Tip on introducing a new cat to a resident cat

Dr Bruce Fogle DVM has a nice tip on how to introduce a resident cat to an incoming new cat, a situation which has the potential for being problematic. People should be aware of the potential problem. What this well-known veterinarian/author recommends is that you merge the body odour or scent of both or all the cats. This means that the two or more cats become familiar with each other through smell. We know that smell is an incredibly important part of the lives of domestic cats. They use it to identify objects and other creatures including their human companion.

Cat Rubbing Up against Person's Legs
Cat Rubbing Up against Person’s Legs. This is scent exchange and a merging of scents — Image by © Walter Rohdich/Frank Lane Picture Agency/Corbis

Dr Fogle’s approach is reminiscent of what is called ‘scent exchange’. This occurs when cats who are friendly with each other rub up against each other. It also happens when your cat rubs their flank or cheek against your leg when you come home in a greeting. That is scent exchange. It is a friendl act. Scent from the human is merged with scent from the cat.

Cat sniffing a person's hand
Picture: PoC.

The importance of scent and the cat’s olfactory system is demonstrated when they even smell the person they been living with for donkey’s years for reassurance and identification. So how do you merge the scent of a new cat with a resident cat? He recommends various methods. You can stroke your new cat and then stroke your resident cat to transfer the scent from one cat to another. The scents, therefore, become merged.

He advises that you can accelerate the spread of “family scent” by wiping a soft cotton cloth around the cheeks and mouth of your new cat and then wiping the cloth on household furniture, other companion animals in the household and doorways et cetera.

The next thing you can do after the new cat has been around for a few days is to swap some of the new cat’s bedding with some bedding from the resident cat. And finally you can rub each of the cats with the other cats’ bedding so the scent is thoroughly merged.

This will help to reassure both the resident and incoming cat so that they are both familiarised with each other’s scent and the merged product.

This method focuses on the importance of the cat’s olfactory system.

Dr Fogle writes about ‘pariah cats’. He is referring to the rejection of a new cat coming into the household by the resident cat or cats who turn on the newcomer and treat him or her as a pariah. Cats under these circumstances tend to find themselves a secure location, normally high up. It depends how long that goes on for.

I can remember, many years ago, when I rescued a cat from the street in London. It meant that I was forced to introduce this new cat to a couple a resident cats that we had adopted and who were brother and sister. The cat that I rescued spent about 3 days on top of the dining room table clearly feeling insecure but eventually the resident cats mellowed and all three got along nicely. If a pariah cat can never overcome that hostile attitude from the resident cats then they will have to be rehomed, otherwise the matter might resolve itself with good fortune and with the help of the said tip.

Reference: Complete Cat Care by Dr Bruce Fogle.

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Teenager allegedly tried to poison housemates who allegedly abused her kittens

AUSTRALIA: Te Raukura Anahera Alexander, 19, lived in a Brisbane property with housemates. She owns or owned two kittens. She became enraged when allegedly housemates mishandled her kittens. There was a simmering dispute which erupted when her kittens wandered into a housemate’s room. It is reported that the kittens or a kitten scratched the person on the hand.

Te Raukura Anahera Alexander at the magistrates court.
Te Raukura Anahera Alexander at the magistrates court. Photo: Daily Mail.

Another female housemate allegedly picked up the kitten and threw him/her across the room. Alexander verbally threatened one of the housemates. Apparently she told the police that she had hoped that they would kill themselves.

The following day allegedly Alexander allegedly slashed all four tyres of a car parked at the shared property and police were called out.

When the police arrived it is reported that Alexander confessed to placing a teaspoonful of liquid Mortein Peaceful Nights mosquito repellent into yoghurt and milk. Police later seized a container of the insect repellent from a bed in Alexander’s room. The contaminated food and drink was not consumed.

Subsequently, Alexander was charged with two counts of attempting to injure by noxious substances, assault and wilful damage. She has appeared at the magistrates court already. She has been ordered to live with her father, not to return to her former home, to steer clear of her former housemates and to reappear at court on March 29. She refused to speak to the news media.

Comment: this brand of mosquito repellent is hazardous to human health according to my research. It can cause lung damage if swallowed and may cause sensitisation by skin contact. It may cause an allergic skin reaction and it can be fatal if swallowed and enters the airways. It is very toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects. You have to handle it with protective gloves. If swallowed you should immediately call a poison centre or your doctor.

