Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Think Like a Cat, by Pam Johnson-Bennett

I'm fairly new to the business of cat-keeping. When I adopted my first feline furball from the Selangor SPCA in 2008, (or more accurately, when she adopted me), I figured cats were simply small, intransigent dogs.

In the intervening four years, I have been a mediocre student at Cat College. My professors, mentors, lecturers and gurus have been veterinarians, pet supply shop owners, fellow cat servants, and of course, cats. I've finally gotten around to the reading list. Pam Johnson-Bennett is a certified animal behavioural specialist in the US. No matter. I think Malaysian cats probably behave similarly to American ones. 

Now I have two cats. Twice the fun, twice the costs, and twice the opportunities for screwing with their little furry heads. This book was ideal for my present state of delving into the feline mind. It affirmed the things I'm doing right, and it tells me what I should do to keep them happy and healthy enough so they don't kill me while I sleep.

Ms. Johnson-Bennett talks about things that will never happen in my household. Walking my cats outdoors on a leash is simply out of the question. (Most of my friends question my own sanity in walking about in my neighbourhood.) She stresses that cats don't like to be pulled about. I fantasise about the effect this image might have on my neighbours.
Very important warning: don’t tug on the leash at this point or your mild mannered cat will turn into a thrashing, growling, fur-covered chain saw.
I worry that my cats seem to lie about a lot. Evidently this is just part of the programme.
In general, cats sleep about sixteen hours a day.
In the years when I lived with dogs, I learned that one of the biggest factors in dogs' behavioural problems is a lack of exercise. Why I had to learn this from a book when it comes to cats, I don't know. They are, of course, natural predators. They need to hunt, to stalk, to kill. They need to sharpen their mental and physical hunting skills. DUH!  If they live inside, they do this through play. And the best play requires our participation.
Cats engage in two forms of play: social play and object (or solo) play. Social play involves another cat, pet, or human... The cat who spies her prey makes a quick assessment to make sure she’s not in danger, focuses in on her hunt, and then eats. She begins to strengthen both her air hunting skills for flying prey and ground hunting skills for rodents, insects, and other creepy crawlies.
Many people assume the outdoor cat who “plays” with his prey after injuring or killing it, is being cruel. In reality, though, the behavior is most likely a displacement due to the excitement and anxiety of the hunt. During the hunt the cat must deal with the fear of getting injured himself in the process.
The problem with all of the cute little toys that are strewn about the house is that they’re essentially dead prey. An interactive toy lets you create the movement so the cat can just enjoy being a predator.
Johnson-Bennett spends a lot of time on how to play with your cat. Don't dangle the toy toward her but have it skitter away, just as a timid or injured prey animal would do. It's important to let the cat catch the toy once in a while and to relish the tactile joy of sinking teeth and claws into it. (This is one of the drawbacks of the red laser dot that is so popular now. Sure, it gives the cat something to chase but nothing to catch.)  Most important, she suggests at least 5-10 minutes a day of interactive play with the cat. That's such a small contribution to your pet's mental and physical fitness!

My second cat, Crumpet, is currently over-grooming to the point of leaving bald patches on her hindquarters. After a few visits to the vet, I turned to the local veterinary acupuncturist for help. I could write a tome on this whole experience, but one of the key things the acupuncturist advised me was to switch to a wet diet.  My two cats were never kibble addicts, but they were inordinately fond of tuna-flavoured wet foods of lower quality. For a number of reasons, fish-based food, and especially tuna, is unsuitable. Explaining the finer points of this issue to my cats has been grueling. I'm dealing with hard-core tuna junkies.
Cats can quickly become addicted to the strong taste of tuna. No matter what food you place before him, your cat will only want his tuna. To get him off of it, you have to gradually mix in other food. It’s not easy to reform a tuna junkie, so try not to create one.
One of the greatest advantages of wet food is the moisture content. I've seen this for myself, as my two fuzz-butts have all but stopped drinking from the water bowl while their urine output has tripled.  I think the wet food is probably the best thing, but it means a change in the way I deal with their food.
Wet food contains about 70–76 percent water. The lowcarb diet of wet food is beneficial to a cat as a carnivore. The cat gets more bang for the buck, so to speak. Canned food, once opened, should be stored in the refrigerator. Remove it from the can and store it in an airtight container. If you decide to store the food in the can, get a snap-on lid. Don’t just cover the can top with plastic wrap because the contents will spoil faster not to mention the aroma of the food will be detectable every time you open the refrigerator... 

When I left bowls of kibble out for the cats' free feeding, I didn't worry about how much or how little they ate. They seemed to eat what they needed, and I knew roughly how much to put out in a day. I'm having to recalibrate the appropriate servings of wet food. Will they turn into furry blimps, or will they become lean, mean, feline machines?
A cat of ideal weight has a little fat over his ribs (remember, I said a little) and a detectable slight indentation just behind the ribs, above the hips. If he looks more like a furry football than a cat, he’s overweight.
This book is a terrific resource. I admittedly skimmed through the chapters on caring for tiny kittens and geriatric cats, as I have neither, and praise be, I didn't need to focus on the very helpful chapter on health problems at the moment, but I take solace in knowing it's there for future reference.

Got a cat? Get this book!

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