5 barriers to domestic cat success (infographic)

This is a square infographic which illustrates five barriers to domestic cat success. As I state, this is not a criticism of cat domestication. It is realisation that barriers exist. We are two very different species with a lot in common despite the barriers. All five can result in problems in the human-to-cat relationship, the extent of which can lead to giving up a cat.

5 barriers to domestic cat success
5 barriers to domestic cat success. Infographic by MikeB. Click it to see it larger.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

I’ll briefly expand on them:

Circadian Rhythms

We sometimes overlook this. Humans and cats are largely out of step on when we like to be most active or when we are habitually most active. I won’t mention the human circadian rhythm but domestic cats follow the activities of their wild ancestor which is active at day and night but importantly with a preference to be most active a dawn and dusk and often active throughout the night. Their eyesight is geared up for this.

This disconnect in circadian rhythms might be the biggest barrier of them all. It is intractable as this feline behavior is deeply embedded in their psyche. It is the cat which almost always has to adapt to the uncomfortable reality that their human caregiver is ‘out of it’ when they want them to be switched on.

There is many an argument online about letting cats come into the bedroom at night or locking them out. Each family has its own response. Jackson Galaxy and I say that they should be let in because the smelly bedroom is so attractive to the cat as a center of their home range. To deny them this pleasure is a little cruel to say the least.

Letting them in is a human compromise in the process of cat caregiving. How often do humans compromise sufficiently? Which brings me conveniently to the next barrier: claws.

Claws

Across the globe humans accept claws and occasionally get scratched but they learn to find ways to avoid an injury. Technically it is possible to have a lifetime of cat care without a single scratch. Humans can use their supposed superior intelligence to understand feline behavior and the behavior of their cat companion to avoid scratches while enjoying a close, supportive relationship.

Many cat owners don’t learn and are scratched. Or their kids are or perhaps grandma. Some people are genuinely scared of cats’ claws. These are the owners of the 20-25% of domestic cats in North America which care declawed. If there are about 90 million cats in homes across the USA there are about 20 million declawed cats. If each one suffered a week of pain that makes 383,000 years of pain suffered by America’s cats for this sole reason. And be shocked; in one study 66% of declaw ops are botched leaving bone fragments in the paw. Brutal. We should be horrified but in general we are not.

Some owners are equally frightened of a cat’s canine teeth which brings me to the next topic.

Teeth

Those long teeth that are so brilliantly designed through eons of natural selection evolution to kill prey animals such as rodents and birds also scare many humans including many cat owners. Some even have their cats de-toothed as a consequence as well as declawed.

The ever-present possibility of a cat bite in a moment of carelessness in human-to-cat interactions such as during play is another barrier to a success story for the domestic cat. It is overcome and it is a success story but there are many individual failures.

As for claws, it is entirely possible to avoid a cat bite for many years but even the most careful person can be a victim. The motivator for the cat might be innocent redirected aggression or because they were over-stimulated in play.

The caregiver just has to respect feline claws and teeth and modify their instinctive way of interacting to avoid scratches and bites.

Predator

The domestic cat is barely domesticated and the aforementioned claws and teeth are weapons which help them to be the top predator within its weight class. Humans live with top class predators and it can be uncomfortable.

The common complaint is bringing mice and birds into the home as cats bring their prey animal back to the natal nest. When the mouse is alive people like me have to save them which can be hard. This is a distinct inconvenience and a barrier to a successful relationship.

The ongoing and sometimes heated argument about keeping cats indoors is supported by the need to be protective of wildlife. There are many articles online about the number of wild species preyed upon by domestic cats. Sometimes numbers are exaggerated or they are based upon small studies and then the figure extrapolated. However you interpret them there is a problem which is why domestic cats are increasingly being kept indoors. It is not just to protect cats but to protect the wild animals upon which they prey.

Environment

I’m indirectly referring to the indoor/outdoor debate. Very few cat owners of full-time indoor cats ensure that the inside of their home has been modified sufficiently to mentally stimulate and challenge their cat companion. Which is why we often see comments about domestic cats sleeping for an exorbitant number of hours when in fact they are simply snoozing and killing time because there is nothing else to do.

Domestic cats are programmed to hunt. Nothing to hunt? They sleep. The few homes that I see in online photographs that are, to use the words of Jackson Galaxy, “catified” are brilliant. They are works of art. A lot of commitment went into them. And money. But they are rare.

A relatively cheap way to compromise on the environment issue is to build a catio at the back of the house. This almost certainly won’t need planning permission (at the front it will) and it will give a cat a better environment which will benefit their character as well and improve the relationship.

Below are some more articles on environment issues.

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