Many cat owners might say that their domestic cat companion is an excellent pet. I’m going to say something which is almost heretical and something which sounds anti-cat as if said by a cat hater. But I’m not; I am a cat lover and a realist. And with that character trait, I have to state that the fact that the domestic cat is an incredibly able predator gets in the way of them being the best possible pet. They are still great pets but they could be better. You might argue that they could be considerably better if they weren’t predators.
Why did we domesticate a great predatory? Convenience as the wild cat was a working cat at the inception of domestication. Now they are companions and entertainers and their working cat skills (killing mice) are less important or entirely redundant.
Something similar will apply to the dog but, in contrast to the cat, the dog is also a group-living animal. They are a pack animal and therefore they integrate somewhat better into the human family environment and look up to their owner as the alpha-leader. But the domestic cat doesn’t do that. They are essentially solitary although over many years of domestication they’ve become far more tolerant to group living and have, you could argue, adapted to it.
But this solitary nature, by the way, makes them very good companions to writers. Writers are very often introspective, even introverted people. They work alone and in quiet environment. When writing a novel, they use their imagination. When writing about factual things they are very precise and accurate. Above all cats want calm, quiet and routines and rhythms which integrate nicely with their human caregiver. The author or novelist fits that profile excellently.
There are many authors living with domestic cats and one Canadian author made a great observation about the domestic cat. Canadian novelist Robertson Davies (1913-like 37) wittily described the mutually beneficial relationship when he wrote, “Authors like cats because they are such quiet, lovable, wise creatures, and cats like authors for the same reason”. Cats and authors get on well because they have similar characters!
And there is probably never any reason for a domestic cat living with an author to use their predatory skills. But there are many occasions when, generally, domestic cats do use these skills when, for example, provoked by a mishandling child. Or when they are allowed outside and they bring in half-dead mice or bird flapping around the living room discharging feathers everywhere.
The fact that humans domesticated a wildcat might be regarded as a very bad choice. This wildcat, the North African wildcat, is one of the world’s best predators as are all the other small wild cat species. Perhaps the best predator of all among the cat species is the black-footed cat which has the best kill rate at about 60%.
They are out all night travelling vast distances sometimes 20 miles in one night killing animals as they go. This is a cat no bigger than a domestic cat so that kind of distance is extraordinary. The animal is utterly committed to one task: chasing, catching and killing animals.
Everything a domestic cat does is underpinned by their predatory nature. When we play with them, we are substituting the predation of animals. All play with a domestic cat is a form of hunting from the cat’s perspective. You play with them with a cat tease and they are catching a bird. You play with them with a length of string and they are catching and killing a mouse. The best cat toys are those that can be destroyed while plastic ones are less good which is why they become bored with them. They can’t tear them to bits and kill them.
And when you couple a domestic cat’s weapons, their claws and teeth, with their highly tuned senses and defensive nature you have a situation where it is very easy for even a skilled cat caregiver to become scratched or bitten. It should not happen often because a skilled cat caregiver can predict when it might happen and prevent the act of aggression. But all domestic cats are inherently aggressive as they must be to be great predators.
The video on this page is about the capybara which is an herbivore. It is the biggest rodent in the world but also described as the friendliest animal in the world. And in the video the commentary states that one reason why they are friendly is because they are herbivores and not predators. The implication there is that predators make enemies. Yes, they are bound to make enemies of the prey animals they attack.
The predator is predisposed to making enemies. The point they make at the beginning is at the predator’s character is a barrier to friendship. It is a reason why many domestic cats are relinquished to shelters. Perhaps the owners have been scratched. The reason why they been scratched will nearly always come down to human behavior. They probably mishandled their cat or just stroked them too firmly or for too long. Domestic cats have a tolerance to being petted; go over that limit and they might react aggressively.
It’s easy to get scratched when petting your cat. This is due to the difference in attitude between humans and cats. And the cat’s attitude stems from their predatory character. They are defensive when they need to be. They need to defend themselves in order to hunt effectively. If a wildcat is injured while hunting it will possibly cost them their lives because they can no longer hunt effectively.
As a further aside, the reason why tigers attack humans is because they’ve been injured and they can no longer attack the usual prey animal, a large herbivore. They go for easy prey which would be a farmer in perhaps the Sundarbans of Bangladesh where there are many attacks by tigers. But the point I’m making is that the wild cat must protect themselves against injury. The domestic cat has inherited this characteristic.
Another blot on the domestic cat’s copybook is the fact that they are said to decimate native species which grates terribly with conservationists. It is the conservationists of Australia who are most concerned about this aspect of domestic cat predation. Time and time again we read about the billions of animals killed by domestic and feral cats. The numbers are all estimates and therefore probably exaggerated to suit political purposes. To allow authorities to kill feral cats whose existence is solely the result of human carelessness.
But here again we have a problem with domestic and feral cat predation but the latter comes from the former as all feral cats can be traced back to abandoned domestic cats. They have a very negative impact upon wildlife conservation. In the past nobody cared because there were less cats and even though they were all outside cats their predation on wildlife wasn’t a concern. But now we have 500 million domestic cats across the globe, a far greater number than hundred years ago and their impact on wildlife is being noticed. There will be a similar number of feral cats who kill more wildlife than domestic cats because they depend upon it to feed themselves.
And because of climate change and the damage it is causing to the planet, people have become more sensitive to the environment and to the protection of nature. This is why domestic and feral cat predation has become an issue. It is often written about online. Cats are written about in derogatory terms by people who don’t like them. This damages the public profile of domestic cats which can lead to cat haters harming them. It devalues them which can also lead to abuse.
The point here is that all these problems emanate from the fact that the domestic cat is a top-line predator. If they weren’t we wouldn’t have these problems. The predatory nature of domestic cats is indeed a barrier to successful domestication and as the world becomes even more sensitive to wildlife, their predatory character may even jeopardise the existence.
In Australia they are shooting and poisoning feral cats in large numbers. They want to keep domestic cats indoors full-time perpetually. This is a reaction from humans to this predator’s behaviour. It leads to a much less rich and enjoyable lifestyle for the cat because when they are kept captive inside homes, they are infrequently provided with some form of compensation to make their environment as enjoyable as it was when they were allowed outside.
The domestic cat is digging a hole for itself thanks to their predatory nature.
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