Cats are not jerks

WASHINGTONPOST

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But by and large, research that sinks its claws into domestic cat behavior, genetics and psychology remains somewhat nascent, especially compared to what’s available about dogs.
“There are so many misconceptions that cats are spiteful, or cats are being jerks, that they’re being aloof or asocial,” says Luke Hollenbeck, a cat behaviorist with the Animal Behavior Wellness Center in Fairfax County, Va. “But cats are trying to communicate with us all the time, and people have to be really good at understanding that.
Advertisement“A lot of this also comes down to different personalities and social preferences — every cat is individual,” Hollenbeck says.
Monique Udell is the director of the Human-Animal Interaction Lab at Oregon State University, which has been investigating the social potential of domestic cats.
Advertisement“Dominance is actually such a huge trigger word in the behavior consulting world because it’s so often misunderstood,” Hollenbeck says.
While multiple cats can harmoniously share a bathroom, it’s important to have a box for each one.
While you can reduce the drama by creating a world where they’re not forced to share every necessity, some furry housemates just aren’t terribly compatible.
“They don’t wake up in the morning and plot how they’re going to ruin your day,” Sinn says.
AdvertisementInstead, unusual or upsetting behaviors are more likely to be your cat’s way of communicating that something is wrong, either emotionally or medically.
Advertisement“A lot of the so-called mischievous behavior of cats is simply an attempt to get the owners’ attention,” Serpell says.

If you’ve lived with cats, you’ve undoubtedly found yourself wondering, “Why did you just do that?” when they knock over a plant or knock a mug off the table. It’s not always easy to pinpoint their exact motivation. Because cats are said to know their names and form emotional bonds with their owners, some recent research has helped allay human anxieties about owning cats. However, in general, studies examining domestic cat behavior, genetics, and psychology are still in their infancy, particularly when contrasted with canine research.

This lack of information can be (partially) explained by looking to the past; humans and dogs once interacted to complete tasks that required understanding and companionship. In contrast, the ancestors of our cats were solitary hunters. We didn’t have as much motivation to decipher their inner thoughts.

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“The cat suffers a bit from its legacy of just being something that lives around people’s houses and farms, and keeps the mouse population down,” says James Serpell, the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s emeritus professor of animal welfare. “There’s this legacy of being an animal that lives on the periphery of society, rather than being a true wild animal. “.

People still believe that cats are aloof and asocial, despite the fact that they have moved indoors and bonded with humans. In addition to giving rise to amusing memes of grumpy cats, it can pose challenges for devoted cat owners who want to discipline their furry companions or just keep their home happier.

According to Luke Hollenbeck, a cat behaviorist at the Animal Behavior Wellness Center in Fairfax County, Virginia, “there are so many misconceptions that cats are spiteful, or cats are being jerks, that they’re being aloof or asocial.”. But humans need to be extremely adept at interpreting the constant attempts of cats to communicate with us. We will not be able to get along very well if there is a barrier to communication. “.

It is not antisocial to be a cat.

Cats are not hermits, despite their ancestry as solitary creatures. Cats form dynamic relationships with their peers in wild or feral colonies, which serve as the foundation for the majority of feline social research. Hollenbeck refers to these individuals as “preferred associates,” and cats choose which ones to hang out with.

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“Many of these factors also stem from the fact that each cat is unique in their personalities and social preferences,” says Hollenbeck. “Cats are no different from you and me in that we might choose to hang out with different people or take part in different activities. “.

Feline matriarchal social bonds are formed, according to research on feral colonies; female cats will typically cling more closely to one another (usually in a community of mothers, aunts, and sisters). After they turn a year old, men are more likely to live nomadic lives. Although most of the research that is currently available focuses on feral cats, anyone who has lived with multiple cats can attest that domesticated cats can also form bonds with one another, if they so choose.

The Human-Animal Interaction Lab at Oregon State University, headed by Monique Udell, has been examining the social potential of domestic cats. Cats, according to Udell, actually have a “flexible” social structure, which allows them to live happily both in groups and on their own, depending on their surroundings and early experiences (such as whether or not they were exposed to humans as babies).

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“We’re finding that cats not only can engage in high levels of social behavior, but many of them actually prefer social interaction when we give them the same kinds of opportunities or challenges that we regularly give dogs,” says Udell.

