Archive for the ‘Cats’ Category
Kitty food made from mice. Think about it. I did. I was refilling the kitties’ food bowls and thinking about how much Megs turned out to prefer the Chicken-and-Turkey formula to the Herring-and-Salmon formula, when I thought, “Duh.” Cats mostly live on a natural diet of insects, small mammals, and birds. Save for the fish cat, cats in general don’t hunt fish. Hmm. Minnows?
At any rate, I thought that if we have fish formula and bird formula, why not small-mammal formula? I suppose you could use large rodents (rabbits), and The Wife said that rabbit formula kitty food is available. But small rodents make even more sense: easier to breed, require less room, grow to mature size more rapidly, probably more efficient at converting feed to protein, seems somehow appropriate to grind them up for kitty food—certainly more appropriate than grinding up fish, and I would bet that kitties in general are well adapted to such a diet.
But The Wife thinks people won’t like it. Well, for starters, quite a few people don’t like caviar (“Ugh! Fish eggs! No!”), but it still somehow sells. And mouse-formula kitty food would be absolutely irresistible to me—and, I bet, to a lot of people.
Is it time to contact Kickstarter?
One of the most common questions that cat owners ask, if only to themselves, is, “What can s/he be thinking?” But occasionally we glimpse something of a cause. For example, one guy mentioned that his cats would stare endlessly at a dripping water faucet. But then one day he decided to see what was so damn interesting, and so he stood beside them and he, too, stared. He immediately realized that they were not looking at the tap, but at the sink, where the drops hit. So he watched as well. After a while he noticed very odd behavior on the part of the drops. As I recall, the drop would shatter into smaller drops that would skitter around in the (steeply curved) sink. And sometimes a small drop would hit a bigger dot in the side as their paths crossed. When that happened, the smaller drop would come out the other side. It was simply as if it passed through the other drop, though of course it amounts to nothing more than a naturally occurring Newton’s cradle. Still, it was amusing to see, and it happened just often enough to keep you watching: random reinforcement is the strongest mode of behavior modification: frequently enough so you never have to wait long, but the intervals are random so you have to keep watching to see, and the sight is gratifying/odd enough that you want to see it again.
I would say that particular kitty mindwork is pretty clear—especially since it works on humans, too. But take, for example, Megs, who just now, as I carried a basket of laundry to my bedroom, suddenly seemed to take it into her mind to become very afraid—presumably of my bad intentions—and to run away fast down the hall ahead of me.
The Question, of course, came to mind, and for some reason I thought of how great it feels to be afraid on a rollercoaster—certain people will go for ride after ride just for the thrill of terror. I suddenly wondered whether that might not be what Megs is doing, enjoying some recreational terror: the thrill of fear with the knowledge of safety. It certainly works for us, why not for a cat.
Molly is sprawled out in the sun on my (i.e., Megs’s) bed, luxuriating in having the whole bed to herself. Megs is down near the foot of The Wife’s (Molly’s) bed, where the wrinkled, folded covers make good cave prospects. Each kitty clearly is enjoying getting away with something: using the other kitty’s bed and the other kitty doesn’t know about—repressed giggle…
How time flies. I would say she’s become crotchety and grumpy as she ages, except she was a crotchety and grumpy kitten. Still, she and Molly are getting along well now, and all is good.
Following the Frenemies photo from yesterday, Molly finally got down, leaving Megs in bed. The Wife passed by later in the afternoon and found that Megs had burrowed under the covers to make herself a little nest or cave. I went in to take a photo and Megs was completely covered: I had to flip back the edge of the covers or I would have nothing more than a photo of a lump in the bed. As you see, she’s not totally pleased. When I sent back later, the cover was back down and Megs was once again not to be seen.
Megs and Molly cautiously share a bed. Molly’s kitty tree in background.
The Wife and I serve two cats—difficult, but (barely) doable: Megs is fond of me, and Molly is fond of everyone. These are indoor-only cats: we live in a city, and “outdoors” includes traffic, parasites, and predators (dogs, raccoons, and perhaps coyotes—they seem to be everywhere). Our cats live happily (well, except for Megs, most of the time) and safely indoors.
In Britain, OTOH, cats are considered happier outdoors, as though sleeping rough (sleep being their usual activity) is markedly superior to sleeping indoors. There’s a problem, though: cats are highly effective predators, as two recent articles attest.
First is a note by Jef Akst in The Scientist:
As many as 3.7 billion birds and 20.7 billion mammals are killed each year by seemingly unthreatening house cats, according to a study published yesterday (January 30) in Nature Communications. That’s more than the body count from getting hit by cars, running into buildings, or being poisoned by pest control efforts, the researchers said.
On islands, cats have been linked to the extinction of 33 species, BBC News reported, but little was known about their effect on mainland wildlife communities. So researchers from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service performed a meta-analysis of previous studies on cats’ predatory impacts, and found that the petite felines kill many more animal deaths than assumed. In total, the authors estimated cats are responsible for the deaths of 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds each year—four times greater than previously estimated—as well as 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals.
