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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Total Cat Mojo review

This is my review of Jackson Galaxy’s book Total Cat Mojo. I admire the man. He has a very profound understanding of cat behavior through years of problem solving for clients. He has even developed his own idiosyncratic language to describe and explain it. That’s the first problem, I think. His language is interesting but it is perhaps unwise to use language which gets in the way of clarity.

Total Cat Mojo
Total Cat Mojo. Great picture by Lori Fusaro

The book has another problem. I have a feeling that he discussed with his collaborators the concept behind the book and was drawn away from his personal preferences. There are a myriad ways to explain cat behavior and how to look after a domestic cat in a book and I think he chose the wrong way – for him.

Lacks clarity and is soggy and opaque

The book should have been about half the length and it should have been written exclusively by Galaxy. I think he could have cut out some of the Galaxy cat language. It should have been more straightforward and less technical while retaining the nuances and depth of information. It is about explaining with clarity. And the history of domestic cats and other ancillary information could (should) have been left out. It is out of place. It was an attempt to make the book more of a manual but that is not Galaxy’s style.

Delgado PhD

I don’t think working with Mikel Delgado PhD improved the book. Actually, it made it worse. This is not to criticise Mikel Delgado PhD who clearly is very wise and knowledgeable. I just think the extra bits detract from the book; less would have been more.

I’ll be blunt, the collaboration between Delgado and Galaxy is a failure. She is far too cerebral. She writes scientific studies which are massively engineered technical documents. Her contribution clutters the book and makes it less focused, which is already tricky to read because of Galaxy’s idiosyncratic way of explaining things.

What it could have looked like

The kind of book I think he should have written would have been about 150 pages in length and more along the lines of Dr Desmond Morris’s Catwatching The Essential Guide To Feline Behavior which is probably the best book on cat behavior ever written despite being published 36 years ago (at 2023).

That book is much easier to read. In short, as mentioned, I believe Total Cat Mojo lacks clarity. It might have helped if there were a few pages at the beginning explaining his phrases such as, for example, the “raw cat” and “scent soakers”. 

Average cat owner needs plain English

I have learned that it’s important to write in straightforward English when writing for cat owners. Authors about cat behavior need to speak to the lowest common denominator, the person who’s concerned about cat welfare but who lacks a good education.

I use the book as a reference sometimes but I am reluctant to open it for the above reasons. Although it is nice to know what Jackson thinks on cat behavior and problem solving.

Index

The book has an index but I don’t think it works that well. This is because indexes work best with books that present hard facts in a concise way. This book isn’t well organised. A modern cat reference book which is well organised is Dr Bruce Fogle’s Complete Cat Care. Super clear. Clarity is everything.

These are my personal thoughts.

P.S. It might look as if I am deliberately criticising Mr Galaxy. I am not. These are my genuine thoughts and I am happy for people to disagree with me.

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Jackson Galaxy operates under a conflict of interest

I love Jackson Galaxy. For those who don’t know him he is ‘a cat behaviorist by day and a musician by night, who visits the homes of cat owners in order to resolve conflicts or behavior issues between the owners and their cats or between the cats and other pets’.

Jackson Galaxy loved and misses his cat Barry
Love this happy photo full of love. I believe the photo is in the public domain.

Mr Galaxy is a good guy. He is very knowledgeable and knows cat behaviour more than anyone, almost. He is well qualified to advise on cat behaviour problems which he does on his television show, My Cat from Hell.

So where is the conflict of interest? The answer is in the name of his show. It focuses entirely on the cat. It paints the cat as a potential demon from hell itself when almost all cat behavior problems are traceable back to human behavior. You ask me any question on the aggressive or anti-social behavior of a healthy cat and I’ll trace it back to people.

The trouble is this: the show has only been created to entertain people. That is its purpose. The more viewers the better. The secondary purpose is to cure the cats of aggression. This should mean focusing almost entirely on the cats’ owners and their homes. But people won’t be as interested in a television show called, ‘Cat Owners from Hell’ because people don’t like having a mirror held up to their behavior.

