Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Feline instincts

Months ago, I wrote two posts (Are your cats bored? and So your cats are bored. Now what?about boredom in house cats. In those posts, I talked about undeniable instincts that drive a feline's behavior in relation to boredom. In a way, exploring these instincts in depth is a continuation of that discussion and the next step of the puzzle.

What are instincts?

On some level, we know the conceptual definition of an instinct. It's ... INSTINCTUAL. But what are instincts really? Merriam-Webster defines an instinct as, "a natural or inherent aptitude, impulse, or capacity," or, "a largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of an organism to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without involving reason; behavior that is mediated by reactions below the conscious level." So instincts aren't reasoned - but specific responses to what's going on around a living organism. These reactions are inherent - a matter of nature over nurture - and are passed from generation to generation with little variation. So these responses are largely out of conscious control and do not require thought. They are BIOLOGICAL, POWERFUL responses to our environment that enhance the chance that we'll survive. It should be pointed out however, that instincts are not always acted upon - there could be any number of reasons why a living organism does not follow his instincts - usually because of another instinct that overrules it. For example, when Bear was homeless, his instincts should've been food, food, and food. But when I set food out, he just wanted to crawl in my lap and let me pet his belly. Other feral cats came by and ate the food - so it wasn't a guarantee that he'd get any - but his desire for love, attention, and affection over-rode his instinct to eat. Cats are more than the sum of their instincts - as we see every day.

Why should we care about feline instincts?

Many cats are surrendered to shelters each year because of behavior associated with their instincts. Scratching, spraying, litter box issues ... of cats surrendered to shelters each year, these behavioral issues are second only to economic issues in their number (some sources say behavioral issues are the number one reason cats are surrendered to shelters). And over half of animals that go into a shelter never come out again - and for cats, that number is estimated to be closer to 70% never making it out of a shelter. Estimates are that six to eight million cats and dogs end up in shelters each year. To comprehend the extent of the problem, let's say three million of these are cats. 70% of three million is 2.1 million. TWO POINT ONE MILLION cats are euthanized due to lack of space, resources, and adopters. If you want to be optimistic, and think only 50% of cats never leave the shelter, that's still one point five million cats a year that die in shelters. And these numbers are for cats that make it to a shelter (which represents about 10% of the total strays). It's estimated that another seventy million (or so) cats and dogs are strays. If even ten percent of the shelter surrenders and stray cats are due to behavioral/instinctual issues (and you assume half of the strays are cats), that's 10% * (3 million + 35 million), that's three point eight million cats that are left outside or surrendered for behavioral issues. MILLION. MILLIONS OF LIVES! If only 10% make it to a shelter, the problem is MUCH larger than it appears. These are just examples - don't get too hung up on the numbers as it's hard to know which statistics to trust.

Many people don't understand that scratching, spraying and other non-desirable behaviors are INSTINCTS with a BIOLOGICAL basis that ensure the best chance of SURVIVAL. The cats aren't being bad. They aren't ignoring their humans or their wishes. THEY ARE JUST BEING CATS. Can you imagine being shamed and abandoned for being the very thing you are? My hope is that by educating people on what's normal for a cat, they can make better decisions if a cat is right for them in the first place - and prevent later surrenders for behavioral issues that are actually completely normal. For me, learning about the wonders of felininity causes me to love them and appreciate them even more. Cats are really exquisite, complex, beautiful creatures.

In trying to put together this post, I found very little information on the exact instincts cats have. I found conflicting numbers as to the problem. I couldn't find any articles detailing how many cats are surrendered due to behavioral issues. I'm not used to writing without facts and numbers behind me and I don't feel comfortable sharing this because of those unknowns. But their lack tells me something very important about the value (or lack thereof) people put animals in this society. Feline instincts and the consequences of humans misunderstanding their cats are just not on most people's radar. Does that mean we shouldn't talk about it? How do people who share their lives with cats learn what to expect? So please forgive me as I stumble along and try to define the problem (as I did above) and speculate what feline instincts are. I'm not an expert - only someone who wants to talk about something that is too often ignored.

What are the feline instincts?

