In today’s column (which I am yet to read), Giles Coren has mentioned that Saturday’s The Times newspaper reported on a creeping humanisation of the domestic cat. This has been driven by 3.2 million households in the UK acquiring a new companion animal during the Covid lockdowns, which in turn has led to a booming industry in Christmas presents for pets. There are canine Christmas stockings, dog biscuit-making kits and a drink called “Pawsecco”. There’s a nice bottle of rosé ‘wine’ for £2 called Pethouse rosé.
While surfing the web this morning, I inevitably bumped into an advert for pet owners. This time it was a new cat food called Gourmet Revelations. This certainly is the humanisation of pets. The food looks a bit like a crème caramel for humans. Of course, it is designed to appeal to humans because they are the purchasers. And the manufacturers know that many years ago cat owners humanised their companion cats. So, when you sell pet food to cat owners you actually sell them human food or more accurately pet food that looks like human food. It’s got to look delicious to people.
You wonder whether cats are swayed by the appearance of the food as humans are. My distinct impression is that they are not primarily influenced by the appearance but by the smell. When a cat judges whether their food is palatable or even interesting, they sniff it first. That is the gold standard test. Humans judge food by appearance primarily and initially and then by taste and smell. Cats judge it by smell and its appearance is very secondary. And what appeals to cats aesthetically is entirely alien to humans. Cats find the shattered carcass of a mouse highly appealing while it revolts their human caregiver.
Appearance must play a part however. It’s just a question of which sense is the primary one in making a decision about palatability. The humanisation of pets is perhaps more accurately described as anthropomorphising pets. The most common way that it happens in the cat world is when owners dress up their cats in clothes which makes them look like little humans. This is exactly what they are to the pet owner; little children or little adults. Little humans eating human-looking food. Ailurophiles don’t like to see cats dressed up as humans. They find it mildly abusive and silly.
Is it a good or bad thing? It’s a good thing to relate to your cat as a member of the family. In this respect the cat is being anthropomorphised because they have a status which is at the same level as the human members of the family. This guarantees near equal rights and enhanced welfare.
It can be a bad thing to relate to your cat as a human if you forget that your cat is a cat! You might play with your cat as if you are playing with a person. It might become too rough. You might give your cat too many human foods as treats resulting in their diet being deficient in certain nutrients. You might hold your cat as a baby which might make him anxious. A parent might allow their toddler to handle the family cat as another child resulting in a scratch or bite. That by the way is one of the main reasons why cats are abandoned to rescue centers.
It’s better to respect your cat and their behaviour. You will then be able to tap into their mojo as Jackson Galaxy calls it. He describes it as Raw Cat Mojo. The “raw cat” is the wildcat within. He is saying that you should always remember this and if you humanise a cat too much you can forget it.
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