Happy cat campaign tip 1 – the discarded cardboard box

I am running two campaigns at the moment and they overlap. One is to promote domestic cat happiness. Sounds childish almost but it’s not. It’s about remembering our responsibilities towards our cat companions. After providing security, warmth and sustenance it is down to cat caregivers to make their cat happy! Of course, the owner has to be happy or at least not unhappy. It is difficult to want to behave altruistically when one is unhappy.

A lot of cat owners are older people, some elderly. With old age there is ill-health. On average people over 75 suffer from a chronic illness of some sort and take five pills daily! For the elderly health is the number one priority. Being healthy it is much easier to be happy and even tempered. This is important in cat caregiving.

The discarded cardboard box

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This is a discarded cardboard box that contained a bread bin that I bought from Amazon. I threw the box away and retrieved it. Cut the flaps off the end and placed it on the floor in an empty bedroom my cat was using for sleeping. Only he was out in the open. I knew that if I placed the box in the room, he’d use it and he did the next day.

The reason is one we all know about: cats like the feeling of security that a ‘roof’ brings to their ‘bedroom’. And with three walls as well he found a near ideal bedroom that was free.

It is a nothing tip. A nothing job for the cat caregiver but a big difference to the life of a cat as they are happier.

My cat is pretty confident so his love of boxes is not down to a desire to hide due to timidity. It is a simple wildcat ancestor response. This is the kind of den that a wild cat would sleep in. For example, below is a picture bobcats sleeping in the hollowed-out trunk of a fallen tree. Same thing. Of course, the bobcat is not the wild cat ancestor of the domestic cat but the same emotional needs apply to the North African wildcat.

Bobcat family sleeping in a perfectly hollowed out tree trunk
Cosy hollowed out tree truck for what appears to be 2 mothers and offspring. Photo in public domain.

And below is another tree den for a bobcat cub:

Bobcat den in tree trunk
Bobcat den in tree trunk. Photo: Pinterest.

Making a cat happy need not be expensive. It does take a little thought and time however. And an attitude that says a cat owner needs to think about ways to make their cat happy.

I don’t believe that it is enough to feed a cat and ignore them a lot of the time. A lot of people think domestic cats are independent which is why they disappear but sometimes they disappear for hours because the connection between owner and cat is loose. They are not bonded. It is about how to create a bond with your cat which is part of making your cat happy. The link below goes to a page which discusses this.

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How to create a lifelong bond with your cat

Happy cat will be a bonded cat.
Image; MikeB

There are two ways, as I see it, of creating a lifelong bond with your cat. They refer to a couple of different scenarios. This is not some sort of mysterious, magical system. It is applied common sense.


Make your cat happy

I have written about making your cat happy before (link to article). Making cats happy is based on the same principles as making people happy. You do things for your cat which makes them happy. You should be with them as much as you can provided the interactions are enjoyable for your cat. This is about thinking what your cat likes not what you like although the two should merge.

It clearly helps to have a good understanding of cat behavior as it helps to understand feline communication through body language and the sounds that the make. Also understanding cat behaviour leads to a better understanding of what makes them happy. A gentle approach at all times is an overarching theme including a pleasant voice and gentle petting.

The greater the number of good interactions that you can create the better it is for bonding. If you are retired, for example, you can spend all day with your cat. And during those long days you interact with your cat in a way which pleases him or her.

RELATED: Every cat has their favourite way of being petted so find and deliver it to make them happy.

You find out what they like in terms of food and petting style. You deliver these things to your cat companion. You bend your life around hers. You behave altruistically. You give a part of your life to her because their whole life is within your life. You create the environment in which they live.

In a loving relationship between human cat the cat lives their life through their human in many respects and particularly so if they are full-time indoor cats. That’s why the owner of a full-time indoor cat has a greater responsibility cat caregiving. They have more to do to keep their cat happy.

RELATED: How can I make my indoor cat happy?

It’s why it can be useful to adopt two cats together who are known to get along if they are going to be full-time indoor cats because it takes away some of that responsibility to mentally stimulate and entertain.

But the bottom line in a normal situation between human and cat where the objective as always is to create a lifelong bond is to find out what makes them happy and deliver those things to them.

That sounds rather commercial but the cat will then associate you with rewards and pleasure and good things. They will want to be with you. They will sit next to you. They will rub up against you and purr when they meet up with you. That is what you want as a cat caregiver.

