Eight Cat Curiosities

Eight Cat Curiosities

I have had cats my whole life. Except for a brief period in my younger days in a no-pets apartment, they have always been there. There are pictures of me as a baby snuggled up to a kitty bigger than I was. As a child, my father insisted that the cats go outside at night - sigh - it was a different era. But, I kept the window open in my room to let them back in.
One of the most heartbreaking experiences I ever had as a child was leaving a house we stayed in for the summer without one of our cats. Tigger, at the time less than a year old and not neutered yet, ran away or got lost in the woods days before we had to leave. We searched valiantly, but could not find him. We hoped a nearby farmer had taken him in, but we never knew what became of him. In the following summers though, we did see feral cats around the area that looked suspiciously similar to him. We had not seen strays around before, so we hoped this was a sign that he'd survived and had even found some lady friends.
You would think that having spent my life around cats, nothing about them would surprise me. But, that is wrong. I think that because of my familiarity with them, there are things I just never noticed. Once I did notice, it was hard to believe I never had before.
1. Cats' jaws only move up and down. They can't do the side-to-side movement that we can. This is obvious if you watch a cat eat, which I have done many, many times. It was only when this fact was pointed out to me that I really got it. They eat completely differently than we do. Chewing for them means using their side teeth to cut food into smaller pieces. There is no grinding of food. They essentially swallow their food whole.
2. Cats stampede. Completely disproving the idea that cats are aloof, solitary creatures. In this respect, they are herd animals. The more cats you have, the more impressive this phenomenon is. And by impressive I mean destructive. I am simply amazed at how fast nine cats can clear a room after one gets spooked and panics. Leaving total destruction in their wake. Can you say indoor tornado? Just duck and pick up the pieces afterward.
3. Cats don't sharpen their claws. This is completely the wrong word. I was a teenager before I realized that all that scratching was to pull off a claw layer, to reveal a fresh, sharp claw underneath. As a child, I took the word literally, and thought that the scratching was to file the claw to a point in the same way you'd sharpen a pencil. We need to come up with a new word for this. Let's stop confusing literal-minded children. Please.
4. It is only people that hate the smell of pee. Cats, and a lot of the rest of the animal kingdom, seem to go out of their way to smell pee. They don't seem bothered by it at all. Humans are disgusted by the smell of pee, but cats are anywhere from indifferent to preoccupied with the smell. We think they are wrong. Are we the ones missing something here? I know cats can register disgust, I've seen that reaction. But pee, nope, never rates disgust from a cat.
5. Cats are mind-bogglingly patient. For all of you who have cats that wake you up demanding food, this may sound all wrong. Cats may seem incredibly impatient to you. But, you are only looking at their interactions with you. It appears that cats have discovered our short attention spans and have adapted in their conduct with humans. Some of their other behaviors exhibit extraordinary amounts of patience. I have seen a cat sit watching a mole hole in the lawn for four hours straight. Eyes never leaving it. Only stretching every hour or so, eyes still locked onto the hole. Oh, did I mention it was raining, too. My own cats have stared at a blank wall for three hours, barely moving. Note: That's the surefire way to tell that you have mice that have gotten into the walls.
6. Cat vision isn't the same as ours. Cats have trouble seeing things that are close up. Have you ever given your cat a treat, placed it right in front of her and then watched as she seemed to not even see it. Well, she probably can't. She's not being dumb. Cats can't see the close-up world the way we do. Now, wiggle something in front of a cat and you'll get her undivided attention. Cats are highly attuned to movement and are hard-wired to respond to it.
7. There are lots of black cats. This is actually a bit odd. Melanism, a genetic mutation that turns an animal's coat black, occurs in many animals. But, it is rare. We all remark on that black squirrel we saw or the black deer, but black cats are everywhere. There is speculation that black coats were reinforced in cats, including some big cat species, thousands of years ago because the mutation provided some immunity to a virus. Turns out that black cats may be the very luckiest of cats.
8. It's frickin' freezing in here Mr. Biggelsworth. Austin Powers was right. A National Research Council study showed that a cat's thermoneutral zone is between 86 and 97 degrees Fahrenheit.¹ That's the temperature range in which cats don't have to generate extra heat to keep warm or expend energy on cooling off. So, what we view as a comfortable room temperature is about 20 degrees too cool for cats. No wonder cats like to crawl under the covers or snuggle into boxes or bask in the sun. I think I need more kitty heating pads.
Margaret Gates is the founder the Feline Nutrition Foundation.
  1. National Research Council, Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats, National Academy Press, 2006, 28–48.
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