A cat is very unique. Although all cats share some behavior patterns with all other cats, each individual has its own personality. No two cats are alike, just like no two people are completely alike.
The definitions we apply to human personalities can also be applied to cats. A few of these are:
- Warm & friendly with all other cats & animals
- Bold-acting & Forward
- Shy & retiring
- Fearful & Withdrawn
- Moody & Quiet
There are even a few cats who are anti-social toward other cats and animals and won’t accept them. These cats prefer human friendship above any other living creatures. Occasionally you can even find an aggressive cat who simply wants to be left alone.
Cats are not ‘pack’ animals like dogs are. They are not driven to please or follow the leader, or to take on a prescribed role as part of a group. Cats don’t try to win favor or status but rather set up their own ways of dealing with their surroundings, and they survive by following an individual instinct.
Cats star in their own lives and won’t play a character role in somebody else’s. The solitary cat answers to herself alone, and jumps to no group’s social command. A cat’s home is her base; a dog’s home is his world.
A cat is a living, feeling creature that is fully capable of experiencing the same–or very similar–range of emotions as its human counterpart. Cats can smile, frown; feel lonely and depressed; feel joy and happiness; be bored with life; form lifetime bonds and friendships with humans as well as with other animals; experience sadness and mourn the loss of another (cat, person, other kind of animal); and be stressed out and upset. The sensitive cat is quick to read and pick up on your body language and in turn feel and react to your tension and stress, or happiness and joy.
A cat is quite intelligent and curious. It is up to you to provide ways to keep your cat’s mind active and to prevent her from being bored. Contrary to common belief that a cat can be left alone a lot and will not do the damaging sorts of things that a dog will, you will soon discover that a cat will also cause problems out of boredom and loneliness. She will scratch your favorite chair to shreds, forget the location of her litter pan, knock a favorite breakable item off a shelf or tabletop, etc. An inactive, bored cat can lead to a lot of unwanted behavior and an unhealthy mental attitude.
As with humans, psychological stress can also weaken a cat’s ability to fight off illness and disease. A cat kept indoors most, or all of the time, and living in a home where nobody is present all day can become very bored and lonely. This can have a negative effect on your cat’s psychological well-being. Problems will develop if you don’t take steps to keep your cat mentally stimulated.
A cat’s mind is sophisticated, complex and versatile. The intelligence level is high. The cat can reason and think things out and come to creative conclusions. We’ve had cats that have figured out how to open a door by turning the knob; a couple of cats actually were able to teach themselves how to use the toilet; one figured out how to turn a water faucet on…the list goes on.
Did you know that a cat’s brain is very similar in structure to the brain of a human? The cat’s ratio of brain weight to body weight is greater than in most mammals other than apes and humans. A cat has a cerebral cortex, parietal lobes, a cerebellum, a limbic system, a spinal cord, a thalamus, and a hypothalamus–the same basic brain structure as ours.
Far too many cats are living empty lives within the same four walls each and every day, month after month, year after year. The family members are gone for hours on end to work, school, shopping, social functions and so forth. Someone will feed the cat, clean the pan, and perhaps give the cat a quick pat on the head when they return home from their busy day, only to leave again for the evening. The cat is left to fend for herself without anyone even thinking that she could be bored or lonely. No steps are ever taken to correct this. This is a bad situation.
A cat is bright and intelligent with emotional needs that are real, just like us. A cat with no mental stimulation day in and day out, with only more boredom to “look forward to,” will become a cat with behavioral problems, and even health issues may develop. A boring, dull life will create stress, frustration and a negative attitude that can weaken your cat’s immune system and leave her open to diseases and infections. Besides, a bored cat will many times add her own type of excitement and adventure to her life–and you may not appreciate the results.
Worse, and by far sadder, your cat may simply give up, and become a pale shadow. Her eyes will tell you what she is feeling. The sparkle will be gone because life’s excitement is gone.
Cats are naturally sociable and their personalities actually blossom when they receive the opportunities to interact with people through interactive play, cuddling, and conversation with their favorite person–talk to your cat frequently, she’ll listen.
Cats have a need for a better life and a need to be happy and well-adjusted, the same as us. A responsible cat owner needs to be aware that their cat’s mental health is just as important as her physical health.