Alexander is a cat lover. I like her for that. She was enraged and did something stupid. She took the law into our own hands and is now in the hands of the law. She is liable to be imprisoned for what she did so she will be without her kittens. She should have just moved out if that was a viable option.

If her allegations about her housemates are true then they indeed did abuse her kittens or kitten or at least one person did. There may be an argument that the police should investigate animal abuse as well. They won’t though.

Alexander is clearly passionate about cats and perhaps animal welfare. That’s a good thing. She perhaps should direct that passion into something good.

The story probably highlights the complications of living in a house of multiple occupation if you want to keep a cat or cats. The animals have to share the home with other people who you might not know that well or get on with. There’s a reasonable chance that they won’t like cats. There is also a reasonable chance that they are less than scrupulous when it comes to animal welfare. This may lead to abuse of the cats.

It could be argued that a person living in a home of multiple occupation is almost precluded from adopting a cat or kittens. At best they are not going to be great places for a cat because there’s too much disruption. Cats like calm, rhythm and routine. You are unlikely to achieve that sort of environment in this kind of place.

I wish her well and hope that the judge is lenient on her and understands that she was provoked beyond her abilities to resist doing something stupid.

Reported online on MSN from the Daily Mail online.

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Why does my cat stare at me?

According to Google search, people are asking, “Why does my cat stare at me?” There are variations on the theme with people asking why their cat stares at them when they are asleep or in bed or their cat stares into their eyes or at the wall! You’d be forgiven for thinking that in a lot of homes domestic cats are doing a lot of staring. This is a meandering discussion on the topic of cats staring.

Cute cat stare!
Cute cat stare! More a charming gaze. Photo: Twitter. I think it was taken in China. Certainly Asia.

I think the problem here is that people are getting mixed up between staring and looking. I guess we know that staring is looking fixedly or vacantly at someone or something with eyes wide open. However, there is a fine dividing line between looking with intent and staring.

If a person believes that their cat is staring at them and perhaps meowing at the same time it may be because their cat wants attention. And they may want attention because they want something from the person. It’s probably food or an interaction of some sort, such as a cuddle. A cat might stare at their owner at a particular time because of a routine that has been set up.

The interactions between domestic cat and their owner are a bit like a dance played out in slow motion. Everybody has their routines and cats certainly do as well. And within the routines these two creatures’ movements intersect and then they interact. At these moments a cat might expect something to happen because it has happened in the past.

This is when they will look at their owner in expectation. Yes, they may stare but it won’t be an unpleasant stare or a stare designed to intimidate. It’s just a cat looking at their human companion; looking for something to happen in anticipation.

If a cat stares at their owner when they are asleep in bed, it is probably because it is the middle of the night, a time when a domestic cat is likely to be active, and they want their owner to be active as well. There may be an element of confusion as to why he or she isn’t. They want them to wake up and join them. They may be slightly unsure if their owner is alive and well! They might think that something has happened to their human companion because they can’t figure out why they’re not active during nighttime like they are.

After all, there is a general belief that cats relate to us as if we are also cats, albeit somewhat bigger. Therefore the may aske themselves why can’t we have the same circadian rhythms as felines? They don’t really understand which may encourage them to stare a little bit.

One problem with the question in the title that I have is that in the human world staring is impolite. So when people ask why their cat stares at them they are being slightly critical of their cat. This is unfair. Cats are not aware of the etiquette of human life. This points to another issue which is always in the background in the human-cat relationship: whether people see their cat as a little person and a member of the cat family or an entirely different species with entirely different behaviours.

Cat stare
Cat stare. Image by Aamir Mohd Khan from Pixabay.

Because if we see cats as a member of the family and as miniature persons (to some extent) we allow ourselves to describe our cat looking at us as being a stare when it’s not.

There are other aspects of domestic cat staring which might bemuse or amuse people sometimes. For example, they stare at a blank wall with nothing on it. You can’t see a thing so why are they staring at the wall. Or when they stare outside when there’s nothing happening outside? The answer is that something is happening. Perhaps there was a noise behind the wall. Perhaps there was a noise outside which your cat picked up but you didn’t. Cats can hear things that we can’t because there auditory system is sensitive to sounds beyond the limit of our hearing. So when they stare at something they’ve heard something that we can’t hear.

Cat Field of Vision Compared to Human
Cat Field of Vision Compared to Human. Image: PoC.