I'm a cat lover of all stripes (and spots). As a kid, I was especially fascinated (and pretty much OBSESSED) with snow leopards and white bengal tigers. Big cats are such majestic creatures, just like our house cats. Despite the size difference, there are a lot of similarities between big cats and house cats - in fact, they share 95.6% of their DNA. In trying to elucidate the instincts of a house cat, I propose that many of the common characteristic behaviors of big cats and house cats represent a biological connection - instinct. The behaviors both cats share - despite their different conditions and environments - hint at a biological link. Instinct is nature over nurture so it makes sense that the common characteristics - from creatures in vastly different environments - would represent such instincts. Usually, I would defer to better educated sources, but the lack of information I found makes most of this post conjecture. I couldn't find a list of feline instincts - nor much specific information about them.

Before I move on, I'm not going to get involved in the debate over whether house cats are truly domesticated. I've seen many arguments and each side has its merits. If domestication is conceptualized as human influence on breeding and care of the target species, you can see why some people argue that cats aren't domesticated. Unlike dogs, we usually have little influence in cats' breeding - most breeding occurs outside of human control.

I've included more than instincts - I've included abilities I believe are related to instincts. You'll notice that many of these instincts are inter-related. Where the exact lines are isn't as important as understanding that these are normal - and instinctual behaviors. Also, I don't claim this list to be complete - but more a starting point for discussion. Let me know in the comments if you think I missed one.

*** Hunting *** 

Large cats and house cats alike are natural born hunters. They stalk their prey, hide, and lie in wait for the perfect opportunity. Our house cats have this hunting instinct - and we see the manifestation of that when they stalk us or bite us out of the blue or stalk their toys. Because they have no natural outlet for the hunting instinct, housecats make an adventure in their heads. The behavior associated with this adventure might not be to our liking. Hiding behavior also plays a role here.

Cats REQUIRE meat - they are obligate carnivores in terms of nutritional requirements. Big and house-sized alike, cats can't process greens or obtain nutrients from them. Both sized cats are generally most active at dusk, dawn, and at night. Interestingly, cats are believed to groom themselves before hunting to groom off most of their scent so the prey doesn't smell them coming. Both kinds of cats do the distinctive pre-pounce butt wiggle that endears felines to so many.

A cat's life is a cycle of feed, rest, hunt. Rest is a prelude to the next hunt. They aren't marathon runners - but sprint for as long as it takes to catch their prey. Both kinds of cats can go from sound asleep to completely awake in a split second.

*** Food preservation ***

I found it interesting that big and housecats share another trait: food routines to save food for other meals. Has your cat ever pawed his kibble out of the bowl or seemed to play with or hide his food? Those behaviors are likely related to their big cousins who hide food to save it for later.

*** Owning their environment (including scratching) ***

Both types of cats mark their territory by rubbing their scent glands (to release pheromones) on that which they are claiming and scratching their surroundings. Cats also mark their territory by spraying. Both cats have retractable claws. This is one of the areas I believe humans should understand better. When a cat scratches the furniture, it's not to get even with you for some slight, it's INSTINCTUAL to own and claim their territory. This includes housecats and their staff. Head-butting, bunting, rubbing along our legs - we are claimed and they make sure any roving cats know it. Despite a cat's need to scratch, we can live peacefully with them with proper scratching outlets (scratching posts) and training. Declawing creates even more behavioral problems that are much worse than scratching. And declawed cats retain the instinct to scratch.

Why do cats scratch? Cats scratch to stretch their muscles, shed old cuticle or claw sheaths, sharpen their claws, and leave scent marks. They are NOT scratching to be vindictive or harmful to our possessions.

*** Climbing ***

Our housecats usually like to climb and the big cats can as well. Is it to survey or master their territory? Or to keep them safe from predators? Maybe to look down on us humans to put us in our places? Often, climbing is involved in play. This brings up another point - we don't know all the whys about feline behavior - just that it seems instinctual.

*** Finely honed sense of smell ***

House and Big cats have fantastic senses of smell and can open their mouths to smell better. They do this to engage the second scent detection organ: Jacobson's organ at the base of the naval cavity. When cats open their mouths, wrinkle their noses and pause breathing is called the Flehmen response and it represents an ability to taste and smell at the time. While sense of smell itself isn't really an instinct, I believe that communicating by scent and cats' reliance of scent is instinctual.

*** Sleep ***

Both types of cats sleep between 16 and 20 hours per day. They conserve energy for their high intensity hunting. A cat's life is a cycle of feed, rest, hunt. They aren't marathon runners - but sprint for as long as it takes to catch their prey. Both kinds of cats can go from sound asleep to completely awake in a split second.