Healthy owner?

This is not to say that cat owners can’t sometimes become irritated and annoyed or worn out and fed up. They might be ill and tired. All these things interfere with delivering the kind of environment that pleases a domestic cat.

Therefore, it is useful for a cat caregiver to keep as fit and as healthy as possible. This assists in making the caregiver as content as possible. I have some pages on these objectives which may help.

Alternative scenario

In addition to the above – which should always in place as a default method of caregiving – if a human raises a newborn kitten themselves for whatever reason to an excellent standard, the cat caregiver might and probably will be imprinted upon the mind of the kitten as their mother. This would be a lifelong mentality in the kitten. It would ensure a very close bond between caregiver and cat.

Downsides?

Some people might think that there are some downsides when a cat is bonded so closely with their caregiver. For example, the cat might follow their human companion (surrogate mother) around whenever they are in the home. Some people don’t like this because their cat gets under their feet a lot. Or their cat gets in the way when they want to do something like work on their computer.

When in a close relationship with their owner, cats do have a tendency to simply barge in on what their human is doing whenever they like. This, I would suggest, is less likely to happen if the relationship between person and cat is a little looser and a little less bonded.

It’s a bit like the relationship between human and cat when the cat is a barn cat. There is still a relationship there which is good but the cat is more independent.

Target/objective

The target or objective is always as close a bond as one can create through excellent caregiving. Bonding followings naturally from excellent cat caregiving.

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2 reasons why it hurts more when your cat dies compared to a close relative

There are 2 reasons why it is not uncommon for cat owners to feel more distress and emotional hurt when their cat passes over the rainbow bridge than when relatives die including parents or a husband or wife. This is not a universal formula but I think it will be true on many occasions. This is a cross-post as it is a nice and I think revealing topic (click for earlier post).

Missie who I loved. She died in 1994. I have her ashes.
Missie who I loved. She died in 1994. I have her ashes. Image: MikeB

But the most hurt that a person feels when somebody close to them dies is when a parent loses their child. It is perhaps the ultimate pain from the loss of a close one. And without being flippant but in fact being deadly serious, I think that there might be a similarity for a parent on the loss of their child to the loss of their beloved cat companion.

Richard Coles.
Richard Coles. Image by MikeB from a picture in the public domain as assessed.

And the idea for this, I must admit, comes from Richard Coles writing for The Sunday Times today. He burst into tears when he had left his elderly, female dog, a dachshund, at his veterinarian to have their teeth cleaned. It meant putting Daisy under general anaesthetic which risked the dog’s life. He was fearful of losing her.

On the way home without Daisy, he turned around thinking that she was still in the car. On seeing she wasn’t there he burst into tears because her absence brought home to him how much she meant to him and how much he will feel her loss.

And the reason as elucidated by Richard Coles is this: cats and dogs live their whole lives through their human caregiver. Their whole life is part of their caregiver’s life. It is as if their life is encapsulated within the owner’s. And the same applies to children until they become emotionally independent. Humans create the environment in which their pet lives.

And when a beloved cat dies a part of that person departs with them. The loss to the cat owner is a loss of part of their life. The same cannot be said about losing a relative. This is not to belittle relatives. Under normal circumstances – there are exceptions – humans have their own lives. They are not wholly dependent upon another person. You can’t fit a human’s life into the life of another human as is the case with a companion animal.

And therefore, when a human passes it isn’t quite so painful. Of course, this is not a strict formula. The other reason why, sometimes, people are hurt more when their pet dies than e.g., when their mother or father dies is because they love their pet more than their father or mother!

And the same can be said about other relatives. This is because there is a deeper bond. It is not uncommon for people to form a deeper bond with an animal than with another human even if that human is a blood relative.

And there are all kinds of reasons for that one of which is that a companion animal’s love for their caregiver is unconditional. The dog looks up to their caregiver as the alpha leader of the pack. That’s an automatically created close bond. The cat looks to their owner as a surrogate mother normally. The provider of security, warmth (both emotional and physical) and food. Once again you won’t get a closer bond than kitten to mother which in effect is the relationship between adult cat and human caregiver.

These are the two reasons why it hurts more when your cat dies then when a relative dies. But the greater of these two is the first: the life of a cat is lived within the life of their human caregiver.