Of course Jackson discusses the behavior of the cat owners in the show but he can’t overdo this because it would turn viewers off. They want to see a mad, aggressive domestic cat creating mayhem in the home. It reinforces the belief of cat hating voyeurs who watch the shows to reinforce their belief that cats are aloof, sinister and unfriendly.

The title of the show, which I presume was created by the television executives and not Jackson Galaxy, is misleading and disdainful of the status of the domestic cat. It could be argued that the title might encourages cat abuse. I am not saying it happens a lot but subliminally the title My Cat from Hell, will alter the perceptions of many people who don’t own cats about the characteristics of the domestic cat. How many times have you read on the internet words like, ‘cats spread disease’ or ‘cats are aloof and do as they please’.

Even if cat is aggressive because he is unsocialised, the problem can be traced to human behavior. Here it is: irresponsible human lets their cat breed. Unwanted cats are created. They are dumped. Some die, some survive as ferals. They are unsocialised and aggressive towards people.

Even when cats are aggressive because they are ill and in pain aggressive behavior can be traced back to humans. A cat in pain will not be aggressive towards a person unless the person is unaware that the cat is in pain and tries to pick him up or interact in a way which causes the pain to get worse. The cat lashes out in pain. The problem is the person picking the cat up.

And what about cats being aggressive towards each other in the home? Well, the primary reason for that is because the owner put them together. They introduced a new cat into the resident cat’s space and he/she rejected the intrusion.

The crux of the matter is that television shows are for entertainment. How you arrive at it is secondary to the deeper, moral aspects. In respect of television the purpose of animals is to entertain as they do billions of times on YouTube videos. The attention is not on ethical issues or conflicts of interest.

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We’ve heard of alpha male cats. Does anyone have an alpha female cat?

We’ve all heard of alpha male cats. The male cat living either inside or outside who is a bit of a bully and appears to be in charge of the other cats. Does anyone have an alpha female?

9-year-old Lola

I used to be clueless and think the term alpha applied only to unneutered male cats. I’ve learned over the years that an alpha cat can be male or female, altered or intact. To me, the term is more a condition of the mindset of a cat and how it projects its personality on others rather than it’s physical attributes.

My old feral colony unaltered male named Old Gray was an alpha male and in charge until he was neutered. Neutering calmed him down within weeks, leaving another altered male named Brandy to take over the colony. What’s strange is even after Brandy was neutered he was still a big bully.

I had to guard the other cats during feeding time to ensure they ate. Except for Old Mama, the patriarch of the family who had been living on the property for over 12 years. The colony would move away from the plates of food as soon as she arrived each night. She was their queen.

Old Mama is 12+ years old

I’ve had the same situation with my home cats, although every cat has been neutered or spayed. I currently have two alpha males who live in separate parts of the house. Each thinks he’s the boss of everyone and I’m not quite sure how the position was earned. The two boys, Sammy and Renny, aren’t the largest or the toughest. The job of being alpha male just seemed to fall into place.

Should Sammy and Renny be in the same room together they have to have supervision to prevent a fight from breaking out. Neither cat has injured the other, but they can make some noise during their encounters and have to be watched.

Our queen is Lola, the first cat to join the home back in June 2009. We adopted her as a kitten and she was spayed at a young age, so she never had kittens of her own to boss around. Lola will go up to each cat and hiss and walk away. “I’m in charge and don’t you forget it,” she seems to say.

Lola isn’t the largest cat or a cat blessed with a bad temperament. She’s lived indoors since the day we brought her home. Lola is very good at putting the other cats, both male and female, in their ‘place.’

Over the years I have noticed calico and torti cats tend to have stronger and more dominant personalities.

Please share your alpha cat story in the comments. I doubt seriously I’m the only one with an alpha female cat in the home. Old Mama has since retired from colony life and has adjusted to an indoor home.

