dogs generally are, but I would argue that dogs in a similar state of near-panic are similarly inclined to strike out, if not more so.

    The difference, to me, is how SCARY a freaked out cat can be. Cats really make the most out of their arsenal of intimidation tactics and defensive weapons–a panicking, lashing out cat IS harder to grab and grapple with than a much larger dog doing the same. But that, to me, doesn’t reflect a difference in reaction or temperament as much as a difference in physical capability.

    The snarky nips and slaps, on the other hand, designed to ‘teach a lesson’ to the other members of the household, do seem to be more prevalent among cats, though many cats don’t indulge in this kind of boundary enforcement at all and even among those who do, the consequences of irritating a cat are seldom actually frightening or more painful than a paper cut. People tolerate it because a) cats don’t respond well to punishment b) they don’t know how to do positive b-mod or don’t consider using it with cats, who often don’t respond to food rewards or c) the cat isn’t actually bothering them with this behavior–a little snarkiness seems like a small price to pay for the affectionate companionship of an animal that requires no walking, no housebreaking and no behavior training.

    Everybody knows at least one nasty cat, but if we treated dogs the way we do cats, with loving neglect and confinement to the house, I doubt we’d like what we got.

    Cat lovers aren’t crazy or masochists, honest!

  61. Kat says

    I’m wondering if part of why we tolerate behavior from cats that we don’t from dogs is because cats are seldom regarded as little people in fur coats; people know on a fundamental level that cats are a different species. Dogs on the other hand are so very very good at reading people and responding to people and fitting into whatever role people assign them that people forget they aren’t little people in fur suits so that when they act like animals there must be something wrong with them.

  62. Tori says

    Loved your talk last week and can’t wait to carve out some time and sit down and watcth the dvd! I am a cat person first, but a sweet brown-eyed Siberian Husky charmed his way into my life, so shall probably always have a dog also.

    Just as dogs need “enrichemnt”- play and games and training – so do cats. Some cats need more that others. A couple people on the cat clicker list say that their Bengals need a good 45 minutes of quality time with their humane every day.

    Thanks for providing a great discussion. ( Maybe you should write the cat book….)

  63. says

    @Tori that’s a great comment. I have a cat that was formerly a stray and he’s a bully with one of my cats – but interestingly enough when I started putting a harness on him and taking him outside – he backed off my other cat a bit. It seems like he needs more enrichment than my other two.

    I know that cat books don’t sell as much as dog ones, but maybe a combo book on multi-species interaction might be worth it

    (I know Trish, I keep asking….and asking…LOL)

  64. trisha says

    Chloe, you and Emily made my day!! Thanks SOOO much for the laugh, I was laughing so hard that Willie came over to check me out. Fantastic!

  65. Jane says

    This is back to dog training, but I wondered if you had seen this article by Demant et al. (Denmark) in App. Animal Beh. Sci. and would consider commenting on it in your blog: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016815911100181X. It certainly has sparked conversation among my own dog-training friends, including a debate about whether the study group of dogs (laboratory animals) would be a reasonable approximation of pet (owned) dogs, or whether instead they might be more like shelter animals–and whether that has implications for the results. I remember you recently trying to train Willie by means of multiple, daily, short sessions, and this paper is definitely at odds with that!

  66. Catherine McBrien says

    I agree with everybody re border-line overstimulated cat. However, after owning multitudes of cats for 45 years I have never once had any of them attack me, or threaten to attack me. I specialize in rescuing ferals and I very much believe that establishing a relationship based upon trust and respect is essential. If your cat is attacking you, there is something seriously dysfunctional in the relationship.

    I am totally shocked by the attack cat horror stories recounted here and really hope it doesn’t deter somebody from adopting a cat. They are definitely hard-wired and the key is not putting them “over threshold” where they feel they need to get primal. If you only pet a cat on its head and cheeks, there’s virutally no chance of overstimulation attacks. Almost all of my cats (one neutered tom cat being the notable exception) have been very affectionate, loyal and loving pets even though almost all of them are really feral. My most feral litter at the moment is the most intensely loving group of cats I’ve ever had. They would put most dogs to shame with their devotion.

  67. says

    @ Jane
    The article REALLY surprised me. I am not a pro trainer but have been around dogs as a vet tech, agility obedience, and now pet sitter, and helping with easy behavior modification for pet dogs. There is absolute evidence that repetition teaches the trick. A matter of fact the Susan Garrett’s approach of 5 minutes training sessions works so well.
    I think first of all testing anything on only one breed of dogs is ridiculous. And I assure you that teaching the Agility weaves only once a week will not get results.
    I’m baffled.

  68. trisha says

    Chloe: I have read the research that Jane mentions, I’ll talk about it as a matter of fact at the seminar this weekend. But I think it deserves a blog of its own… coming up sometime soon!

