Cats are not domesticated enough. Discuss

Domestic Cat Caught in Camera Trap
Domestic Cat Caught in Camera Trap
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

John Bradshaw “one of the world’s leading experts on animal behavior” says that whereas dogs have been bred over thousands of years to get along with their human companion, cats are still too wild. The cat is still a solitary predator, concerned with protecting his territory and unable to live in the modern, human urban environment without becoming stressed. Illnesses that are caused or exacerbated by stress are cystitis and dermatitis both of which are common in the domestic cat.

He also says that the cat’s predatory behavior is working against the cat in the modern world. He is correct in saying that there is a growing and vociferous anti-cat lobby that, cumulatively, is having a negative impact on how the cat is perceived by people who don’t care for a cat. Bradshaw describes the criticism from the anti-cat lobby as a “rolling campaign”. I agree with that.

I agree that cats are a whisker away from the wildcat but that, for most cat owners, is a positive. It is part of the cat’s charm but a negative for non-cat owners. This is a problem with people not the cat.

I also disagree with Mr Bradshaw when he says that cats should be bred to be less predatory and better suited to life in cities and towns. I don’t even know how you can achieve that.

He says:

“I think it would be useful to look at whether there is a genetic basis for why cats want to hunt…..If we could breed cats who would rather play with a feather on the end of a stick than hunt birds that might be good…”

I see the argument but his argument is about trying to tailor the cat to fit in with the human. What about training the human to try a bit harder to fit in with the cat’s behavior?

Another thing that John Bradshaw has completely wrong is the cat’s solitary nature. The domestic cat is or was a solitary character having inherited it from the wild cat ancestor.  But this is one area where the domestic cat has successful adapted. They often live in colonies and groups that are relatively harmonious.

Bradshaw says that cat owners:

“….think that the more cats the merrier…but the truth is that the more you have the more the difficulties escalate….Two cats don’t have a party, they have a fight…”

I don’t happen to automatically agree with that. It is too simplistic a viewpoint. Cats that are well selected can get along very nicely. What about three siblings living together, for example. Marc’s cats get along fine and I am sure there are visitors to PoC who can attest to successfully keeping a contented cat colony in their home. Ken and Helmi Flick used to have four cats (Sky has sadly, recently died)and I have seen them living successfully together; two British Shorthairs and two Maine Coons. Lisa James’s household is another example.

If there is one area where the domestic cat has adapted well it is his ability to live with other cats in groups. I am not saying it works all the time. I agree that cat owners can tend to put cats together carelessly and there are failures but it is not as black and white as Bradshaw says.

Conclusions? John Bradshaw argues that domestic cats should be more domesticated. If they are not, one day, they may be banned in some places. He makes some good points but his viewpoint is limited. Also I think it may be dangerous. For example it may encourage declawing of cats.

My counter argument is that people should be more tolerant and accepting of the cat and cat owners should make sure they understand the cat, respect the cat and care for them in a highly responsible manner. The burden for adjustment should be on people not the cat.

Note: John Bradshaw has a new book to come out in August 2013: Cat Sense: The Feline Enigma Revealed. You can pre-order on Amazon.

9 thoughts on “Cats are not domesticated enough. Discuss”

  1. Agree with everyone here! If you live with cats you learn they are not aloof, independent, etc. My cats are 100% in tune with what I’m doing and they have learned my behaviors and know when it’s time to sleep, eat, etc. That they retain some of their ancestral traits (like hunting) is just a plus. I call them my little big cats.

    • Yes, you understand cats, Martha. You know how to respect and appreciate them. I think Mr Bradshaw gets his knowledge out of a book. You get yours from first hand experiences.

  2. I read this post when first published, had a negative view of Dr. Bradshaw’s views on cats. Upon rereading, my view has not become more positive. Poking around on the internet, I see that he has a Ph.D. That would make him an expert. In something. 😉 I failed to find information as to the field in which he received his Ph.D. Sociology? Psychology? Clearly he skipped the courses in genetics of behavior.

    “I think it would be useful to look at whether there is a genetic basis for why cats want to hunt…..If we could breed cats who would rather play with a feather on the end of a stick than hunt birds that might be good…”

    The above is a truly laughable statement, when you consider it from a biological and evolutionary point of view. Maybe his thinking is more subtle than conveyed in this statement. But taken at face value, I have to wonder if he realizes that if there were not a genetic inbred basis for “why cats want to hunt”, no cat species, large or small, would have ever survived. Crikey! They hunt to capture food! Just because the “domestic cat” Felis catus or Felis silvestris catus has evolved to take advantage of human interactions, there is no reason to suppose it lost its urge to hunt. In fact, the hunting instinct was a necessary part of the interaction. “I, barn cat, will hunt and kill vermin, so that your grain supplies are safe.”

    One part repeated:
    ~~If we could breed cats who would rather play with a feather on the end of a stick than hunt birds that might be good…”~~

    Above is a totally ludicrous proposal, in ways that I can hardly begin to express. Not only does it convey no idea of genetics, it also conveys complete ignorance as to brain evolution- and thence behavior.