*** Grooming ***

It's estimated cats spend roughly 30-50% of their waking hours grooming. By doing so, they get rid of their smell in preparation to hunt, remove parasites or keep cool.

*** Kneading *** 

Kittens knead their mother's teats to stimulate the flow of milk. Older cats continue to do this instinctively when they are happy, content, feel safe, etc.

*** Curiosity/play ***

This is related to the hunting and climbing instincts. Big cats, like their smaller relatives, like to hide and think they can't be seen even though they can. String, paper, toilet paper, boxes .. hiding ... climbing ... cats love to play and are curious about changes to their environment. 

This is heightened by a cat's reaction to catnip. The reaction to nepetalactone is genetic - biological and often causes a cat to lick, sniff, roll, jump, and generally act like a crazy-pants. Not all cats react to catnip - but many large and housecats do. Housecats often chase each other, whap each other, and wrestle - as do the bigger cats - especially when they are younger and still dependent on mom.

*** Reproduction/survival of the species *** 
For those of us who spay/neuter our cats, we don't even think about reproduction for the rest of the cat's life. But in the wild, both big and house cats instinctively mate. Spaying and neutering prevents territory marking, fighting, roaming, and caterwauling related to the instinct to reproduce. Around ten percent of animals entering shelters have been spayed or neutered - which means many of the behaviors related to the instinct to reproduce could've been avoided if the people had just spayed or neutered their cats.

*** Vocalizations *** 
Cats of all sizes "talk" to each other and humans. Most of this is via smell - but they've been heard to talk to each other as well. Our cat Ellie will meow to herself happily. And she's acquired the nickname "Yellie" for how talkative she is to her humans. And my two cats will call to each other. Big cats roar and housecats purr. Other well-known vocalizations include meowing and chirping though the different types of vocalizations are almost endless.

*** Intellect *** 

Cats are very smart. When their environment is not stimulating, they have the capacity to make believe otherwise. Watching my cat Bear has been instructive in this sense. I can literally SEE things taking shape in his head as his eyes dart around. He's making his environment stimulating to meet his needs. To some extent, this intellect and ability to imagine work so our cats are less bored. Cats need stimulation and attention and if they don't get that, their mind will create it - and in ways that we might not appreciate. Again, intellect isn't really an instinct - but felines use this intellect in an instinctual way.

*** Survival *** 

This describes many of these categories - hunting, sleeping, climbing - an over-arching instinct to these is just to survive. Our domestic cats are usually fairly removed from needing to survive - but they've proven that they can. I was conflicted about adding "survival" because all instincts are about survival to some extent. That is their purpose. But I wanted to give recognition to the cats who fight for every little thing for no other reason than to remain alive.

This encompasses a sense of safety and security - again, related to climbing and hiding to protect one's self from predators (and annoying sisters).

*** Differences *** 

As similar as house and big cats are, there are also many differences. While these differences don't really inform us on instincts, I'm including them as well. Most of the differences between large and housecats are genetic and represent the 4.4% of DNA they don't share. A study published in the 2014 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that the majority of differences between house cats and wild cats are genetic - in the genes that determine personality traits. Big cats are genetically more aggressive - while housecats genetically are more inclined to develop memories, learn and respond to environmental rewards, and be receptive to interactions with humans. There are physical differences in brain size, pupil shape, noses and whether the cat roars or purrs due to a different bone in the big cat's and housecat's throat.

Big cats are also more solitary - with the exception of lions. Our house cats are more social as indicated by their genes. Are house cats more biologically likely to interact with humans because they've had to as they became domesticated? In any case, house cats have found interaction with humans to become instinctive. House cats NEED human interaction - and most prefer shorter and more frequent interactions on their terms. A lot of people think cats are fine on their own - and while this might be true of their bigger relatives, our housecats need interaction and affection. My cat Bear is a great example - when he's ignored for too long, things start breaking. The biological changes in domesticated cats shows us that cats are adaptive to many different situations - as determined by their instinct to survive.


As I've said before, this post isn't meant to be authoritative or a last word on this subject. It's meant to start the conversation about feline instincts and spark the education of people who don't understand felines' behavior. Our cats deserve that much. They deserve love and devotion and not abandonment or shame because their instincts are inconvenient for us - and this is especially true when so many cats die in shelters after being surrendered.


