The Seemingly Irrational Social Behaviour of the Domestic Cat

Pinto (left - B&W) and Twain (right -tabby)

Pinto (left – B&W) and Twain (right -tabby). Photo: Dr Fox.

Dr. Michael J Fox, a well known veterinarian and anti-declaw advocate, adopted two cats with the assistance of his wife, Deanna Krantz. One, who they named Twain was “truly feral”. The other, Pinto, was a lost stray. He adopted Twain first and when Pinto came along he separated them, initially, to gradually introduce them but when Pinto broke through the barrier the two immediately formed a close friendship. Proof I suppose that some cats just click together while for others it is the opposite like people.

A while later, when Michael tried to put a harness on Twain to habituate him to it, so he could take him safely outside onto the deck, he bolted and disappeared. Pinto became distraught. He wanted his friend back asap.

After much ado Michael got him back into his home. During this long and fraught 12 day process Twain sometimes ate on the deck to the house. Pinto watched him through a window and hissed at him:

“he saw Twain on the deck eating food, he hissed, puffed out his tail and gave low yowl-growls as he had done on several occasions before when he saw a stray/feral cat outdoors…”

Then….after 13 days of being back together again at home they returned to their mutually friendly ways. It took a long time to get to the way they were together. It is as if they had to start all over again from scratch but worse.

Michael J Fox says this about what appears to be irrational or at least difficult to understand feline behaviour:

“I interpret this as evidence of cognitive disassociation. In the cat’s mind—or in the minds of many cats,— especially those who are more fearful/feral, they recognize others as non-threatening, friends/conspecifics in the holistic context of place/situation. Seen in another place/situation, context changes identity/recognition.”

And after their reunion:

“Pinto would then hiss and slink away in fear, even after making brief nose-to-nose contact. I interpret Pinto’s behavior as evidence of post- traumatic stress disorder.”

I am not sure I see Dr Fox’s argument.

I have never heard about this sort of feline behaviour before. Dr Fox could well be correct. If I were to anthropomorphise cats for a second, the explanation would be simpler and would make sense to me. Pinto was upset at Twain’s rapid departure. It took a while to re-establish trust in their reunion.

Twain had bolted because he is feral a heart and become frightened by the harness. Pinto missed him when he disappeared because they were very friendly. It was almost an instant friendship so they are well matched.

When Pinto saw Twain on the deck after days apart he hissed because he was angry and upset at Twain’s behaviour or perhaps the friendship was broken. Twain had given the impression to Pinto that he had broken the friendship by disappearing in haste. There is another practical possibility, although unlikely. Pinto did not recognise Twain for some reason and simply saw another cat.

Then when they were finally reunited in the home after Twain’s 12 day absence, Pinto was still annoyed and unsure of Twain. The friendship was stressed until trust was re-established after almost 2 weeks together.

That is an interpretation based on human emotions. Can we do that? Well not really but cats do have emotions and some of their emotions are like ours. Guided by human emotions the behaviour of Pinto and Twain makes sense.

What do you think? I am guessing and I am anthropomorphising, which is dangerous. That said I believe that a lot more goes in the domestic cat’s head at an emotional level than we give credit for.

Note: this is summarised. Original article.

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The Seemingly Irrational Social Behaviour of the Domestic Cat — 5 Comments

  1. Humans tend to overanalyze everything about cats.
    We are, actually, intellectual pygmies when it comes to understanding feline behaviors.
    I think the situation is as simple as you state. Pinto felt abandoned by his friend, lost trust, and had to rebuild it.

  2. I think you could be right but on the other hand how good is a cats memory? Perhaps when Pinto saw Twain he thought he was a cat he’d never seen before and the same when he came into the house.

    Maybe when they made friends it was as if they were meeting for the very first time.

  3. You did a great job with a very complicated article Michael!lol I wouldn’t have wanted to tackle it myself.
    Cats are very intricate creatures and I always say we don’t know the half about them and never will.
    I love their air of mystery.

  4. I think Pinto felt betrayed and it took him a while to trust again. That’s all. Probably he did recognize Pinto. Imagine your partner suddenly starts doing and behaving in a way foreign to you – it would be pretty undermining and it would create trust issues until resolved somehow over time.

    I really think that photo is lovely of the two of them. It’s a great photo you can see they are best buddies.

    • it would be pretty undermining and it would create trust issues until resolved somehow over time

      This is what I tend to believe happened. My reading about cat emotions indicates to me that the domestic cat has emotions not as far removed from the emotions of humans as some people suggest.

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