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Cat behaviorist plays music and brings toys and catnip to cat appointments

Cat behaviorist, Carole Wilbourn, plays a special type of music and brings cat toys to her appointments with cats that she treats. She also enters the home in a very calm manner using her Reiki training.

Carole Wilbourn
Carole Wilbourn

She also brings a special catnip which has been selected for the cat concerned. Before the meeting Carole contacts the cat’s caretaker/guardian so that she can learn about their cat’s problems. She also asks that the caretaker feeds her/his cat before the appointment.

Her modus operandi is to appeal to all of the cat’s senses of hearing, touch, taste, scent and sight.

I thought that her method was interesting. However, it baffled me slightly because she is introducing special calming and distracting stimuli which would take the cat out of his natural or usual state which would mask the behavioral issues that she is there to correct. Perhaps she is judging the cat’s reaction to these stimuli.

My thoughts are that 90% of cat behavior problems can be traced back one way or another to the cat’s owner and how she interacts with her cat and the type of environment that she has created.

Cat behavior is most often a reflection of human behavior. However, no doubt some behavioral issues are rooted in mental health, genetics (inherited characteristics) and the early weeks when the cat was raised by her biological mother.  The former is correctable. I’d have thought that a deep understanding of the cat owner’s beliefs, thoughts and actions unearthed in a human to human interview would also be part of Carole’s process. No doubt it is.

Carole is working on her seventh book. The other six are about cat psychology. She recites an interesting story about her cat, a traditional Siamese and rescued cat named Orion.

He came from a shelter. He suffered from post-traumatic-stress disorder she says. When in the shelter he smelled and was aggressive. The shelter staff thought that he was neutered but he was not. They could not see his testicles. They bathed him 35 times to get rid of the smell. I guess she thinks the whole experience traumatised him.

He is now fully recovered and has a delightful personality thanks to Carole. Nice ending.

P.S.Carole is the world’s longest running cat whisperer.




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Can cats really be helped in an unfriendly Internet? Always smile from the wrists down.

Kitten in Cage
Photo credit: Flickr User Ole Martin Bjørnli Günther

When frustrated cat owners want to know how to deal with their cat’s “bad behavior”, or try to learn more about their kitty’s health; to get their questions answered many people frequently turn to the Internet to take advantage of the information available on the superabundance of websites, blogs and interactive message boards created for this purpose.

The Internet is also a great place for people to visit to find and join specialized support groups which have been created for folks whose cats have specific medical conditions. It’s in these groups where they are able to share the latest information and ideas. In fact, I have recently joined several of these groups since our two senior cats are now dealing with some serious medical issues.

Most folks I have encountered during my journeys through cyber-space have been extremely caring and supportive. This said, there have been times when I have visited certain message boards, which caused me to be simply appalled with some of the insensitive responses that some people must have felt obligated to share. When the Internet becomes unfriendly and judgmental, the necessary compassionate help goes to Hell in a Hand basket instead.

Now I want to be perfectly clear that I am by no means an angel. There are times when I am reading comments where I can actually feel my blood boiling and I start fantasizing about taking a virtual two-by-four and slamming the commenter upside the head. But over the years with great difficulty, I have learned that I need to find a way to extricate myself from such strong negative emotional reactions. If I truly want to be of assistance; the expression, “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” is right on the money.

What is it that makes us often quickly react in anger when we run across questions asked by people who are truly ignorant about, as an example, feline nutrition or behavior? I had a hissy fit while reading a post – almost like a reflex – from someone who was punishing her kitten by locking him in his cage whenever his behavior was “unacceptable” to her. She assumed he understood that he was being chastised because he looked so sad and sorrowful while sitting forlornly in his cage. She would open the door once she felt sufficiently sorry for him.

What really got me going was her technique for dealing with his “bad” behavior, and the manner in which she seemed to crow about it. Yes, it was time for me to “smile from the wrists down” and rather than clobber her over the head, try to educate her kindly about how poorly cats react to punishment. Due to her ignorance, she obviously thought she was doing the right thing.