Cats also have a wider peripheral vision than people. They may pick up things visually which we haven’t picked up at least as quickly as them. This may certainly happen more at dusk and at night because we know that they have more sensitive eyes designed for hunting under darkened conditions.

The conclusion really has to be that if a cat is staring at something for no apparent reason it is because they have seen or heard something that we can’t. Everything that they cat does is, when you analyse it, logical and consequential. It is a reaction to something, a stimulus. There is always purpose behind it and their behaviour is natural and often instinctive. Instinctive behaviour must be entirely natural.

I’m not sure that I would say that cats stare at us. It is the wrong word. They look at us for attention and sometimes they look at us lovingly because they know they’ve got a good life! My cat certainly does.

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Geoffroy’s Cat

The name Geoffroy’s Cat is unusual as it is named after French naturalist, Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, “who identified Geoffroy’s Cat as a different species” (src: Wikipedia) whilst a professor of zoology when in Paris, France. The middle name is a Germanic version of the more familiar Geoffrey. This, I am sure causes problems when searching for information! The scientific name is easier: Leopardus geoffroyi.

OK, down to work. Here is a picture by a Flickr photographer of the Geoffroy’s cat:

geoffroys-cat

Geoffroy’s Cat by treviño. Published under a creative commons license and taken at Sacramento Zoo, California.

This cat has a striking tabby spotted coat, which has been its undoing. It has been widely hunted in its native habitat (Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay) and the pelts (I prefer the word “skin” and fur as it does not disguise what it actually is) exported via the international fur trade, over the period 1960 to 1980s (see Cat Fur – Switzerland fur trade now banned in the EEC).

This wild cat species weighs between 4 to 9 lbs (2-4 kgs) to a maximum of about 18 lbs, which is similar to an average domestic cat (see Largest Domestic Cat Breed) although 18 lbs is at the top end of the domestic cat range (Maine Coons and Savannahs). It is considered “a small solitary felid (4.3 kg)” by IUCN Red List for Threatened Species™.

It has been crossed with a domestic cat to produce the wild cat hybrid, the Safari Cat, a relatively little-known wild cat hybrid that is a domestic cat. However, there are difficulties in creating this wildcat hybrid.

geoffroys-cat-1

Geoffroy’s Cat from Wikimedia Commons file and reproduced under license. Author: Daf-de. Taken at Zoo Karlsruhe, Germany.

IUCN Assessment

IUCN-Near-Threatened

This species is considered Near Threatened, which means:

“…..a conservation status assigned to species or lower taxa that may be considered threatened with extinction in the near future, although it does not currently qualify for the threatened status. As such the IUCN notes the importance of re-evaluating Near Threatened taxa often or at appropriate intervals.” (src: Wikipedia reproduced verbatim under license).

The future threat as described by the IUCN Red List for Threatened Species™ (Red List) is that it might, in the future, be reclassified because of a threat to survival from “habitat conversion”. This must refer to habitat loss for commercial reasons such as logging and farming. The population, unsurprisingly, is decreasing.

Update Dec 2017. Now classified as LEAST CONCERN. This indicates an improvement in the survivability of the species in the wild. I am surprised to see this.

Range Habitat & Ecology

The range of this cat species:

  • South-eastern Bolivia
  • Paraguay
  • Argentina east of the Andes
  • Southern Brazil (below ca. 30oS)
  • Uruguay (to the Strait of Magellan in Chile)

And it is found in the above areas from sea level to 3,300 meters above sea level.

Map picture

This map opens in a new window

Update: I have prepared a map on this cat’s distribution. Here is a small version of it:


View Geoffroy’s cat range in a larger map

See this custom map in large format plus more on this page: Geoffroy’s Cat Range

Within these counties there are a wide range of habitats from subtropical to temperate, where this cat is found, namely:

  • scrubby woodland
  • dry forests, shrub, woodlands & savannahs (Chaco)
  • scrub (Patagonia)
  • desert (Monte)
  • alpine saline desert (NW Argentina)
  • woods and grassland (Pampas)
  • Andes mountains up to 3,300 meters

Chile -Torres-del-Paine

Chile – Torres del Paine a habitat for Geoffroy’s Cat. Photo by vtveenpublished under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs creative commons License .

It favours denser cover and arid to semi-arid landscape but is sometimes found in wetlands. As to the size of this cat’s home range:

  • mean home range from 2.5 to 3.4 km².
  • Sometimes the range is larger as in the Torres del Paine National Park (see above), in beech forest (Chile) where it is “2.3-6.5 km² for two females, and 10-9-12.4 km² for two males” (src: Red List).

