Practical feline behaviour understanding cat behaviour and improving welfare

(Axel Boer) #1



There are hundreds of books about dog behaviour, training and behavioural
disorders: why are there so few about cats? Are cats simply not worthy of their own-
ers’ understanding, or are there other factors involved?
The discrepancy doesn’t reflect their popularity: there are roughly equal numbers
of pet cats and dogs in both the UK and the USA. Could it be that dogs have more
behavioural disorders than cats do? That depends on precisely how a “disorder” is
defined, but the little information that does exist suggests that about half the cats in
the UK regularly behave in ways that either indicate that their welfare is compro-
mised, or their owners find objectionable (or both – see Chapter 1). Thus the issues
addressed in this book are far from esoteric, applying to tens of millions of cats, and
it’s arguable that every one of those cats would be better off if their owner were to
obtain a copy and read it from cover to cover. So what is it about cats that persuades
their owners that they need less help than dogs?
Partly, it must be down to the typical cat’s personality – or at least the traditional
interpretation of the way they go about their everyday lives. Cats are generally por-
trayed as independent animals, often characterised as ‘aloof’, ‘solitary’, even ‘anti-
social’. Historically, such attitudes have their origins in the domestic cat’s traditional
role as rodent exterminators. Even as recently as half a century ago, most pet cats
were allowed to roam around and obtain some of their food by hunting, because that
was regarded as part of their nature, something they could only fulfil if they were left
to their own devices.
There is biological logic behind such preconceptions. Unlike dogs, which form
such strong attachments to their owners that they will literally follow them anywhere,
cats form their strongest attachments to the places in which they live. That’s not to say
that they are incapable of forming affectionate relationships with their owners, but a
secure place to live always comes first – hence the recommendation to keep cats
indoors for at least two weeks following a house move, which is evidently the amount
of time it takes for the cat to forget its attachment to the old house and learn that the
new one has everything it needs. Many of the behavioural disorders discussed in this
book stem from the cat not feeling as secure in its surroundings as it would like to be.
Today, the expectations that owners have for their cats have changed. Many cats
live in apartments, many are confined indoors for their entire lives. Hunting is dis-
couraged as unnecessarily bloodthirsty, messy and cruel, not to mention its supposed
effects on wildlife populations. The sexual exploits of cats, once sufficiently common-
place to provide metaphors for human behaviour, are now rarely witnessed, due to
the widespread adoption of neutering as the approved method for regulation of their
numbers: drowning of unwanted litters, unremarkable a century ago, could now earn
a prison sentence for the perpetrator.
Meanwhile the cats themselves have hardly changed at all under the skin, and so
need their owners’ help to cope with the pressures of twenty-first century life. Even

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