Why Does Kitty Do What It Does?
A while ago I wrote an article discussing the similarities between a cat’s brain and a human brain (A Study of Cats and Humans,) this article is going to try and go inside of your cat’s head and see why it does what it does.
According to a report by Rolan Tripp, DMV, (www.AnimalBehavior.Net) that I found in the Catnip Newsletter (July 07, Vol. 15, page 10.) Dr. Tripp stated a cat’s behavior is based on five factors: genetics, gestation, early socialization, intentional training and experience.
When it comes to genetics, the kitten’s father plays an important part in determining the cat’s personality, while mom plays an important part in teaching social skills, hunting and eating.
The brain during the gestation period (pregnancy) develops quite quickly and anything that happens to the mother cat while carrying the kittens will have an affect on the litter. This includes stress, trauma and happy things.
This knowledge helped me to understand why feral kittens behave as they do. Since feral cat mothers are usually fighting for survival and food while carrying a litter.
Between the ages of two weeks and seven weeks mom is teaching the kittens social skills. If the mother cat lives in a house with a family, she is teaching the kittens how not only get along with each other, but with the members of the family, which may include the dog. She is teaching them to use the litter box along with playing and hunting. (Though most domestic cats are not real hunters anymore.) This is a period of great importance to a kitten, as happy and good experiences will create a friendly and outgoing cat, and not so good experiences with have a negative effect on the kitten.
My cat Boots is a good great example of poor socialization and the effect it has on a cat’s personality. Boots is 11 years old and we have had him since he was 9 weeks old and today he is still fearful, timid, afraid of people and does not like to socialize with our other cats.
Boots is an offspring of a feral mother cat my brother felt sorry for, he took the mother cat in when she was about due to have her kittens. He had two house cats of his own and had to keep the mother cat separated from his cats and though the kittens were handled sporadically, due to the fact my brother worked long hours, this lack of socialization has had a dramatic effect on our Boots.
Intentional training is training that the mother cat teaches the kittens and the training a kitten gets from being part of a human family. This education learned at an early age will have an important impact on a kitten’s personality in the future.
The last behavioral effect is life experiences. Kittens like people learn from experience. Good experiences lead to happier kittens and people, while the negative ones can lead to distrust and fear in both kittens and humans.
These are the five basics that help to make your cat what it is today. But, it does not end there, as with humans, life experiences keep going on.
Dr. Tripp goes on to offer some insights and possible solutions for a few common cat misbehavior problems, which I will share with you along with my own life experiences, having had cats for over 55 years.
The solutions to litter box problems are not new. Once medical conditions are eliminated, many litter box problems can be directed to a few things.
Is the litter box clean (empty it at least once a day and do not use an ammonia based cleaner?)
Do you have more than one cat using the box? Each cat should have its own, and ideally there should be one to spare.
Most cats prefer unscented litter. Have you changed the litter product recently and has that created a problem?
Location, location, location is important in finding a house and is equally important placing a litter box. Cats need to feel safe when using their box. Feeling safe means the cat has the opportunity to run if it feels scared. Also placing the litter box near a noisy machine is not wise. A washer, dryer or a furnace that turns off and on can create a situation that makes a cat feel insecure and it will not use the box.
Aggression toward other cats or toward their humans is to me a mystery. We have three cats (2 males and 1 female) that barely get along. The boys will tolerate each other, but the female hates both of them and the youngest male does not like the female either. Boots the oldest is very passive and therefore gets chased at times by both cats. They do not fight, but do not want him in their space. Smokey the youngest totally dislikes the female and will chase her on a moment’s notice. Again there is no fighting, just a “get out of my space” attitude. I have followed all the rules as far as introducing them to each other, and have decided that like people there are some cats that just do not like each other. We have lived like this for the last 7 years without a major war and I guess we will continue to do so.
Cat aggression toward humans needs a different outlook. If the cat is not hurting and you know it is medically well. It is necessary to look and see what is the trigger that brings on this behavior.
Our cat, Miss Tiger will bite if she is held too long. She was a feral kitten and still has those instincts. We know when we hold her if her tail starts to thump quickly that means let her go at once. Her bite is a message that she has had enough loving and wants to be free.
Dr. Tripp suggests that once you understand the trigger of an aggressive behavior, avoid the behavior until you find and appropriate behavior modification program. I am not certain how you find an appropriate modification program that a cat understands. My feeling is once you understand what the trigger is, avoid it and leave well enough alone.
Destructive behavior, the first lesson here is to learn that cats are not vindictive and do not do anything for spite. However, I have had an experience that I feel proves that statement incorrect. I once had a cat named Cinders (a male) that loved to eat boiled ham and cheese. It was his food of choice and would demand it on occasion quite loudly. Being a person of strong will myself, there were times when I did not feel like living up to his demands and for that I suffered. He retaliated by urinating on me. The first time I thought it was funny, but after a time or two I realized he meant business. Was it possible to change the behavior, possibly, but I never tried; I just got him his ham and cheese on demand. Which goes to prove that “dog’s have masters and cat’s have staff.”
Seriously though, if your cat is clawing your couch or stereo speakers, maybe you do not have proper scratching posts. A good post is sturdy and about 3 feet in height or long. Why such length? Cats need to stretch, stretching is good for their muscles and gives them room scratch and shed their claws. Cats also scratch in order to leave their scent on things. The scent is not noticeable to humans, but other cats will be aware that they are in another cat’s territory.
Cats are farsighted, and are able to learn to do more things that require their sense of smell or dexterity, rather than their sight. They are also more active at dawn and at dusk. Nature planned it that way, so they can catch their breakfast and dinner and that is why they wake you up at the crack of dawn looking for breakfast.
Hearing also plays an important part in what a cat learns. Familiar sounds such as your car, the can opener or the sound of a person’s footsteps all have taught your cat a thing or two.
Some cats learn faster than others, some cats learn by experience, and some by observation. But, all cats learn to do only what they want to do, when they want to do it and there is not much we can do about it.