As to diet, this is varied and depends on location:

  • small rodents and birds (Argentina)
  • rodents and hares (Chile – see photo below)
  • introduced brown hairs (southern South America)
  • fish and frogs (Brazil and Uruguay)
  • small mammals (Lihue Calel)

chilean-hare

Photo published under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs creative commons License  — this site is for charitable purposes in funding cat rescue. By static-photo.

Threats and Conservation

Threats to survival in the wild can be summarized as:

  • fur trade despite hunting and trade being banned in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay
  • killed by farmers to protect livestock
  • habitat loss
  • habitat fragmentation resulting in breeding problems
  • the contracting of life threatening diseases found in domestic cats (see Cat Health Problems)
  • other threats not yet quantified

Protection for Geoffroy’s Cat also comes from reserves and it is listed in CITES Appendix I – definition:

[Appendix I] lists species that are the most endangered among CITES-listed animals and plants….They are threatened with extinction and CITES prohibits international trade in specimens of these species except when the purpose of the import is not commercial….(src: CITES, quoted verbatim for accuracy)

From Geoffroy’s Cat to Wild Cat Species

Sources/Reference: Red List, Wikipedia, PoC

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Cats are aloof, self-centred and treacherous. Discuss.

The basic conclusion, fair or otherwise, of a recent study is that unlike dogs cats will not side with their owners against the “enemy”. Dogs shun people who behave negatively towards their owner whereas cats don’t. Perhaps the more scientific conclusion, to use the language of the study, is that domestic cats don’t ‘evualate’ the behavior of people who interact with their owner but dogs do. If a person does not help a dog’s owner when requested it is noticed by a dog which changes their behavior towards the unhelpful person whereas cats show a neutral response. Read on, please, for more details. I have another article on this.

The reason? Dogs have been bred over perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 years to work with humans in various aspects of human life and in addition they are pack animals and therefore instinctively support each other. Conversely, domestic cats are inherently solitary although over ten thousand years of domestication they have become quite sociable.

They’ve adapted to domestication and living in larger numbers which requires a greater tolerance of each other. Despite these adaptations, the inherent solitary nature of domestic cats means that they won’t come to the aid of their owner when required and in contrast to domestic dogs who do. Note: this my interpretation of the report on the study based on my knowldge of both species. Despite the study’s conclusion I am reminded of the child saved by the family cat when a dog viciously attacked the toddler. But this may be different as the cat regarded the child as one of its own I believe and not a human companion.

Aloof self-centered cat?
Aloof self-centered cat? Photo: Brittney Gobble

Here’s some more detail. The study was published in the journal Animal Behaviour and Cognition. Thirty-six cats participated. They were divided into two groups. Cats watched their owners trying unsuccessfully to open a container and requesting help from a person, an actor, sitting nearby.

In one group the cats saw the actor refusing to help while in the second group the actor helped. After each interaction the cats were offered food by the actor and by a neutral person who had also been present. The researchers repeated the experiment 4 times with each animal. Cats in both groups were happy to accept a treat from the actor and it made no difference whether they helped or did not help. And it made no difference if they were offered the treat from the neutral person.

When the researchers conducted the same experiment with dogs the animals were less willing to accept the food treat from the actor if the dogs had witnessed the actor failing to help their owner. This, it is argued, points to the fact that dogs are observant of and understand the perceived intentions of a person who fails to help their owner.

Perhaps they see them as hostile to their owner and therefore they become hostile themselves towards that person. In short, they were able to pick up the attitude or intentions of people outside the pack. That is my interpretation incidentally and it does not come from the study documentation which I have not read because they can’t access it at the moment.

News media, in this instance The Times, have interpreted this behavioural trait of domestic cat as treachery because they won’t side with their owners against the enemy. The enemy in this study are those people who failed to assist their owners.

They also claim that domestic cats are aloof, self-centred and prone to lashing out! Incorrect and a bit of fun perhaps but misleading nonetheless. This is not treachery. It is a being solitary by nature. In a further 10,000 years of domestication cats will act in the same way as dogs under the test circumstances.

