Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Cats’ Category

Here’s why cats love hopping into boxes

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Nicholas Dodman, professor emeritus of behavioral pharmacology and animal behavior at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, writes in

Twitter’s been on fire with people amazed by cats that seem compelled to park themselves in squares of tape marked out on the floor. These felines appear powerless to resist the call of the #CatSquare.

This social media fascination is a variation on a question I heard over and over as a panelist on Animal Planet’s “America’s Cutest Pets” series. I was asked to watch video after video of cats climbing into cardboard boxes, suitcases, sinks, plastic storage bins, cupboards and even wide-necked flower vases.

“That’s so cute … but why do you think she does that?” was always the question. It was as if each climbing or squeezing incident had a completely different explanation.

It did not. It’s just a fact of life that cats like to squeeze into small spaces where they feel much safer and more secure. Instead of being exposed to the clamor and possible danger of wide open spaces, cats prefer to huddle in smaller, more clearly delineated areas.

When young, they used to snuggle with their mom and litter mates, feeling the warmth and soothing contact. Think of it as a kind of swaddling behavior. The close contact with the box’s interior, we believe, releases endorphins – nature’s own morphine-like substances – causing pleasure and reducing stress.

Along with Temple Grandin, I researched the comforting effect of “lateral side pressure.” We found that the drug naltrexone, which counteracts endorphins, reversed the soporific effect of gentle squeezing of pigs. Hugs, anyone?

Also remember that cats make nests – small, discrete areas where mother cats give birth and provide sanctuary for their kittens. Note that no behavior is entirely unique to any one particular sex, be they neutered or not. Small spaces are in cats’ behavioral repertoire and are generally good (except for the cat carrier, of course, which has negative connotations – like car rides or a visit to the vet).

One variation on this theme occurs . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 April 2017 at 6:48 pm

Posted in Cats, Daily life

Great example of using positive reinforcement in teaching: Mom cat teaches kitten to climb fence

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This GIF shows a mom cat demonstrating how to climb a fence, watching her kitten succeed, and then rewarding the kitten by showering it with affectionate attention.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 February 2017 at 11:33 am

Posted in Cats, Daily life, Education

Bad cat news: The Killer Cats Are Winning!

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Worth reading, especially for cat lovers.

I will note for the record that our cats (Molly; TYD’s cats; The Eldest’s cats) are all indoor-only cats. They don’t venture outside, as much for their own protection as for the protection of wildlife: they face various outdoor dangers (traffic, other animals, parasites, disease, and so on), and we feel responsible for our cats’ safety, and also don’t want to deal with the outcomes of bad encounters.

But it’s good to know the general problem, and why all cats should stay indoors.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 September 2016 at 12:21 pm

Primeval feelings: Pre-cognitive processes we share with, say, cats

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Today the cleaning ladies are coming, and the preparatory signs are evident (e.g., beds stripped, sheets washed), so Molly knows that this is a Scary Day, though she may be hazy on the details of why.

And she has been unusually persistent and demanding for a lap—she pretty much pushed my computer out of the way— and has curled up and stuck firmly to my lap, even going to sleep, and completely unresponsive to my “I’m getting up” feints.

I’m aware that the obvious explanation is that a lap is a warm place, but the coincidence of her unusually strong lap demand/need (one drives the other) and the fact of the signs of the imminent arrival of the cleaning ladies (whom Molly does not like: she retreats to her hidey-hole in the closet—her version of a safe room—when they arrive and stays there until they leave) make it hard to ignore the possibility that, beyond warmth, Molly is motivated by a demand/need for the comfort of feeling safe.

One doesn’t want to anthropomorphize unnecessarily, of course, so my immediate thought was, “Do cats have feelings?—that is, in general, not just specifically a feeling of being ‘safe’?”

My immediate follow-on thought was that in lifeform evolution, the ability to distinguish “safe” and “not safe” would offer a decided survival advantage, so I would imagine that being able to make that distinction dates way back and is common to many (most? all?) lifeforms, certainly once some level of awareness is achieved. Being able to recognize safety offers a terrific survival advantage over being totally clueless about safety, and of course even better is actually deriving pleasure (an immediate reward that encourages behavior that has significant long-term benefits) from the feeling of being safe.

All organisms must, willy-nilly, be exposed to risks. Those that have a sense of “safety,” and in particular those that derive pleasure from the “safe” side of the menu, will automatically choose the safest course possible—i.e., they will minimize risk. On the whole, organisms that minimize risk will do better than organisms that don’t, pretty much by definition of “risk.” Thus the significant survival advantage that ensures that the ability to recognize safety, once acquired, is passed along.

Thus I would argue that Molly does derive pleasure from feeling safe, and thus her behavior is to some extent guided by feelings. Feelings arise early in evolution, pre-cognitive in origin and even now non-cognitive in operation. Feelings work at a deeper level than cognition, and surely evolution, having found a good device—the reward of immediate pleasure to encourage behavior with long-term evolutionary advantage—we would expect to see it in other contexts. Sex, for example, is important from the gene’s point of view, so it would follow that the pleasure reward would be substantial.

Another example: Consider the feeling of pleasure that one has after a good night’s rest: it’s a definite pleasure, and I think most have experienced it (and have experienced the displeasure of a poor night’s rest). The pleasure, though real, is certainly not so intense as sexual pleasure, but it’s in the same sort of ballpark as the pleasure from feeling safe: it’s better to have the pleasure than not, so one’s choices are pushed in a general direction. In one case, minimizing risk; in the other, being as well-rested as possible under the circumstances, which, along with the similar sort of pleasure that comes from having a substantial and nutritious meal, is known as “taking care of yourself,” which clearly improves chances of survival, so that’s another feeling that goes deep. And presumably Molly would have such feeliings, and indeed evidence shows that Molly seems motivated to be well-rested and thus, presumably, derives pleasure from it.

So I would say that it’s obvious that animals have feelings if not thoughts, and that some of the feelings that a cat, say, experiences are quite similar, as feelings, to those you and I feel. That sort of feeling is basic to the mechanism. And I think that is why some people do not want to eat animals that have such feelings. We’ve read about how pigs show absolute terror in the slaughterhouse. (For some reason, the meat industry wants to make it illegal to reveal (through video, for example—see link) what the industry does: the day-in, day-out routine: nothing special, just their regular work. That’s what they want to hide soe much that they seek to make it a felony to let people know. And such laws have been passed in some states, states in which business interests are more important than free-speech rights.)

I have to say, that took an unexpected direction. I need to think on this.

Meme lovers will note the absence of the meme, but feelings arrive in the organism’s evolution long before the ability to imitate behaviors and thus play host to memes. Feelings have meme-independent pathways, though I imagine memes can co-opt feelings (“… moon, … June”).

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2016 at 3:23 pm

Life is good: Cat division

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 April 2016 at 2:38 pm

Posted in Cats, Video

Portrait of a 6-year-old artist with autism and her therapy cat

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Very interesting article, photos, and video.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 March 2016 at 1:17 pm

Posted in Art, Cats, Daily life

Inter-species friendships

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You can see some charming examples of inter-species friendships on the Web: deer and rabbit friendship, deer and cat friendship, lion and person friendship. Here’s one that’s somewhat unusual.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 February 2016 at 3:44 pm

Posted in Cats, Video

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