  3. The Cats of the “Worli fish market” in Mumbai are proof that cats can live in colonies harmoniously.I recently came across a hilarious sight in this market where a huge bandicoot rat was lying still in the middle of the market with a few cats near it, the cats least bothered about attacking and making a meal of its eternal enemy !Finally the owner of a fish stall slowly guided the rat into a nearby side-gutter, the rat moving slowly, either injured due to the heavy rains or a victim of natural aging.In India, rats are worshiped in certain places amongst the Hindu community, most famous being the “Karni Mata” temple in Rajasthan.Hence no human in the market killed this rat. What surprised me most of this bizarre scene was that although feral by nature these fish market cats totally ignored this lone injured bandicoot rat.Proves the fact that cats are not very aggressive if they obtain food, the food in the fish market being fish waste.I was not carrying my camera otherwise a unbelievable video clip.Wonder what explanation would Mr John Bradshaw have for this unexplainable behaviour of a group of feral cats towards its normal prey, the mouse?

  4. I have always found cats to be very social and alot more like dogs than most people would ever think. My cats certainly are. All those people who don’t understand that should read the first page or two of “Homer’s Odissey” by Gwen Cooper. (you can read it here:

    Cat’s are often unbelievably social. They learn not to be because their humans don’t have time for them more often than not. As kittens they play and socialize and sleep on a constant loop and as they get older they continue if you encourage them to. Sure they calm down a bit but everyday when I get home I have 3 cats excited to see me waiting on the other side of the door. Unless people have an active relationship with the cat they live with then they will never understand this and they will do on saying cats are independant and antisocial etc etc. I believe most are antisocial simply because they don’t like being treated like teddy bears – humans are insensitive and have little empathy or comprehension of how to communicate with cats. Many people think cats are snobs, haughty and uninterested, aloof etc. They certainly can be and that’s what sets them apart from dogs, and if they are I don’t blame them, they are just trying to avoid being treated like accessories, or objects, teddy bears etc – they would rather be bored and lazy than be a human’s toy. And then the humans get all judgemental and they haven’t a clue about the very cat they live with.

    Alot of cat lovers I am sure will agree with me. You have to meet a cat in the middle. It’s not a like dog who will come to you figuratively speaking. Alot of humans think animals are ‘pets’ and that there should be no work involved – a dog is an auto friend whereas a cat you have to be nice to or you won’t have a friend. The difference is dignity.

  5. Mr Bradshaw’s opinions, and they are only his personal opinions with little to back them up, are symptomatic of of a person out of his depth. Here again is a self-proclaimed expert who exhibits a lack of basic knowledge of cat behaviour, and falls back on the stereotyped common view as proven fact.
    Even his assessment that dogs have been bred for thousands of years to get along with their human companions is not quite true. The real explanation is that dogs transfer their pack instinct and subservience to the pack leader to the new pack leader, their human boss.
    The secret of cat “domestication” is that the cat transfers it’s bond with it’s mother to a lifelong bond with it’s human carer, who fulfils the role of it’s biological mother. Some cats do it very well and others not at all which seems to indicate that it is a genetically inherited trait.
    As you said Michael, cats are quite capable of living in colonies, providing a certain amount of mutual protection and food sharing. They exhibit many of the characteristic of a pride of lions.
    I will always remember Tabatha the tabby and white matriarch of the Flipper’s colony. She took on a pack of 3 roaming wild dogs to at least to give her kittens time to escape or to distract the dogs away from them. She got a bad bite to her rear thigh but lived to tell the tale and the kittens are alright. I gave her antibiotics and she recovered 100%. She is the great and great great grandmother to some of my fancy long-haired cats.
    I have 7 intact toms living around my house and unlike Mr Bradshaw’s wildly inaccurate view that “2 cats don’t have a party, they have a fight” they are happy and peaceful together. I have 2 young indoors toms that often go outside and meet the big boys, touch noses, and enjoy several hours of playing around and climbing trees.
    Feeding time outside is hilarious. All 7 toms want the first bowl of food at the same time, and the 2nd one too, and so it goes on until finally they all have a bowl each. The best description is a cat melee but all they want to do is get the food and no harm is done. They soon settle down and eat their fill and then laze around happily. I also have cats inside the house who live together in perfect harmony even at meal times. It includes the 2 young toms and several young and older females. The toms do not spray or fight but I have to make sure the girls take the pill. All in all, this situation does not support Mr Bradshaw’s views at all.
    Hm. I wonder what enigma Mr Bradshaw will reveal in his new book when he displays such a poor understanding of cats.

    • …he exhibits a lack of basic knowledge of cat behaviour

      Yes, the picture of him in the Times newspaper supports exactly that. He is seen sitting next to his neighbour’s cat Flossie, which means he does not keep a cat himself. Not a good sign. You have to live with cats for a long time to understand them and I don’t think he has.

  6. Why should cats ever become more domesticated than they are now just to please people like Bradshaw, we have surely taken enough of their natural life from them already.
    Why should they play with a feather on a stick instead of being out enjoying doing what cats do, the natural order is for them to keep us rodent free and their instincts are to do that.
    Jozef and Walter when they catch a mouse bring it proudly to the window to show us, they deserve to live a cat’s life, hunting is what cats enjoy, it fulfils them.
    Bradshaw says:
    ‘Illnesses that are caused or exacerbated by stress are cystitis and dermatitis both of which are common in the domestic cat’
    Of course those illnesses are common and that’s because too many people won’t allow their cats to be cats, they are deprived of their freedom, sometimes of their claws, they are misunderstood and punished for being cats, doing what cats naturally do.
    He may think he is an expert on animal behaviour but he hasn’t studied cats very closely because he certainly doesn’t understand them at all!

    • Harvey makes the same point. I agree with you both. Bradshaw does not really know cats. He has got it out of a book as far as I can tell. His first book as about dogs so perhaps he has a dog.


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