  69. Julie says

    We have an orange tabby cat and two Italian Greyhounds. Our cat was completely declawed long before he came into our lives, and we were told that being declawed made him more “oral,” so that’s what I’ve attributed his behavior to. About once a week, he’ll sneak up and bite the back of my leg, never breaking the skin. When I turn around upset, he doesn’t run, he holds his ground and is ready to pounce and bite again. The only way I’ve found to get him to back off is to pick him up quickly and set him someplace else, or to “hiss” at him. He only tolerates petting a short while before he also turns and bites your arm. He hates to be held.

    Our IGs came to us as adults when we already had the cat. Our female IG wants only to chase our cat (being bred, I suppose, to chase small furry things), so we use a baby gate and also work to manage her excitement when the cat is nearby. Being similarly sized, when they’ve come face to face without a barrier, neither backs down. The IG is silent, batting at the cat, and the cat is loud and hissing, batting and lunging with his mouth at the dog. The IG will eventually come to me when I call her, trembling with what seems like overarousal.

    However, the cat regularly comes to the baby gate or the closed door and waits for the IG to come close, then yowls, hisses, and bats at her under the door or through the gate, and that situation gets more chaotic than when there’s no barrier.

    It seems the IG wants to chase, like she chases rabbits in the backyard. In that situation, if the rabbit stops, she stops chasing until the rabbit runs again. But I don’t understand the cat’s motivation – if it’s defensive, why does he approach the dogs? And if it’s territorial, I suppose we’ll always be living with baby gates, and hoping he’s not waiting to pounce.

  70. CarolG. says

    The cat in the video is making the vocalization that I referred to as “mouse mouth” which was used by mildly excited cats most usually when they had really great food e.g. a mouse. It was not the high pitched threat growl. For those who have cats who get so overstimulated by attention they just ‘have’ bite, I had a cat who would frequently do this. I taught him the cue of “Scram” meaning jump to the floor whenever he would get overstimulated. This ended the attention on a good note because obeying the cue would always get praise and sometimes a treat. I would also use it when my cat would knead too vigorously. I will agree that all creatures are individuals. One cat I had would bite anyone who irritated him, however he always growled first. If I interrupted the growl he would not bite. Our veterinarian initially wanted me to let him growl while I was holding him until I explained the interruption process, we could get through a whole exam including shots, temperature taking and other indignities with no biting attempts.

  71. Catherine McBrien says

    My theory regarding “attack cats” is that it primarily reflects a deep sense of frustration which manifests itself in aberrant, aggressive behavior. In some instances, cats who are kept indoors-only become like caged tigers because their fundamental, emotional need to be outdoors is being thwarted. One woman who suffered repeated sneak attacks indicated that once she let the cat outside the cat became a total love and was a purring lap cat once her psychological needs were satisfied.

    In a similar vein, a bored cat may behave aggressively and look for some kind of stimulation by engaging in antisocial behavior with the person or with other pets. That cat may benefit from lots of play time with lasers or fishing rods which will help sate the predatory instincts and keep the cat “busy” and burn off excess energy which leads to bad behavior

    Such a cat would also likely benefit from leadership/mama cat training such as picking up the cat all the time, briefly snuggling the cat, and placing it in different locations while simultaneously cooing and scratching its cheeks and under the chin. I would also hand-feed-only this type of cat and never leave food out.

    Cats are most definitely trainable and can undergo behavior modification protocols in the same way that dogs can. Too often people think the cat is simply an unalterable being and do not consider the underlying motivations for the behavior the way they do when dogs behave badly.

  72. allie says

    Yeah yeah, month later but I don’t normally read this blog, I guess.

    I agree with the commenter above me who says that the issue is not with the cat, but with the management and people’s general attitudes towards the cat. It’s really not much different from a dog when it comes down to it. Bored, understimulated cats find ways to entertain themselves that we may not like, just like bored, understimulated dogs do. People get cats because they have this reputation as independent and self-sufficient, and the relative ease of initial litter training (as opposed to the more active process of housetraining a dog) only reinforces the idea that the cat will look after itself and “knows” what we want from it. So while puppy and new dog owners are spending a lot of time interacting with and teaching their pets right from the start, kitten and new cat owners usually tend to let the cat work things out for itself. This is good and bad, but regardless it still should be a priority to begin laying the foundations for the cat to form positive associations with the novel stimuli around it.

    Honestly I could probably write a book about why I feel like cats get shortchanged a lot when it comes to behavior modification and training, but it would probably just be ranty and make me look a little unhinged. Suffice it to say that I have three well adjusted, properly socialized cats with vastly different “base” temperaments and motivators and all of them respond very well to R+/P- methods just the same as my dog. I just feel like people are too quick to blame the cat and whip out the P+ on them (spray bottles and the like).

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