Your Cat Worries About This

Your Cat Worries About This

Everyone who shares their life with cats at some point wonders how cats see the world. In the literal sense, they do see it differently than we do. Their distance vision is blurry, their close-up vision is pretty bad, too. They don't see the colors we do. But, vision is not really what I am thinking about. I'm thinking more about their outlook – what they care about. What do cats think is important in life?
My answer would be two things: food and safety. They are not unusual in this; it's what almost all animals, people included, care about. With cats though, the two may intersect in ways you might not think of. A problem in one area may drastically impact the other. Take safety. Most people wouldn't immediately think of this as a priority in a cat's life, but it actually controls a lot of cat behavior. Companion cats are very close to the wild creatures they used to be and they have not lost the instincts their wild cousins have. One of these instincts is: Don't get eaten. We know small cats are predators, but they are far from the top of the food chain. There are lots of other predators larger than they are that would be happy to have them for lunch. Your cat has not forgotten this despite spending most of her time on the couch. This is one of the reasons why it can be so easy to startle cats. Have you ever walked up to a cat from behind to pet it, only to have it shoot straight up in the air because it didn't see or hear you coming? Kitty automatically assumes the worst and reacts accordingly. Or, all of those recent videos of people scaring their cats with surprise vegetables. No, it's not funny. Those cats are doing their best Not Getting Eaten Today reactions.
How does a cat's concern with safety intersect with food? There are some cat activities that even cats understand are less safe. Eating is one. When you are eating, your head is down and you are distracted. Plus, a cat's usual diet in the wild is fresh prey; the meal itself may attract larger predators who may not only want your dinner, but you as well. So, it's pretty hard for a cat to really relax when eating. There is usually lots of looking around and pauses to check the environment. They instinctively know eating is dangerous.
That a cat knows she is vulnerable during meals can affect her eating habits. If you are trying to change your cat's diet, taking the whole safety issue into account is important. Most people feed their pets on the floor, but this may not be a good choice. Cats feel most vulnerable and exposed when on the ground – almost any predator would pounce from above. Moving your cat's feeding place to a table or counter may go a long way to making the cat feel safe and more relaxed. This may become an important factor if you are transitioning your cat to a new diet, which in itself could cause some anxiety.
Unfortunately, houses don't anticipate the need for a designated, elevated cat feeding area. And, having one that is quiet and away from household traffic is even rarer. But, if you are transitioning your cat, finding such a place may make it a much smoother and faster process. Take a look at where your cat eats. Then, think like a prey animal and see if it's a stress-inducing place. One thing I have noticed, that many of you may have also witnessed: sometimes, when I feed a chunk of meat, the cat will grab it and run off to eat it elsewhere. Pay attention to where she goes. It may be a "safer" place where she feels comfortable. Your cat may be giving you clues that you can use in choosing a better place to feed her.
For multi-cat households, that quiet place may need to be behind a door. Some cats can be aggressive about competing for food and a more timid cat may just give up her food to a more dominant cat. She might choose safety over food if forced to make a choice. This can also make meal time stressful and the transition more difficult. Most of my cats prefer to eat on a table I added to a bathroom. To them, the smaller space means less area to have to keep an eye on and they are calmer on the elevated surface. It's good for me too, as I chose an easy-to-clean surface.
So, next time you feed your cat, think like prey and ask yourself "Is it safe?" Your kitty will appreciate it.
Margaret Gates is the founder of the Feline Nutrition Foundation.
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