After I centered myself, I responded to her in part by saying,

“In the many years I have lived with kitties, I have learned that cats don’t respond at all well to “punishment”- and I actually think that “punishment” doesn’t serve well for any animal. Instead, cats do respond beautifully to positive reinforcement. Cats are very smart and can learn things quite easily if taught with understanding, patience and compassion….Your kitten has no idea that he is being ‘bad’. He is just doing young cat/kitten things and having a blast. So if you put him in a cage and make him sit in it – he doesn’t understand what is going on. Of course, he feels sad and is very, very confused by his “imprisonment.”

So when we run across these questions and comments, do we agitate or try to educate? We who are knowledgeable about felines have so much to offer folks who are new to cats, or who have been brought up with kitties in less than favorable feline situations. We can make a huge difference in helping cats if we can learn to step back from what is often a normal reaction when we feel that a kitty is not getting the best of care – especially from those folks who we feel really don’t know better. We must be that “friendly and inviting Internet connection”.

What is generally your first reaction when you run across an ignorant cat owner’s questions or comments? What has worked for you that makes an outcome that’s positive? Please share your experiences in a comment.

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Cat Behaviorists Should Be Scientifically Qualified | Blog About Cats

Cat Behaviorists Should Be Scientifically Qualified | Blog About Cats.

If you click on the link above and if the subject interests you at all, you might like to read my brief reasons why cat behaviorists should be scientifically qualified.

Cat behaviorists are cat experts but a definition of “cat expert” would be much wider. Cat experts can come from all walks of life. They can be totally unqualified provided they are thinkers and provided they are empathetic towards the cat.

A keen empathy leads to a deep understanding over time and cat lovers look after cats over decades allowing them to observe cat behavior empathetically.

The open-minded, caring cat guardian can provide top class advice about the domestic cat. For me they are preferable to so called professional (meaning earning a living out of it) cat experts.

Many visitors to PoC who write comments are experts such as Dee. She is a thinker and she knows cats intimately. She has a wide knowledge of “cats” and this includes non-domestic cats. Her comments are always accurate and cannot be questioned. There are many others equally well qualified such as Michele S. and Ruth (aka). There are many others, too many to list here.

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Cat Behaviorist Daniel “DQ” Quagliozzi

Cat behaviorist Daniel “DQ” Quagliozzi quickly learned that his work involves altering the attitudes and behavior of people not cats. If every cat owner was aware of that there’d be no cat behaviorists.

I like the way he started his journey to becoming a cat behaviorist. He used to be one of those people who like to use the squirt bottle. If a neighbour’s cat came around the response was to spray water at “it” asap.

One cat, a huge black cat, refused to stay away. He came back again and again and converted Daniel. Daniel says,

“I have to respect this, so I just surrendered. And I fell in love with him.”

DQ, as he likes to be called, gained his experience working in the SPCA and progressed to delivering his expertise in cat owner’s homes. He has a cat-behavior consultancy called Go Cat Go.

He admits that he is a “sort of like a family counsellor”.


The point he makes – judging by what he says – is that cat owners have to fit in with the lifestyle desires of the cat – “A cat does not answer to you…”. Cat owners can’t impose their will on their cat although some try. They may end up calling a cat behaviorist like DQ.

Correctly, he feels he is the voice of the cat telling the cat owner what the cat needs to be content.

A difficulty that he encounters is the desire for quick fixes in the modern world, which are not possible with respect to cat behavior “problems” because it means often means changing ingrained habits, routines and attitudes (of people).

DQ admits that it can be difficult to get people to spend time with their cat. He implies that people use the “I’m too busy” reason for not spending time with their cat to provide stimulation. It is probably frustrating because what some clients are in effect saying is that they are too busy to commit to accepting and complying with his advice. I am sure some of his clients hope for some sort of quick fix that does not involve the owner doing much.

DQ is due to participate in a upcoming TV show, Animal House about building ideal animal shelters.

He’ll probably need to change attitudes in the shelter business too, which he admits may be tricky.

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