And this is exactly what happened to me when I lost a female cat who I loved dearly when she was four years of age. Still quite young. Her death was my fault. She was run over on a road. I found her and buried her and then cremated her. She is still with me in the form of her ashes. The picture of her is on this page.

I’ve not loved any sentient being as much as I loved her. I still do and I still cry for her.

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Cat zoomies for social media videos

You’ve got natural domestic cat zoomies and zoomies created for social media and they can be different because as we see in the video below, zoomies captured for social media – in this case TikTok – can be contrived with the cat being stressed up by the desires of their owner to achieve those precious viewing figures so craved by users.

Ben the Vet makes a good point. I really like Ben as he has the courage to be critical when necessary. Being sensible and critical on social media does not always result in popularity as users of social media want to escape reality and be amused by ubiquitous funny cat videos.

In this instance is appears that the cat’s owner placed a torn up white plastic bag around the neck of their cat which scared the cat causing them to run around the room. We don’t know for sure but that’s what it looks like to me and if I’m right Ben is right too.

People do some extraordinary things with their cats to make funny cat videos. It’s been found that around 35% of cats in funny cat videos are stressed which is unsurprising to me as cats are often manipulated into doing unnatural things in these videos.

Without wishing to be too boringly serious (see, I feel guilty about being serious) domestic cat zoomies even when they are entirely natural are a cause of concern as it means that the cat is bored.

Due to an unchallenged lifestyle, normally because the cat is full-time indoors, energy levels build up which have to be expended in a burst of mindless activity. The whole purpose is to burn energy which results in the cat dashing around the house achieving nothing except to amuse the owner (maybe) and the video audience.

This leads to the inevitable discussion about environmental enrichment and mental stimulation. These are two aspects of cat caregiving which are often – almost always – neglected for full-time indoor cats. Cat owners blithely state that their cat likes to sleep all day. Not problem they say.

Problem, I say. Yes, domestic cats naturally sleep a lot as this behavior is inherited from their wildcat ancestor who’s a pretty successful hunter and therefore has the luxury of sleeping rather than hunting but owners should not conflate this form of behavior with sleeping because the domestic cat is totally unchallenged. They need challenges.

I mean even a puzzle feeder would be a help. Leash training perhaps. That’s a bit of a challenge for the owner! But if my cat was an indoor cat, I’d leash train him. He is already partly leash trained.

The experts say that domestic cats are thicker than wild cats. Yes, because they are unchallenged. Their minds are insufficiently exercised. Wild cats are constantly searching for food and meeting the other challenges of survival. Not so the cossetted domestic cat (in good homes).

I’ve fruitlessly campaigned for more cat friendly environments for indoor cats. Cat owners still think of their home as theirs and not shared between them and their cat. The environment is built for humans with the domestic cat as an accoutrement.

In truth, if the cat is regarded as a family member as we often hear the environment inside the cat owner’s home should be a pleasant and interesting place for both cat and person in near equal measure. It never is.

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Puppy stolen by armed intruder reunited with owners in 24 hours – infographic plots course of events

I decided to tell the bare bones of this story in a picture, an infographic, because I think it leads itself to that kind of presentation. It is an interesting and unusual story as only one in four stolen dogs are reunited with their owners in the UK. Many other dogs are not so lucky and the owners have to thank the couple who bought Twiglet, the miniature dachshund online and played things smart.

There is a video of the theft from the home security camera footage covering the kitchen and it is distressing as Twiglet is very distressed when she is grabbed by the thief. She looked terrified. It must have been a terrible ordeal for her.

The release of the video by the police was a key element in the successful return of Twiglet as it informed the couple who were offered Twiglet online that he was a stolen dog. They then had the means to act as intermediaries in recovering Twiglet.

We are not told if the owners, Mr and Mrs Vindis reimbursed the couple the £700 that they paid for Twiglet. I expect that they did.

I would also expect the thief to be apprehended. The video is decent quality and on the basis that he is a delivery driver, the company for whom he works will be able to track his movements to see if they coincide with Mr and Mrs Vindis’s home unless he drove out of his way for a considerable distance.

A neighbour, Iain Keys, 51, said that the community really saved Twiglet by banding together to spread the word. This was a community effort. Although it appears that Facebook was a central part of the story, there was a lot of spreading of information to other websites and social media sites all of which occurred very quickly which helped to reunite dog and owner.

