Thursday, March 12, 2009

All About Cats

I spend an awful lot of time with my cats. I think of them and treat them as my children. I love them each in their special way. The littlest kitty is starting to recognize his name finally. Because I spend an exorbitant amount of time with my feline companions, I like to think of myself as a kind of amateur expert on raising cats.

It takes a hell of a lot of time, but you CAN train cats. It's not hard; it just takes repetition. Many people don't have the patience because cats seem to just do whatever the hell they want. That is true... cats do whatever they want. Here's the trick: To make cats do what YOU want, you have to make it seem like it was THEIR idea.

If you set up booby traps around your house, it will not only deter your cat from exhibiting a certain behaviour, but will eventually make them stop altogether because no human was directly involved in the deterrence process. The cat stops because it wanted to.

You can put tape on the sides and edges of your counter and table to stop the cat from jumping up. Cats hate the feeling of stickiness and after getting its hair stuck a few times, it will decide it doesn’t actually want to do that anymore. Even after you remove the tape, the cat still won’t jump up because it will remember why it stopped and just won’t bother trying again.

When you are unable to use this tape method, you can also try tin foil. Cats don’t like the way tin foil feels, so wrapping it around objects you don’t want your cat to scratch usually reverses the behaviour. You have to leave the tin foil up consistently for at least 2 months, sometimes longer, so the cat can get used to scratching something else. Once you notice the cat is in the habit of scratching somewhere else, it’s safe to take the foil down.

Cats hate spicy! A third option is sprinkle cayenne pepper on spots you want your cat to avoid. Putting pepper in your potted plants (alliteration woo!) will make cats stop digging in your flowers.

One of my cats liked scratching my mattress. I didn’t feel comfortable putting tape on the fabric, so I tried wrapping tin foil around the exposed parts of the mattress the cat was scratching. The cat stopped scratching the mattress, but then started chewing on the tin foil and making a mess under my bed, so I combined tactics. I placed 2 small saucers filled with cayenne and black pepper under my bed to keep the cat away from the area altogether. It worked!

I’ve since taken down the foil and removed the pepper, but my cat has already decided for himself that he doesn’t want to go over there and has found a new spot to scratch.

Not having to yell or physically remove the cat from a situation is so nice. All I had to do was help the cat want to avoid the area my making it as undesirable as possible for him.

Another way to get your point across to your cat is to speak to it in its own language.
Aside from reading hundreds of parenting articles, I also read hundreds of cat articles.

Cats speak to other cats with their body language. The positioning of the tail, ears, eyes, and body all come together to form different meanings, which are easily interpreted by other cats (obviously,) but for humans, some of the nuances completely go over our heads.

Good thing cats are smart though. Cats understand that humans are extremely verbal and so cats have developed a language to speak to us in. Cats give humans - and any animals nearby - body language signals all the time. Other animals like dogs are able to pick up on the body language quicker than humans. If an animal is really missing the point, the cat adds a verbal que as well like a hiss if it wants the other animal to stay away.

In the wild, cats don't communicate verbally at all. But, since being domesticated, cats have had to find a way to tell humans what they want. I think there's a range of something like 25 sounds a cat could make to try to tell you what it wants to convey.

Listening to the pitch and tone of the sound can really help determine what your cat wants or needs. Shorter, higher pitched sounds are usually a greeting to you. A longer chirp is a sign of playfulness and friendliness. A chatter sound is reserved for hunting prey, or being excited by something outside, usually a bird. A short mew could by a cry for food or attention. A longer, louder, drawn out meow is a sign of distress. And of course, growling and hissing are warning sounds to stay away.

Contrary to popular belief, purring doesn’t always mean happy! Cats purr on their deathbed too. When cats purr with their eyes closed or half open that usually means contentment. But, if a cat is purring with its eyes wide open and ears perked up, that means its probably nervous and purring is actually a way for a cat to self-soothe.

A cat will purr when it’s sick or injured as a way to self-soothe too. It’s just like sucking your thumb.

Some cats might experiment with different sounds until it gets what it wants. Once a cat does get what it wants, it will associate the sound it used with the attention received and the next time the cat makes that sound, it will expect to receive the same attention as last time.

So, as a human, if you want certain behaviour from your cat, you need to always use the same sounds and body language so that your cat can remember and understand what you want too!

A big problem I used to have with both my cats is they like to stick their heads in cups and drinking glasses and knock them over, often spilling the contents everywhere. Scaring them away from the cup with loud noises or clapping never seemed to work. Using tape, tin foil, and especially pepper was out of the question. I had to think of a different way to let them know I wanted them to stop.

Apparently, if your cat seems to think it’s okay to steal food off your plate, hissing at them is a way to tell them to stop in its own language. In the wild it’s considered impolite for a cat to steal from another cat that is higher up in society. The dominating cat will hiss and even start a physical fight with the rude cat to put him in his place.

I decided I would try it. I practiced hissing alone, but found I couldn’t master making the sound properly. What I do instead is this: When one of my cats approaches my cup and starts sniffing around to see what’s inside, I blow a short breath in his face as if I’m blowing up a balloon. My teeth are clenched and I let the air go through my teeth so a bit of saliva lands on my cat’s face. This makes the cat instantly take a step back and glare at me. I make sure to glare back without losing eye contact and blow in his face again to reinforce my point. I never need to blow more than three times.

When cats hiss at each other, sometimes they spit at the same time. When I blow on my cats face, the moisture of my breath, combined with the bit of saliva that hits them is the equivalent of hissing and spitting. It’s cat language for fuck off, this is mine, plus it reminds my cats that I am still the boss and they cannot dominate me no matter how hard they try!


  1. You're like the Cat Whisperer! Amazing. Who first figured out these cat taming tricks? You should write a book on taming your cats.

  2. Oh, and here's something else interesting about cats. They're one of the few animals humans have never been able to completely domesticate. No matter how hard we try, every single cat retains strong predatory instincts and can easily turn feral. Unlike dogs which get lost and run away can will still be friendly.
    Cats are very smart about how they 'use' humans. They know what they're doing, and they're only sticking around us for as long we're willing to give them a free ride.

  3. Impressive! Cats are smart, but I don't like them because I secretly think they control more than we think. They're like feline puppet masters. using us to feed them. I'm on to you cats!

    Anyway, great read, cats are obviously very smart.