Study reference details: Cats (Felis catus) Show no Avoidance of People who Behave Negatively to their Owner — Scientists: Hitomi Chijiiwa1, Saho Takagi1, Minori Arahori, James R. Anderson, Kazuo Fujita, & Hika Kuroshima. Location: Department of Psychology, Graduate School of Letters, Kyoto University, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. Corresponding author (Email: chijiiwa.hitomi.5m@kyoto-u.ac.jp)

Published online: Animal Behavior and Cognition journal.

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How do you tell if your cat has mental problems?

It can difficult to tell if your cat has mental health problems. The subject of mental health in domestic cats is a very difficult one even for the experts, including veterinarians because we don’t know enough about it. And we don’t know enough about it because we can’t talk to our cats. We therefore have to guess and work backwards from behaviour which we might consider as abnormal.

Cat's simplified mental processes
Cat’s simplified mental processes. Illustration: PoC based in image in public domain.

Introduction – we don’t know much

It’s interesting to note that in the best book you can buy on home veterinary care, Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, ‘mental health’ is not mentioned in the index at all. That is the kind of emphasis that is placed on mental health in domestic cats.

There is also a murky dividing line between genuine mental health problems and logical behavioural responses to events or stimuli. If the response is logical and normal it can’t be said to be a mental health problem. It is therefore difficult to talk about it in the context of animals. And animals respond logically because their behaviour is instinctive. This precludes a diagnosis of mental health problem in some instances.

There is a danger as well to anthropomorphise cats and project our mental health issues onto them, although it can be useful sometimes to do this because it may help us to diagnose mental health problems. For example, if they demonstrate obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) because of stress, we can recognise this in ourselves. There is certainly quite a lot of overlap between domestic cats and people in terms of behaviour driven by circumstance and inherited characteristics.

To get to the meat of the article, I think we can reduce or summarise feline mental health problems into those few topics that we do agree exist. I list them below.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder in cats

Over-groomed cat
Over-groomed cat on belly. Likely cause: stress. Picture in public domain.

In reading about cats over fourteen years, it is hard not to come across references to OCD in cats. This is manifested in a cat by over-grooming their stomach and the inside of their hind legs, which are easily accessible areas of their anatomy. This can result in fur being removed entirely down to the skin. It’s agreed that cats do this because there are stressed and self-grooming calms the nerves. The cause and effect is the same in cats as it is in people and OCD is quite commonplace in people to varying degrees. It provides a sense of control in people which is calming.

Other examples of OCD might be pacing, vocalising, overeating and sucking or chewing on non-nutritious objects such as fabric. Actually sucking and chewing on wool is another example of a known mental health issue.

Wool sucking

Feline wool-sucking
Feline wool-sucking. Picture in public domain.

It is said that if a domestic cat sucks their owner’s ear lobe or some other object such as a person’s finger or a garment, it is due to early weaning. In other words the cat was removed from their mother too early which has resulted in this deviant behaviour of being nursed by a human when they stuck on that person’s ear. It looks like a form of madness but it is probably fair to say that it is a logical extension of being weaned too early. I think it’s fair to classify wool sucking as a mental health problem and one which is known about. Incidentally Dr Desmond Morris suggests that cats suck wool because of the lanolin in it (plus early weaning).

Kittens sucking their thumbs is not uncommon by the way:

Kitten sucking their thumb
This is an alternative to wool-sucking. Photo: PoC.

Depression

Rescue cat with a sad face
Rescue cat with a sad face. Pic in public domain.

To discuss depression in the context of humans is difficult because the word “depression” is very elastic. Therefore layperson like myself, never mind a veterinarian, have to be incredibly cautious when discussing this mental health issue in relation to domestic cats. Let’s agree that cats can suffer from depressed mood because of the environment in which they live. It is hard to detect it in their behaviour but logically we have to conclude that it happens and the converse also happens namely that they can be content in a nice environment. Can we see depression in a cat’s facial expression? I think so.

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome

Anti-dementia tablet for cats
Anti-dementia tablet for cats. Picture: PoC.

The title is a long version of what we might call senility or dementia in people. It is a well rehearsed topic concerning people. It is also a well-known syndrome in geriatric dogs and a similar condition is seen in some older cats. I think it’s fair to say that it does exist in some geriatric cats. They might have memory problems, forget how to use the litter box and lose some awareness of their surroundings. They might pace and howl at night as if lost. They are generally disorientated and indeed disorientation may be present in up to 40% of cats from 16 to 20 years of age according to the book I refer to above.