Many of the numbers cited come from 12 Alarming Facts About Pet Homelessness.
Sources for the similarities and differences between big cats and house cats:

Friday, October 19, 2018

Bed-hopping, horseys and a #ChewyInfluencer review

MK: Momma Kat
BC: Bear Cat
EM: Ellie Mae

MK: La de dah ... showers are the best! Time to finish my ...

{Pause as Momma sees Bear in her desk chair}
BC: What are YOU looking at? Haven't you seen a cat in a chair before?

MK: That's my desk chair!
BC: Looks like it's MY desk chair.
MK: But you haven't lain in my desk chair for over a year!
BC: You mean my chair? I own it even when I don't possess it.
MK: I suppose you're not going to move without drawing blood.
BC: It IS my chair. You finally got something right.
MK: I suppose you expect me to pull up another chair to work at my desk.
BC: Keep going! You're on a roll, smarty-pants!
EM: {walking into the room} What are you doing up there, dumbo?
BC: What does it look like, dimwit?
EM: But that's Momma's desk chair! I sit in her lap up there! You have to move so I can have my lap!!! Momma just got a shower and I haven't had a lap in twenty-three minutes!
MK: SEE?!? You haven't been in my desk chair since we adopted Ellie.
BC: I forgot how comfortable this chair was.
MK: Or how much it annoys me when you lay in it?
BC: No. I could never forget that! Hahahahahaha.
EM: MOMMA!!! LAP!!! I need a lap!
MK: Don't worry, Ellie. I can just pull up another chair and you can have your lap.
BC: She's so easily pleased. Oh, the simple life of a simple mind.
BC: Around here, it's more like, "who are you calling NOT simple?"
MK: Bear, there's no need to insult us.
BC: Need? No. Joy? That's a different story.
MK: I don't understand your sudden shift in beds. You've bed hopped!
BC: I'm not sure what you're implying ... but I'm faithful to my torties!
BC: And my ginger ladycat.
MK: No, we need to talk about your bed hopping. All of a sudden, you're sleeping in completely different places than we're used to. And you haven't barfed in your old beds so what's up? All of a sudden, you refuse to use your old beds.
BC: SHEESH! Can't a cat have a mind of his own?! I saw you sleeping on the couch earlier this week. You usually don't sleep there.
MK: Okay. Okay. I see your point. It just seems like overnight you quit using your shark bed, the cat cube, and my bed in favor of my desk chair, the bed in the second bedroom, and with the banana as a pillow. I mean, you've slept in all those places before ... it's just been at least a year since I've seen you in these places.

BC: {AHEM} MY desk chair.
MK: Right. 
BC: And I quit sleeping on the bed in the second bedroom because you stopped napping there!
MK: And you kept pulling the stuffing out of the comforter.
BC: Oh, yeah! But the comforter just blew up! I almost died! Hmmm ... I'm sure I can find that hole again ...
MK: Don't you dare!
BC: Well, now you know I HAVE to.
MK: Great.
{Momma works at her computer in a second chair while Bear sleeps on Momma's ... err ... Bear's desk chair}
{Momma doesn't notice, but Bear eventually leaves and walks into another room where there's quiet for a few minutes} 
MK: {mumbling to herself as she works} Hmmm ... if I do ... but then how do I ... MONKEY BISCUIT BALLS!!!
BC: Do it! Do it!
BC: Giddy-up, horsey!

{Momma looks around}
{Ellie giggles}

MK: What are you two up to?
BC: Nothing.
EM: Bear's riding me! I'm his trusty steed!
MK: BEAR! No riding your sister!
EM: AWW. But it's fun!

MK: You know what?
BC: No. But I bet you're going to tell us anyway!
MK: {sigh} In the comments on our last post, someone asked if you two ever get along. I answered that you two get along when you're both busy gobbling down your wet food. I forgot about times you both are up to something - usually no good.
BC: It's not MY fault Smellie's stupid. If she's no good, you can't blame it on me!
MK: That's not what I meant and you know it.
BC: Like the other day when she didn't even get the insult I gave her right. Only a complete moron gets "circus geek show" from "circus freak show!" Leave it to my sister to mess it up. MORON.
EM: More on what?
BC: NO! You're a MORON!
EM: But more on what?
BC: It's no fun when you insult your sister and she's too stupid to realize it.

MK: While I have everyone's attention, let's get our second Chewy review done for the month! TADA!


