Despite the amazingly positive relationship between human and domestic cat that is enjoyed by hundreds of millions of people all over the world there are some differences between the two species that are the basis of a kind of culture clash that both species have to adapt to and work around. I think it useful to remind ourselves of these as it should prepare us better to discharge our obligations as a cat’s companion and caretaker. We are the senior partner.
We should ask ourselves what it would feel like if we were living with a companion that was the size of a tree. It would scare me until I got to know the animal. If my companion was 6 times taller than me I’d have to do things differently if I wanted to interact with him or her. I’d have to steer clear of her sometimes too. The stark difference in size is something we forget about but it is always present in the background of the relationship. It affects the cat more than the human. We need to step into the shoes of the cat occasionally and feel that.
Can you sleep when your cat is right next to you all night? I’ll tell you that I have difficulty. In fact my Charlie who has taken to sleeping right next to me all night is making me awfully tired!
Cats like to catnap either in the day or night. A cat naturally wakes up at dawn and be active at dawn and dusk although they adapt to our sleeping patterns and style. Humans tend to have regimented sleeping patterns – nighttime – and sleep needs to be deep to get the benefits.
There is a clash of sleeping behaviors which makes it hard for a human to sleep with a cat next to him in part because cats tend not to move around so much to get comfortable and to avoid bed sores.This may be because their bodies are more flexible molding into the bed or surface more efficiently to spread the weight throughout a larger area, which in turn reduces the pressure on a single small area.
People move in bed as an instinctive action to avoid pressure on small areas of the body. Extended periods of pressure can starve the area of blood and therefore oxygen leading to the death of muscle, skin and nerve. This constant movement disturbs a cat especially if the cat sleeps at the person’s feet.
If a cat is right next to you for warmth he will restrict this natural movement making it much harder, even impossible sometimes, to fall asleep.
People go to work. Often they are out of the home all day. Domestic cats don’t have to work (hunt) for their living. This is a big underlying difference between cat and human. It might be the case that the relationship would be better if both cat and human worked. It would make for a more balanced relationship. A cat is there waiting to be fed and stimulated etc. The relationship is rather one sided in that respect. This tends to reinforce the mother/child relationship (human mother – cat child). Our absence at work can cause our cat to feel stressed and lonely. Retired people are better companions to cats in general.
Cats don’t understand doors. They are a human invention. In the wild there are no doors and the domestic cat has an African wildcat mentality modified somewhat by nine thousand years of domestication. The domestic cat has a natural range of movements that might extend to several acres, being larger for male cats. All the obstructions and barriers that people create such as doors, homes, fences and walls prevent a cat moving around within an area that feels natural.
Predation – Claws – Teeth
Cats are one of the world’s more proficient predators. Humans are the world’s top predator. The styles of predation are vastly different. The domestic cat’s style of predation clashes with the human’s lifestyle. Essentially a lot of people are frightened of the domestic cat’s abilities and his use of claws and teeth. This is a barrier to a successful relationship for some people and it can lead to unpleasant behavior by the human – called “cat abuse”. Learn to love claws and teeth and the glorious abilities of the cat.
Cats wear an overcoat all the time, indoors and out. It is a fixed item of apparel designed for outdoor living. We change our clothes constantly to adjust to the varying conditions and climate be it of our own making or not. Cats like warmth, and despite wearing an overcoat and not being able to perspire to cool down, they are very tolerant of heat. This may be a throwback to the African wildcat ancestor. However, the domestic cat can become too warm. I believe that flat surfaces are sometimes preferable for a cat to lie on as they allow air to circulate. Under, or on, duvets that fold into a cat, he can become uncomfortable.
Because we are the senior partner we feed our cat. I am back to the idea that it would be better in an ideal world if cats were allowed to work as we work. What I mean is that a cat should hunt for his food. So much more natural. Hunting combines exercise and the food is perfect – less obesity and health problems from incorrect food. People tend to manufacture food for their cat that has three objectives and not one. If there was one objective it would be to make sure that our cat was given absolutely perfect food. When the objectives are (a) profit for the manufacturer (b) convenience and a decent price for the consumer and (c) to feed a cat, the food is not perfect. It is heavily compromised.
Obviously we look very different but human and cat are strangely remarkably similar in terms of organ function – the reason why people use cats in animal testing. There are some fundamental differences regarding metabolism that people can sometimes ignore and which affects cat health. Four things come to mind (a) cats can’t eat dog food (b) cats can’t take human painkillers unless great care and control is in place (c) certain foods are an absolutely necessity (i.e arginine) for survival (d) certain household items are toxic to cats.
I’d like to think about the differences in senses between cat and human. Cats have vastly superior senses of smell and hearing. They rely on smell a lot to recognise things (food and us for example). Noisy environments probably sound very noisy to a cat and humans are generally noisy creatures in urban environments. Even generally speaking, humans seem to create lots of noise. We need to be sensitive to a cat’s heightened awareness of sounds. Cats see about as well as humans. They see much better in dark conditions but see colour less well. When we are struggling to get around a darkened room a cat is at home and sees things clearly.
Babies – Kids – Punishment
We tend to look upon our cat as a wayward yet adorable baby or kid. The cat is often a substitute for a child. This human mentality can lead to human behavior towards a cat that is incorrect. One form of incorrect behavior is trying to punish a cat for what is perceived by a human as wrongdoing or bad behavior. A lot of experts have opinions about this and for me they are all wrong. People should accept a cat’s behavior as it is beautiful. Punishment is a human concept and cats don’t understand it.
If we have an appreciation of some of the fundamental differences between cat and human we should be better placed to care for our cat. At least we will be more sensitive towards our cat, which is a good starting point for good cat caretaking. The key is to respect the cat. Essay on cat behavior.