In effect, the dog became too hot to handle for the thief and he had to find a quick buyer to off load Twiglet.

Dog theft caught on CCTV
Dog theft caught on CCTV. The dog is a miniature dachshund Twiglet. Screenshot.

On the wider issue of pet theft in the UK, Direct Line pet insurance said in a report that 2,160 dogs in Britain were stolen in 2022 which is a rate of six every day.

The most popular breeds to steal are American Bulldogs, Staffordshire bull terriers and French bulldogs. Although The Times reports that dog thefts have fallen by 22% year-on-year because the demand for stolen dogs has decreased during the cost-of-living crisis.

Twiglet made it home against all the odds.

Beverley Cuddy, the editor of Dogs Today magazine, said: “Although reported dog theft numbers may be going down to pre-pandemic levels, the reality is that a significant number of cases still go unreported. Coupled with the rise in people using dog walkers, multiple dogs could be stolen at one time. Only one crime reference number is assigned when this happens, so we believe the scale of the problem is likely to be much bigger.”

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Karine Jean-Pierre, White House Press Secretary respects climate change activist who interrupts her at a speaking event

Karine Jean-Pierre is an admirable woman. She is gay and talented. She was speaking at an event about climate change during which an activist, Elise Joshi, had the courage to get up and interrupt. There are two very good things about the interruption. Firstly, Joshi had the courage to do it. She was clearly nervous but did a great job. Secondly, despite being interrupted Jean-Pierre respected Joshi and her first remark was, “First of all I appreciate your courage”, which brought a round of applause from the audience. It is this kind of behavior by two women at opposite ends of the debate which I find so admirable. For me, two fine women deserving our praise.

I just mustered up every ounce of courage to interrupt White House Press Secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, and urge the Biden Administration to stop approving new coal, oil, and gas projects. The climate crisis is here now. POTUS, listen to Gen-Z, scientists, and frontline communities

Elise Joshi – Executive Director of Gen Z for Change

The video

Joshi interrupts Karine Jean-Pierre

What’s it got to do with cats?

Everything. Global warming is an overarching crisis which affects all living creatures on the planet and the welfare of the planet itself. Everything pales into insignificance against it. Despite its impact being felt in 2023, it is not enough for apathetic humankind to get off their bum and truly do something about it big time.

Humans tend to need to see it, smell it, touch it, feel it and be hit in the face by it to do something about it! ‘It’ being climate change in this instance.

Politicians talk a lot about it but don’t walk the walk. Greta Thunberg walks the walk. Joshi does too. I love that.

China is the major culprit in this. They blatantly and wantonly almost completely ignore climate change as they build many new coal-fired power stations. Australia provides the coal! One year’s increase only in carbon dioxide emission by China equals the entirety of UK carbon dioxide emissions. China emitted 11.5 billion tons of CO2 in 2021. The UK’s contribution to CO2 emissions is 1% of the global total.

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Domestic cats haven’t yet worked out many aspects of human activity

This is an interesting illustration from Dr John Bradshaw’s book Cat Sense (which you can download to Kindle by the way which allows you to search for keywords) on the topic of how well or not so well domestic cats understand what is going on around them in the human world. As cat owners, I think it is important to try and understand as much as we can about ‘cat intelligence’. There is little information on it as there are far more studies in that field of science on dogs as they are easier to work with.

The point is that despite about 10,000 years of domestication the cat is still programmed to interpret human activity through the eyes of the domestic cat’s ancestor, the wildcat, despite being very familiar with human surroundings e.g., houses, cars and other human objects.

Image to illustrate the Splodge story. This is not Splodge!
Image to illustrate the Splodge story. This is not Splodge! Image: MikeB

Dr Bradshaw lived or still lives with at least one pet cat, Splodge, who ‘always inspected the bumpers of cars parked outside my house. Sometimes after sniffing he looked around nervously…’

Dr Bradshaw could see that Splodge had picked up scent from another cat that had perhaps been sprayed on the bumper when the car was many miles away. Splodge would regularly smell the car’s bumper checking on the scent as cats do when patrolling their home range.

Scent markers within home ranges tell the resident cat who has been there and approximately when as the strength of the scent fades over a set time.