Disclosure: We received Dr. Elsey's Clean Tracks Multi-Cat Strength Clumping Cat Litter (20 lb) - for free in exchange for an honest review. Momma Kat and Her Bear Cat only shares information we believe would be of interest to our readers. The content is ours - neither Dr. Elsey nor Chewy are responsible for the contents of this post. 


BC: Litter again? Really?! REALLY?!? Holy @#$%!
EM: That's exactly what it's for! But if it's holy ... that's SOME litter.
MK: It's Dr. Elsey's Clean Tracks Multi-Cat Strength Clumping Cat Litter! This isn't any ordinary litter!

BC: The poop I have prepared isn't any ordinary poop!
MK: Come on Bear! Pose with the litter!
BC: Nope. NOT gonna pose! My rear end says it all.

{Ellie snickers}
BC: That didn't sound nearly as good as it did in my head.
MK: PLEASE pose? I need a picture of you with the product!
BC: What's it worth to you?
MK: Tuna treats.
EM: OH! OH! I'll pose too!!!!
BC: How many?
MK: A few.
BC: Which is exactly how many?
MK: And they say cats can't count.
EM: Is a few more than a whole bag? Like a whole TRUCK!
BC: Slow down, fatso.
MK: Four?
BC: Ten?
MK: Five?
BC: Fifteen?
MK: Eight?
BC: Twenty?
MK: {sigh} Ten?
BC: That offer was only good a minute ago.
EM: I'll take ten! I'll take ten!
MK: Fifteen?
EM: I get fifteen too, right?
BC: I'm posing! Do I look like I give a rat's backside? 'Cause I don't.
{Momma snaps away}
BC: Can I stop posing now? Hmmm ... that's odd ... I don't smell anything. Usually my litter box is like pooping in flowers in a cheap perfume factory.

EM: OH! Let me smell! Let me smell!
MK: Let me dump the litter into the litter box first.
EM: NO FAIR! I need to go to the litter box and there's no litter ... no, wait! There's litter in here! I just could smell it!

BC: Nothing gets by her. She was too busy being YELLIE to notice that you'd already poured the litter.
MK: The litter is fragrance-free - 100% free of deodorants, perfumes and chemicals - and hypoallergenic. Interestingly enough, it's also free of plant proteins. I've never seen that claim on a litter before but it makes sense that people and cats would be allergic to some plant proteins.

BC: I'm allergic to litter. And vegetables.
MK: Not this litter.
BC: I didn't mean LITERALLY!
MK: {sigh} It's also 99% dust-free, so it offers less tracking than most litters. Dr. Elsey's is made with natural ingredients - including clay. This variety claims to be multi-cat strength and hard-clumping. I must admit - the clumps are hard - maybe the tightest I've ever seen. And there's no dust all over the inside of the litter box like there usually is.

BC: Where are the treats?
MK: Oh. Right. Here.
{The cats gobble away}
MK: When considering litter, I look for tight clumping, little tracking and I prefer low dust and great odor control - but those are both secondary to clumping and not tracking. I know litter's not exactly glamorous ... but it is necessary. And a good litter makes for happy kitties. 
{Silence as the cats continue to gobble down their treats}
MK: Before trying it, my only complaint is that the litter leaked all over the inside of our Chewy box. When I opened the Chewy box, litter went flying everywhere.
BC: I learned a new word!

EM: What word? Huh, Momma? What word is Bear talking about?
BC: I'll tell you later.
MK: DO NOT repeat what I said! Overall, I love this litter. And it's not as expensive as I would've guessed. As I've said before, Chewy is easy to love: they have a wide selection of QUALITY pet products, freshness is guaranteed, and they offer fast shipping and easy returns on all orders. With orders over $49, one to two day shipping is FREE! After hearing so many bloggers talk about Chewy's fast shipping, I was eager to see the difference for myself ... and sure enough! FAST! Much faster than any other seller I've encountered. Though my favorite part is 24/7 customer service. How many times have I been up late at night shopping for cat supplies, had a question, but couldn't ask it because chat wasn't available?

ps - The Boy, who Momma calls litter boy since he usually does most of the litter box scooping, enthusiastically approves of this litter too!

Interested in trying Dr. Elsey's Clean Tracks Multi-Cat Strength Clumping Cat Litter? Go visit Chewy and order a bag for your favorite feline!

Wonder what we've thought about the other products we've reviewed as part of the Influencer program? To find our past reviews you may follow this tag: #ChewyInfluencer.

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