Some cats always seem calm, relaxed, and satisfied; whereas others are nervous, unapproachable, and aggressive. Some cats and some owners simply are just not suited to sharing life with each other. This can be true even when external conditions seem ideal (a quiet home atmosphere, adequate food, and lots of affection and caresses). The cat still is not happy.
Cats require other subtle and often imperceptible qualities from their owners. Respect is one key to making a cat happy. Don’t force your affections on a cat. Some cats dislike excessive petting and stroking. If your cat is like this, wait for her to approach you for petting. Let the cat tell you how much attention she needs and wants. By not forcing attention, you’ll find your cat coming to you more and more. We’ve discovered that sometimes you just have to give the cat enough time to trust you. Trust is not given freely or easily by most cats. You must earn it, and with some cats that can take months!
A cat is quite independent and you have to earn her love and devotion. Your cat will not automatically trust you. Always be patient and consistent in your actions. Once she decides to trust you, you’ll have a marvelous friend for life.
NOTE: Cats live, on an average, sixteen to twenty years plus.
Always move slowly and speak softly, in a gentle-sounding voice. Don’t stare directly at a cat’s eyes. This is taken as a threat to do harm. Quick, sudden moves will tend to frighten a cat and make her feel threatened. A threatened cat will oftentimes strike out and possibly claw or bite you, if she feels cornered and in danger. Don’t rush things. Move slowly. Let the cat tell you what she will accept. Once the cat learns you mean her no harm and are the food provider, your new cat will begin the process of becoming your friend.
WHAT IS THE PROPER WAY TO APPROACH A CAT?
Like most animals, cats feel threatened when somebody (or somebody’s hand) comes too close too quickly, overstepping a certain tolerable minimum distance.
NOTE: People also have a personal space they maintain about themselves. People can become aggressive if you crowd their space. Cats are the same!
This distance, the so-called critical distance, differs from cat to cat and situation to situation. You first notice you’ve gone too far when the cat clears out or takes a swipe at your hand. This can even happen with your intimately familiar family cat if your hand takes her by surprise when the cat has just awakened. This is why you should always speak to a resting cat before stroking her.
It is no accident that unfamiliar cats slowly move toward each other with caution and always carry out certain rituals to get acquainted. To get to know one another, they sniff each other thoroughly from the tips of their noses to the tips of their tails. Therefore you, a stranger to the cat, should give a shy or mistrusting cat the chance to make a smell-check. Approach the cat without any sudden moves and hold out your hand to be sniffed. Always wait for her to come to you and never try to grab the cat if she avoids you. This can end in bloody scratches and/or bites, which can be quite painful.
A very familiar cat may greet you with a ‘nose kiss’ or do a ‘forehead bump’ with you, when she encounters you at eye level. The best thing is to play along with this. You will be displaying not only good intentions, but also good “cat etiquette”. Finally, the cat will, with its tail obligingly upright, offer you an anal check. As a human, you don’t really have to follow through with this–a friendly pat will do the trick! And how do you part ways again after such a detailed cultivation of contact? Whatever you do, you shouldn’t shove the cat away. Instead, follow cat etiquette and leave slowly.
It is interesting that even though all cats were once predators, today’s cat must be taught to hunt from its mother or another cat. It is highly unlikely that any kitten whose mother has never hunted will ever become a hunter herself. This learning to hunt must occur within the kitten’s first six to twenty weeks of her life or she will have great difficulty later in life learning to hunt.
Cats are not good at rapidly changing directions. They are usually sure-footed. At the walk, a cat moves first the legs on one side of their bodies, then the legs on the other. The average cat can jump five times it’s own height with ease. They will not expend any more energy than they have to; effort goes into necessary activities. Cats have a loose skin, which reduces the risk of deep wounds in fights.
All cats are intensely curious about scratchy and high-pitched squealing noises (such as made by mice). A cat will move quickly to the source of such sounds and investigate them. A cat is also attracted to any living animal its size or smaller.
A cat can quickly figure out solutions to a variety of problems–especially if the end result leads to its comfort. For example, a cat can easily and quickly figure out how to escape from an intricate puzzle box or maze. Keep this in mind when you need to confine your cat. They are escape artists.