But Splodge ‘never seemed to understand the possibility that the scent marks might have arrived already on the car: he always seemed to presume that they belonged to an unfamiliar cat that must have just invaded our neighbourhood’.

The reason being that in ‘in nature scent marks stay where they’ve been left, so there would be no need to evolve an understanding that scent marks might move with objects on which they’ve been deposited’.

It is a nice way of explaining that domestic cats know their human surroundings very well as static objects and markers but they don’t understand ‘humankind’s manipulations’ of these objects i.e. how they are used by humans.

In an earlier article I wrote about cats opening doors. To many observers it might look as if they understand how the door handle works and what doors do and the reason for their existence. In short cat door opening seems to imply that cats understand the workings of human surroundings.

But when cats learn to open doors, it is a form of trial and error under the umbrella of ‘operant conditioning’.

When cats were offered two strings to pull, one of which was attached to food, their actions in getting the food were governed by operant conditioning – trial and error with the reward of food when they pulled the correct string. Getting the food was not a result of working out which string was the one that produced food.

Years ago, I wrote in response to the news media criticising domestic cats for sometimes disdainfully rejecting their owner’s call to come. They were reinforcing the belief that cats are aloof and too independent. My assessment was that the cats were slow in responding due to their poor ability to apply rational thought. It can take time for a cat to respond when rational thought is required.

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How do cats learn to open doors?

Cat Opening Door
Cat Opening Door. Image: supplied.

Domestic cats have good learning abilities as shown by the fact that they adapt to indoor living. They make sense of their surroundings by classical conditioning and learn how to open doors through ‘operant conditioning’.

  • Classical conditioning is learning by association. Cats might learn that when their owner comes home, they will receive food. In my case when I tap the bed it’s an invitation to my cat to jump up on my lap when I am in bed.
  • Operant conditioning is a type of learning by trial and error with a reward when they get it right. The cat repeats behaviors that have desired consequences and avoid behaviors that lead to undesirable consequences.
  • There is a third way: observational learning – copying.

We see a lot of videos online of cats opening doors; often interior doors and sometimes fridge doors. It looks like a clever cat trick. We are often impressed.

It is not natural for a cat to open a door. Doors themselves are strange objects to cats as they are unwelcome barriers to something interesting the other side.

Tabby cat is an excellent fridge burglar
Tabby cat is an excellent fridge burglar. Screenshot.

But they can learn to open doors by first having a desire to jump up to the handle which might be seen as a vantage point or a staging post to climb higher. Cats like to climb.

When they grab the lever handle and hang onto it, it moves downwards and the door swings open slightly.

Their inquisitiveness leads them to look through the gap into the room next door and then they walk into it. An interesting place to explore even if they’ve been there before.

The have their motivational reward: a place to explore and perhaps new experiences.

They link the pleasure of the reward with their actions to arrive at it and repeat their actions. There may be some variations which work less well or better. They progressively arrive at the best way which is to stretch up and pull the lever handle down.

That’s operant conditioning which applies to many areas of their lives. Cats learn that meowing grabs our attention. The human learns that the meow is a request for food. The cat gets their dinner. They have their reward from meowing. Another example of operant conditioning.

Explaining how this cat so competently opens this door
Explaining how this cat so competently opens this door. Screenshot from video.

Cats go a step further sometimes and learn by observation from their owner’s interactions with a bayb that a baby-like meow elicits a more rapid and certain response. This would be a combination of learning by observation and operant conditioning.

Each cat has their own meow which can be tailored to the specific goal by trial and error which can be interpreted by their owner. It is a form of language between a specific cat and a specific owner for a specific purpose.

The meow is ‘an arbitrary, learned, attention-seeking sound rather than some universal cat-human language’. The quote is from Dr John Bradshaw’s book Cat Sense.

There is more to the cat than stimulus-response. They can make relational decisions but it is not their forte.

Comprehending physics!

Cats don’t really understand physics or their understanding is very rudimentary.

When they were tested, they indicated that they do things through operant conditioning rather than rational thought.

In a test in which there were two handles attached to two strings and one of those strings was attached to food, they continued to arbitrarily pull on each handle until they figured out one handle produced the food rather than rationally deciding after the first instance of the food being produced that one of the handles was connected to the food.

The experts decided that cats are unlikely to be able to use tools. Some birds can such as corvids.

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