Trauma resulting in mental illness

Based on my reading about cats, we can say that domestic cats are very resilient, mentally, to trauma. They recover from traumatic events in the long term and normally don’t demonstrate mental health problems as a result such as post-traumatic stress syndrome. Veterinarians must treat a lot of cats who have suffered trauma and I think they would say that they recover remarkably well but it takes time and patience to overcome. Let’s say that cats may suffer temporary mental health problems because of trauma.

Feline hyperesthesia syndrome

There is a short section in the book I have (mentioned above) on this mental health issue. They say that it occurs at about 1 to 4 years of age. The cat has episodes when their skin twitches, the tail whips and they don’t want to be touched. It’s as if the skin is supersensitive. The pupils are dilated. The trouble is that vets don’t know whether this is a mental health issue, a neurological problem or a behavioural problem. It is normally seen in Abyssinian, Himalayan, Burmese and Siamese cats. The condition highlights our lack of knowledge of mental health problems in domestic cats.

Autism in cats

Is my cat autistic?

It appears that some cat owners believe that vaccinations can cause cats to become autistic. These are anti-vaxxers. There is a lot of this around at present with the Covid-19 vaccinations being administered in huge numbers. I am mentioning this for completeness but there is no science to the best of my knowledge which supports the notion tha cats can suffer from autism.

Jackson Galaxy

Jackson Galaxy, the well-known cat behaviourist, has referred to, in his books and I suspect also in his videos, medication such as antidepressants to treat cats which he has decided have mental health problems as reflected in their abnormal behaviour. He is a very well respected cat behaviourist and he has seen a lot of cat behavioural problems. I trust his judgement. In short, he is saying that sometimes cats do suffer from mental health problems and when you can’t get to the bottom of cat behaviour in the usual way, the only way forward is to treat the cats with medication. Perhaps Lux the Cat is one example.

Narcissism

This is a fun section because in my opinion narcissism or narcissistic behaviour is exclusively to do with people. Can domestic cats be narcissistic? No, but it is said that narcissistic people prefer dogs and codependent people prefer cats! This is because narcissistic people want to be adored and admired and dogs fit the bill. Cats, on the other hand, do not look up in wide-eyed admiration at their owner. They are on an equal footing and sometimes they are the master because they train their owner very subtly over a long period of time to get their way. This only happens if the owner loves their cat.

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2 reasons why cats are selectively bred

The two reasons why domestic cats are selectively bred, primarily by cat breeders, is to create cats with a certain appearance and secondarily cats with a certain character. Selective breeding is the opposite to natural selection. Natural selection refers to the evolution of the species as espoused by Charles Darwin in his book On the Origin of the Species.

Selective breeding is artificial selection as opposed to natural selection for the fittest (Darwin’s theory of evolution). Selective breeding does not necessarily produce the fittest. It’s objective is to produce the prettiest.

Selective breeding clipart
Selective breeding clipart graphic in the public domain.

It is only over the past one hundred and fifty years or so that selective breeding has been taking place formally. Before that cats were random bred or they mated through natural selection. There was no human intervention, or very little.

Perhaps the first examples of selective breeding occurred when it is believed that people chose a mutated tabby cat with a blotched pattern rather than the striped pattern to breed cats informally. That would have been well before the cat fancy and cat associations existed. This example might have been extended to other coat types which emerged during the ten thousand years of domestication of the cat.

The original coat type is the striped tabby because that is the coat of the domestic cat’s wild cat ancestor, although it is a more dilute version.

For many several thousands of years the only domestic cat coat type would have been tabby. Then through natural selection other coat types emerged. The size of the cat would vary slightly from region to region because in hot climates cats tend to be smaller whereas in colder climates they are bigger because it aids in survival.

As the domestic cat and semi-domestic cat (community cat) population increased they lived nearer together around food sources which resulted through natural selection in the cats being better able to tolerate small home ranges.

So against this backdrop, the first serious examples of selective breeding would have taken place in the late 1800s sometime before the first cat shows in America and England. In England the first cat show took place on July 13, 1871 at Crystal Palace and in America the first cat show took place at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1895.

The show cats there would have been early versions of selectively bred purebred cats. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then and in typical human fashion breeders have pushed the envelope with certain breeds beyond what might be accepted as the proper limit to create extreme bred cats such as the flat-faced Persian, the modern version of the Siamese with an elongated face and body, and the heavy and large Maine Coon with strong muzzles being the latest version of extreme breeding.

