Cats Live in a Land of Giants

by Michael

Size matters - the vulnerability of the cat in a human world - photo by fofurasfelinas (Flickr)

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Size matters - the vulnerability of the cat in a human world - photo by fofurasfelinas (Flickr)

Michele, a visitor to this website, reminded me of something that is nearly always forgotten; cats live in a land of giants. How does this affect cat behavior or indeed our behavior? In the domestic cat/human relationship, humans are a kind of surrogate mother. The cat looks to us for all the things that a mother cat provides her kittens.

But as a mother replacement we are rather large aren't we. How does this feel for the cat? I would argue that it creates what I would term a "default behavioral position" that is a little more defensive than neutral. I think it is fair to say that this is the most likely outcome.

If you throw into the equation that the domestic cat has a wildcat simmering away just below the surface, you have behavior that tends towards the wary. Of course a major factor in relation to cat behavior is the individual cat's personality and some cats will be naturally very confident no matter our relatively large size. This kind of cat might be for example the Bengal cat as the wildcat ancestor is very self-possessed (assured) cats.

But looking at the wild cats (and they give us some leads as to how a domestic cat is likely to behave), we know that they avoid people and other large competitors for the sake of self preservation. For instance the leopard will become nocturnal in its activities where there is a lot of human activity or where there are superior competitors (tiger). The wild cat is instinctively fearful of the human.

The wild cat avoids conflicts that it will lose. The domestic cat has a de-tuned wild cat personality. If for example I meet a domestic cat in a public place (cats in the UK are often let out) the cat will usually (but not always) keep a distance and probably slink away to observe at a distance.

In a domestic cat to human encounter outside the cat's home where the parties don't know each other the likely outcome is that the cat will be wary. I think this is a demonstration of the cat's default behavioral position towards us, the top predator on the planet.

This default position is normally neutralised at home because of the close mother/kitten relationship that we have with our cats (in a household suitable for a cat). But if the balance is disturbed by unexpected activities or unfamiliar visitors the wariness can be seen again.

This may also explain why some people find the domestic cat aloof or a bit stand offish. It is not aloofness but simply natural bahaviour that should be expected as cats live in a land of giants.

A classic behavioral trait that shows how unnaturally big we are in relation to the domestic cat is when a cat sits up on its hind legs and head butts our lowered hand when greeting us. Normally this would be head to head at eye level.

In fact size matters in human to human relationships too under a wide range of circumstances. For instance in the boardroom of big companies all other things being equal a big man will, on average, beat a little one.

I think it is worth reminding ourselves of the fact that cats live in a land of giants as it might mean that we are more gentle towards our cat and more aware of the potential for a cat to be frightened. Humankind's propensity to want to control and dominate has no place in the domestic cat's life and our vastly superior size will tend sometimes to encourage us to be arrogant towards our vulnerable friend.

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Cats Live in a Land of Giants

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Dec 12, 2009 a fantastic donation from genuine animal people
by: kevin/leanne and all at kays hill

We are so pleased with the donation we received from Michael, it came as a pleasant surprise at this unstable time. We understand Kays hill animal sanctuary is not the only ones feeling the pinch with the credit crunch but things were made worse for us as our local council gave us planning permission for a new cattery ect to be built in 18 months so every spare penny goes to this enormous project.

So here i would like to thank Ruth for thinking of Kays hill and promoting us to all of you. Her sister Barbara also helps Kays hill sanctuary when ever possible so thanks to you two (I will thank you in person soon) yet as for Michael, I cant thank you enough for making things possible.

Anybody who wants to know more about the work we do at Kays hill animal sanctuary in co Durham uk can find us at Kays Hill Animal Sanctuary

We always have around thirty cats looking for homes we like to pride ourselves in helping older or problem cats the ones nobody wants to help.

We do need the help of people like you to support us and donate so that we can continue to help those in need in the future.

Thank you all again Kevin/Leanne and all the residents at Kays hill fur and feather.

Dec 12, 2009 Barbara
by: Ruth

Yes Michael, Barbara hides her own light under a bushel ! As well as going out to work in a job not many people would like to do, she does amazing work for cats and other animals on-line as well as in real life and she is much loved and admired by me and many others !
She even persuaded her bosses to allow her an all year round collection of pet food,bedding,toys etc, for Kayshill and other Animal Sanctuaries in our area and local people are very generous.
It's not very often people feel comfortable about going into a Funeral Home but the Coffee Mornings Babz holds regularly there for various charities (including as many for animals as she can get away with) but Babz has changed all that !

Dec 12, 2009 Barbara
by: Michael

Thanks Barbara. I know you do great work. All people who help cats and indeed any animal are welcome here. The first priority on this site is the cat and the cat's welfare.

And the contributions of visitors to this site, especially those of the "gang", is a huge contribution to cats because comments and submissions means the site is more successful and that translates to more money to donate to cat welfare.

I like to think that we can change the opinions of one or two people about cats and help cats that way too.

Dec 12, 2009 Thank you from me too
by: Barbara

I'd just like to add my thanks to Michael, for all the amazing blogs and sheer good sense he writes and for his generosity in making the donation to Kayshill, it will help them tremendously, and they need and deserve all the help they can get because they do a wonderful job in rescuing any and every type of homeless animal.

I'd like to also give a bit of public recognition to my sister Ruth who spends a lot of time every single day trying to improve the lives of animals at home and abroad, and who feels their hurt and pain with them. I'm so glad that her work has benefited animals in our own area as well as the ones she helps via the Internet.

Dec 12, 2009 Pleasure
by: Michael

Ruth, it is my pleasure. It is given on behalf of all the cats that you have helped.