“Our study suggests that they are the top threat to US wildlife,” Pete Marra of the SCBI told BBC News. While stray and feral cats do most of the killing, the authors noted, household pets are by no means innocent. “We hope that the large amount of wildlife mortality indicated by our research convinces some cat owners to keep their cats indoors,” Marra said, “and that it alerts policymakers, wildlife managers and scientists to the large magnitude of wildlife mortality caused by cat predation.”
And then Hannah Waters has a longer note in her blog for the Scientific American:
Every few months, the fact that domestic cats are ruthless killers hits the news. This past summer it was the Kitty Cam, memorably explained by webcomic The Oatmeal, which saw nearly one-third of cats kill 2 animals each week on average. In 2011 a study found that domestic cats were responsible for nearly half of predation on baby gray catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis), a shy bird common in the mid-Atlantic and named for its cat-like call. And this morning, Nature Communications published a large analysis estimating how many animals are killed by cats annually in the US: 1.4-3.7 billion birds and 6.9-20.7 billion mammals each year (1).
Let me repeat: every year BILLIONS of birds and mammals are killed by free-ranging domestic house cats, Felis catus. And millions of reptiles and amphibians on top of that.
This is not a cue for you to pat Fluffy on the head and congratulate her for being such a “natural little killer.” These data are no joke. Domestic cats are on the IUCN’s list of the top 100 World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species for their ability to decimate prey populations. Those razor-sharp claws strike the hardest on islands, where animal populations are relatively confined. A 2011 review found that, on islands, cats are the primary cause for at least 14% of bird, mammal, and reptile extinctions and the principal threat to almost 8% of critically endangered animals (2).
The new data drive home the point that, even on large continents, cats can do serious damage. Easily more damage than collisions with buildings or wind turbines do to birds. And, the authors hope, it’s a fact that wildlife management groups will not be able to ignore.
Feral cat populations are out of control–but what can be done about it? Unfortunately, most cat control is currently decided by our hearts rather than our brains. “Despite these harmful effects, policies for management of free-ranging cat populations and regulation of pet ownership behaviours are dictated by animal welfare issues rather than ecological impacts,” wrote the authors of the new paper.
What are these “animal welfare” management strategies?
Continue reading. It truly is a serious problem.
Jack from Amsterdam points out this interesting article:
Nobody knows how it happened: an indoor housecat who got lost on a family excursion managing, after two months and about 200 miles, to return to her hometown.
Even scientists are baffled by how Holly, a 4-year-old tortoiseshell who in early November became separated from Jacob and Bonnie Richter at an R.V. rally in Daytona Beach, Fla., appeared on New Year’s Eve — staggering, weak and emaciated — in a backyard about a mile from the Richter’s house in West Palm Beach.
“Are you sure it’s the same cat?” wondered John Bradshaw, director of the University of Bristol’s Anthrozoology Institute. In other cases, he has suspected, “the cats are just strays, and the people have got kind of a mental justification for expecting it to be the same cat.”
But Holly not only had distinctive black-and-brown harlequin patterns on her fur, but also an implanted microchip to identify her.
“I really believe these stories, but they’re just hard to explain,” said Marc Bekoff, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Colorado. “Maybe being street-smart, maybe reading animal cues, maybe being able to read cars, maybe being a good hunter. I have no data for this.”
There is, in fact, little scientific dogma on cat navigation. Migratory animals like birds, turtles and insects have been studied more closely, and use magnetic fields, olfactory cues, or orientation by the sun.
Scientists say it is more common, although still rare, to hear of dogs returning home, perhaps suggesting, Dr. Bradshaw said, that they have inherited wolves’ ability to navigate using magnetic clues. But it’s also possible that dogs get taken on more family trips, and that lost dogs are more easily noticed or helped by people along the way.
Cats navigate well around familiar landscapes, memorizing locations by sight and smell, and easily figuring out shortcuts, Dr. Bradshaw said.
Strange, faraway locations would seem problematic, although he and Patrick Bateson, a behavioral biologist at Cambridge University, say that cats can sense smells across long distances. “Let’s say they associate the smell of pine with wind coming from the north, so they move in a southerly direction,” Dr. Bateson said.
Peter Borchelt, a New York animal behaviorist, wondered if Holly followed the Florida coast by sight or sound, tracking Interstate 95 and deciding to “keep that to the right and keep the ocean to the left.”
But, he said, “nobody’s going to do an experiment and take a bunch of cats in different directions and see which ones get home.”
The closest, said Roger Tabor, a British cat biologist, may have been a 1954 study in Germany which cats placed in a covered circular maze with exits every 15 degrees most often exited in the direction of their homes, but more reliably if their homes were less than five kilometers away. . .
Roger Tabor, quoted in the article, has two interesting books on cat behavior: Roger Tabor’s Cat Behavior: A Complete Guide to Understanding How Your Cat Works and Understanding Cats. (At the links, inexpensive ($1) secondhand copies.)