Naturally, neither humans nor cats desire to be among other people all the time. Ashburn, VA-based veterinary behaviorist Leslie Sinn. claims that domestic cats handle conflict by dispersing, just like their wild ancestors did; they remove themselves from an uncomfortable situation for safety. There isn’t much movement that can occur in order to be able to avoid conflict, so that’s frequently where we have problems in our home, she says.

It’s difficult to say whether someone is dominant or submissive.

In a multi-cat home, a grumpier cat’s method of drawing attention to an issue in their surroundings is frequently disguised as a display of “dominance” toward another cat.

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Because the term “dominance” is so frequently misinterpreted, Hollenbeck claims that it actually serves as a major trigger word in the behavior consulting industry. “It is untrue that cats create hierarchies of dominance in which one cat is at the top and other cats exist in lower ranks. “.

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Even though domestic cats today have developed social skills to get along with people and other animals, a large portion of their behavior is still driven by survival instinct, and any invasion of their territory may lead to conflict. This indicates that they still place a great deal of value on the individualization of resources, such as having their own food, water, and restroom.

Discordant behavior that can occur in multi-cat homes is better described as “territorial” than as “dominant.”. It is a sign that these resources should be expanded and spaced farther apart so that every animal has its own territory when a single cat blocks the entrance to the litter box or blocks food bowls during mealtimes. Although several cats can coexist peacefully in one bathroom, it’s crucial to provide a box for every cat. The same holds true for seating areas, water fountains, and food bowls.

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However, some cats are never going to be best friends. Age, vigor, and life experience differences can all lead to conflict. There are also cats whose personalities just don’t mesh, according to Serpell. He claims that a study is currently being planned by researchers in Denmark to investigate the reasons behind the different personalities of cats and to discover why some cats get along better than others. Certain housemates aren’t very compatible, even though you can lessen the drama by designing a world in which they aren’t required to share everything.

“What appears to be a bullying situation that is almost cruel will occur,” claims Serpell. “Some cats just seem to enjoy bothering other cats over and over again. “.

It isn’t out of spite that they are ruining your couch.

Though it’s rare, cat owners might think their pets are taking revenge by using the carpet as a toilet and the furniture as a scratching post. Sinn claims, “They don’t get up in the morning and plan how they’re going to ruin your day.”.

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Rather, your cat is more likely to communicate unusual or upsetting behaviors as a sign of an emotional or medical issue. Aversion to the litter box, persistent scratching or other destructive behaviors, and growling and other aggressive behaviors are some indicators that something is wrong. Sometimes the root cause is obvious; perhaps you should move the scratching post to a more convenient location or clean the litter box more frequently.

Sinn argues, “Why should we expect our cat to be happy about that when many of us would rather travel on down the road than use the… dirty stall at a local truck stop?”.

More attentive observation may be necessary for other causes, which may be harder to identify. When a young cat spends most of the day alone, it may become bored and cause trouble. On the other hand, an older cat that is forced to live with a boisterous sibling may isolate, hiss, or growl when they are unable to be left alone.

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According to Serpell, “a lot of cats’ alleged mischievous behavior is just an attempt to get the owners’ attention.”. They’ve discovered through trial and error that if they sit at your desk and knock over your pens, you’ll eventually either acknowledge them or get up. Spending an additional half hour each day interacting with your cat may result in a more positive dynamic.

Hollenbeck notes that “misbehaviors” in cats that have been rescued from unidentified situations may also be the result of prior trauma. As a cat mistreated by previous owners may become tense around people, so too may an animal that was always hungry in a past life become defensive or agitated around meals. They are extremely adept at extrapolating that fear because it is a survival instinct, according to Hollenbeck. “.

Some cats are taught tricks by you.

It’s not always true that cats are too independent or too uninterested to listen to a dumb human telling them to fetch something or roll over.

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Udell and her colleagues teach children and adults at the Human-Animal Interaction Lab how to develop stronger relationships with cats through activities like playing tricks or chasing a toy. Many of the cats that come through the lab have shown an interest in and ability to walk on a leash, play fetch, and perform tricks when given the time and attention, she says, though it really depends on the individual animal.

According to Udell, “people who have taken part in these programs will send us back pictures of them hiking, kayaking, and having all kinds of adventures with their cats.”.

In addition to Udell’s findings, a different study conducted last year by researchers at the University of Sussex also discovered that cats are capable of playing fetch. However, it was not evident whether the behavior was primarily motivated by a bond with the object rather than the owner. Traditional.

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