To return to the first sentence: the two reasons why cats, and we are only concerned with domestic cats, are selectively bred is because breeders want to make sure that their cats comply with the breed standard as set down by the cat associations and to make sure that their breed is distinguishable in terms of appearance and sometimes in character from other breeds and random bread cats. In doing this they win shows and also ensure that their cats are more marketable.

The cat breeds are in a crowded marketplace and it is quite difficult to ensure that a cat breed is clearly distinguishable from another (e.g. old style Siamese versus contemporary Siamese). On occasions this objective has been aided by genetic mutations which have taken place spontaneously and randomly outside of the cat breeding fraternity but a breeder has picked up on it and created a new cat breed from this mutation. A good example is the hairless cat breeds such as the Sphynx and the Russian version the Don Sphynx.

Selective breeding incorporates inbreeding. The two go together like apple pie and custard. With hopefully reasonable inbreeding cat breeders are able to fix the appearance and sometimes character traits that they want. They select and work with a limited number of cats and then breed them together such as a mother mating with her offspring. This creates a breeding line, the outcome of which is high quality cats of a certain breed in line with the breed standard.

The breed standard sets out briefly whether breeders can outcrossed their cats to either random bred cats or cat another breed, The purpose? To maintain health because inbreeding can result in inbreeding depression which essentially means that the cat has a weakened immune system and suffers from general ill health with a shortened lifespan.Click here for inbreeding depression.

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In New York State feral cats have the same status as domestic cats

It is important in terms of how the citizens of New York State relate to feral cats to realise (if they don’t already) that feral cats are considered as companion animals under section 350 of the New York State Agriculture and Market Law. The law protects animals and the word ‘animal’ in this statute refers to ‘every living creature except a human being’. That is pretty comprehensive and very clear.

This fundamental attitude towards feral cats in New York State under the law has profound consequences. A lot of people anywhere, not just in New York State or other states, don’t like feral cats. Where there are lax laws or enforcement of laws there are people who kill feral cats with impunity. They feel that they have the right to do it as feral cats are pests and vermin in their eyes.

New York State is more advanced in respect of animal welfare than almost all other states of the US except California. They are the first state to ban cat declawing state-wide. That was an amazing piece of legislation. A great statement of intent against the odds – the veterinarians fought the ban tooth and nail – that animals have rights.

If someone wants to shoot or poison a feral cat in New York State they will have to check the law first. There are some tightly phrased exceptions to killing feral cats but by and large you can’t and that includes professional pest exterminating businesses. So you can’t trap and kill them or poison them and so on as if they are vermin.

In addition to being morally correct, the law is actually common sense as you can’t be sure if you are shooting or poisoning a domestic cat or a feral cat. This will always be a barrier to the idea of exterminating feral cats. You are going to catch, in the programme, the odd domestic cat, someone’s pet, and when you do that you are committing a crime and you are open to being sued for compensation.

North Fork, NY, feral cat colony vandalism

Homemade feral cat shelters at North Fork colony
Homemade feral cat shelters at North Fork colony. Photo: Virginia Scudder.

There is a story online today about an established colony of feral cats at North Fork, NY. This is a place which is just at the end of Long Island. Volunteers have been providing TNR services to the colony for years. It has worked well.

Suddenly and anonymously, as far as I can gather, a person or persons ransacked the colony. They piled up the homemade feral cat shelters and then threw them away.

Virginia Scudder, the founder of North Fork Country Kids: Rescue and Preservation Through Pedagogy rescue group said that they had kept the colony secret to try and avoid what has happened. All the cats were neutered. It appears to have been well managed.

Scudder said that it is illegal, ‘against the law’, to stop feeding feral cats that have been fed for ten years as part of a TNR program. I am not sure what law she is referring to but it is probably the one I have mentioned at the top of the page. It would be an act of cruelty which falls under that law.

Comment: the person or persons who vandalised the work of the TNR volunteers has committed a crime. If the shelters have been removed and disposed of it is theft. Scudder said that the cat housing was worth hundreds of dollars.

Secondly, it is probably criminal damage. That, too, is a crime. And the criminals’ actions may be an act of cruelty against the cats as they have exposed the animals to the winter weather. The complication there is that the TNR volunteers can step in an mitigate the potential for animal cruelty.

The feral cats in this colony have good protection under the New York State Agriculture and Market Law. It is a question as to whether law enforcement have the motivation to do something about it.

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