Today’s domestic cat is a highly evolved, intelligent, and aware creature. The cat does communicate with people as well as with one another. A cat can think her way through problems, learn and remember the lessons she has learned, socialize and adapt to her environment. A cat can remember things like how to open a door by jumping on the latch or even figuring out how to turn a doorknob! We had one who could open most doors. A cat can learn this skill by watching another cat do this. The cat also has an excellent memory on how to find her way home.
A cat’s intelligence is complimented by her high degree of awareness. A cat’s senses are far more accurate than ours are (sight, hearing, touch and smell). Cats adapt well to situations. We had one cat who learned to place one foot on the edge of a paper plate while eating off it to stop the plate from scooting across the floor. He consistently did this with every paper plate he encountered. Cats are smart. Don’t underestimate them.
A cat also is very curious, determined, and possesses great dexterity. This contributes to her intelligence to make the cat rank as one of the world’s most intelligent creatures next to mankind.
HOW A CAT APPROACHES A NEW OBJECT
Cats have curious minds, but they look before they leap. Headstrong in will but sensibly cautious in action, cats approach the new or unusual with seeming logic rather than emotion.
First, there’s careful look at a new object, and then searches her memory to determine if the new object or situation resembles something previously encountered. Then, there’s a sniff of the air for anything familiar. A cautious, slow approach is next to see if any response comes from the unknown object. Finally, there’s a close inspection, and then careful contact, as if to say, “Let’s see what this feels like.”
A cat studies the new object or situation, registers it in her cat mind, then, having conquered the “new” will calmly walk away.
Cats are open to change. They seek out any familiarity; everything has some link to something they already know. Weight the risks, then go forward and meet the challenge, if warranted.
HANDLING YOUR CAT
Cats should not be picked up by the scruff of the neck. Only mother cats know how to do this properly, and as a cat attains her full adult size, the skin on the back her neck can no longer support her entire weight. The only time a cat should ever be picked up by the scruff of the neck is when you have to pick up a cat that is feral or near-feral, and there is no other safe way to handle her.
The best way to hold a cat is to support the hind legs securely with one hand and hold the upper part of the cat’s torso with your other hand. If you have to handle a frightened or vicious cat, wrap the animal in a thick towel or blanket up to her neck. Without her paws free, the cat won’t be able to claw you in her panic.
DANGERS IN RUNNING FREE
Cats are very curious and adventuresome. The “great” outdoors can be a huge attraction. The dangers are simply too great, particularly in cities and towns. Besides, someone might take a liking to your cat and decide to keep her.
NOTE: We do not recommend allowing your cat to run free outdoors. There are just too many dangers–traffic being one of the greatest dangers. Many cats are killed by cars each year. It is really devastating to find your beloved pet and friend dead in the road in front of your house. This happened to us.
Other dangers to cats who are allowed to run free include:
- Being attacked and injured or killed by predatory animals.
- Poison put out either intentionally or accidentally (anti-freeze puddled on the ground can be lethal to a cat).
- Being bitten or scratched by some ill animal, thus causing your cat to become very ill and to possibly die.
- Other cats, particularly Toms defending their territories. The fighting can be ferocious.
To give your cat some outdoor adventure, minus the dangers of running free, we give you a few alternatives.
- If you have an outdoor space (yard, balcony, patio, etc.), enclose an area for your cat. We have a large yard area for our cats that is enclosed by a six-foot-high wire fence that has an additional forty-five degree two-foot overhang of bird netting angled into the yard at the top. The overhang prevents the cat from climbing out, since it slopes into the yard, and is not firm like the rest of the fence. We have this area next to our house, and give them access in good weather through a pet door. They love it!
- A patio or balcony can also be enclosed with wire for your cat’s enjoyment of the outdoors.
- If none of the above is workable for you, train your cat to a harness and leash (Leash Training Your Cat) and take her for walks. You can also introduce her to the fun of a car ride. We have several cats who simply love to go for a car ride. We have a section on how to help her to overcome her fears of car riding, if she is terrified of it (Training Your Cat To Ride In Your Car).
In closing, just don’t allow your feline friend to roam freely outdoors. The dangers are just too high. One day your cat may never return to you again, and there is a good chance you’ll never know why.