Dec 12, 2009 THANK YOU
by: Ruth

THANK YOU Michael for the wonderful donation in my name, to Kayshill. I'm sure Kevin will put every penny to good use for the cats there and will be on here to thank you himself when he has a minute from all the hard work he does looking after so many needy animals.
I wish I was younger, I'd be there like a shot helping him and Leanne and the others.
I did used to love the 'hands on' work.

Dec 08, 2009 Kayshill
by: Ruth aka Kattaddorra

This is who Michael is so kindly going to help:

Most of the time they have around 300 animals, from fish to horses ! They always have lots of cats and it's amazing how they manage to rehome them.
See 'success stories' on their web site,they even rehomed a 15 year old cat.
I know Kevin who owns and runs the Sanctuary and gives his life to the animals, will be overcome at Michael's geerosity and kindness as I am too.

Dec 07, 2009 Land of Giants
by: Gail (Boston, MA USA)

Thank you, Michele, for your insight as well. What a fascinating subject this is! Here's a perfect example of cat behavior...

It gives me a fit of giggles early in the morning when, after our daily ablutions, in the adjoining room my Sadie jumps (lightning speed) onto the countertop of the china cabinet, onto the refrigerator top (next to the cabinet), to finally land back on the tippity top of the china cabinet which is about 1.5 feet from the ceiling! She surveys her domain with such pride. I then make a big production of it, waving my hands in a big circle, saying: "Look at you! You're on top of the world!" to which she jumps back down on the refrigerator top, to hear me say (while on tippy toes at the fridge): "'re bigger than me...that means you're the boss of me now!"

We've been doing that for about 3+ years now, daily, and her eyes full of love, kisses and general happiness never ceases to amaze! I'm privileged to receive lots of head butts, a gentle paw swipe and when I ask her if she's hungry, she gently touches my lips - something she picked up years ago watching me do it when I said the word 'food' - cats are such joy!

Dec 07, 2009 Thank you Michael for helping shelter cats
by: Anonymous

Just wanted to add a comment to say how kind it was of you to make a generous donation to Ruth's local animal charity. In this current economic crisis, it will come as a very welcome lifeline for them.

Michele (UK)

Dec 07, 2009 We are giants
by: Anonymous

Thank you Michael for yet another informative and helpful article.

There are many instances where if we stopped to look at things from a cat's eye view of the world, we'd be more understanding of their instinctual responses and behaviours.

One classic example is how many cats hate being picked up and will squirm or fight to get away. Yet if you consider that in nature apart from the mother cat, the only other animal to pick up a cat is a predator, then you can understand how it triggers a fight or flight response.

In countries where cats are allowed to spend time outside, how common a sight is it to see cats sitting on top of walls, fences, garage roofs etc? This is because not only does it give them a great vantage point to watch for prey or intruders in teir territory, but it also keeps them safe from ambush attack from rivals or predators. Should it come as any surprise to us then, that inside the home they enjoy sitting on the highest pieces of furniture which typically tend to be kitchen worktops or tables?

There are no "naughty" cat behaviours, only natural ones. I think that is why I love cats and find them so fascinating, because there is always something new to learn about them.

Michele (UK)

Dec 07, 2009 Eye level
by: Finn Frode, Denmark

Yes it's like that - cat's really prefer to meet us at eye level. When I comb my cat's fur I always get down on my knees beside the table as it makes her much more comfortable. And then when I rub my nose against her head it's a bit like cats greeting each other. She seems to like it too. 😉

Dec 07, 2009 To Gail
by: Ruth aka Kattaddorra

Thank you Gail, you are a girl after my own heart !!!!
You get used to 'thinking cat' don't you !
I have an image of you in my mind now, crawling around checking it's all cat friendly ha ha and I will think about you when I'm doing the same !

Dec 07, 2009 THANK YOU Michael !!!!
by: Ruth aka Kattaddorra

Michael I'm speechless !!! I'm so honoured that you would do such a wonderful thing !!We don't have an all cat charity here but our local Animal Sanctuary always has a lot of needy cats in and you could specify the money is to be spent on cats only.
I will email you the details and see what you think.
You have made me VERY VERY happy !!!!!

Dec 07, 2009 Hi Ruth
by: Michael

Ruth, you have been such a brilliant contributor, I would like you select a cat charity that this website can contribute to in your name for Christmas. I will make it a decent donation say about £200.

I am not sure if you would like to do that. If not that is fine but if you would please contact me and we will see what we can do.

Dec 07, 2009 Cats in the land of Giants
by: Gail (Boston, MA USA)

I agree, Michael, another great blog! Ruth beat me to the answer - you go, girl!

I, too, spend time on the floor. It is the only way to see the world from the cat's perspective. It is also a terrific way to ascertain the inherent dangers within our own homes that we may previously have been unaware. That includes checking out beneath chairs, couches - not to mention wall sockets. We baby-proof our electrical outlets. Not that our furkid would intentionally electrocute herself; however, who knows? That gorgeous long hair gets everywhere!

Dec 07, 2009 We are giants
by: Ruth aka Kattaddorra

Another great blog Michael !
Yes we are giants to cats and the best way to discover how cats really feel is to spend some time on the floor.It sounds daft but I've done it (then some might say I AM daft ha ha) and I still do sometimes, our cats love it when I'm 'one of them'
You see life from a cat's perspective that way and it does help you to understand them better.
Some people make the mistake of looming over cats and bending down scooping them up and then they wonder why the cat protests.Well it would be like us suddenly out of the blue going up on a big wheel. Naturally we'd get a shock and protest if we hadn't chosen to go up on it !
I wish everyone would put themselves in their cat's place even just once as it would surely be quite a eye opener to them.

3 thoughts on “Cats Live in a Land of Giants”

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