It is easy for us to assume that our pets have the same experiences that we do. Sure they’re only 12 inches tall and they don’t have thumbs, but they have eyes and ears, right?
Well, it doesn’t quite work that way. Our cats have evolved visual and auditory abilities that leave us in the dust. Most people are aware that cats have a phenomenal ability to see (and use their whiskers to assist) in the dark. They actually aren’t considered a “nocturnal” species: , they are crepuscular, meaning their periods of activity are when the sun is in a twilight stage.
A lot of people are aware that cats have different visual skills than we have, but I’m not so sure that people are generally aware that cats have a really different experience when it comes to hearing and smells.
Cats can hear better than we can. They can even hear better than dogs can. It turns out that rodents make ultrasonic noises, and cats can hear them. Doesn't this make sense from an evolutionary standpoint? These are noises that nobody every imagined, until some researcher somewhere figured it out.
Next time you laugh because the vacuum cleaner sends them scurrying under the bed, stop and think. What if you could hear whatever noises that machine makes at a range1.6 octaves HIGHER than your current hearing ability? They must constantly be hearing things that we are oblivious to. Cats experience a world of sounds that we are totally unaware of.
Smelling and Dangers of Declawing
A cat has a sense of smell about fourteen times more powerful than a human’s.
Cats actually use smell a lot when it comes to communication. We are experts at talking, and they are experts at making smells and interpreting them! Communicating through scent is the reason why they rub their heads on things, scratch their claws on things and spray on things. Now, this brings up a really important related concern: declawing. In most countries it is illegal to declaw cats. What is this process? It is a fast amputation of the first knuckle. A guillotine tool is used to snap the bone off, the skin that once covered this bone is available in excess now, and is quickly stitched up, the feet are wrapped, and the cat wakes up with all of his/her toes brutally removed from 2-4 of their feet. The animal will eventually recover from the excruciating pain, right? Actually, not necessarily! These operations are really fast, it's not like the bone to be cut off is carefully mapped out. Sometimes tissue is left behind, creating a situation where claws can continue to grow - and they do -but under the cat's skin. There have been cases where the growth eventually pushes out through the flesh of the paw. Some vets do reconstructive surgeries and remove bits of broken bone from inside the cat's foot - the cat has been walking around with this shrapnel imbedded inside.
OK, what does all of this have to do with the feline sense of smell? Cats have glands in their feet, and the glands are full of the smelly pheromone stuff that cats use to communicate. A lot of this communication has to do with marking territory, and cats claw and scratch at things to mark. The process of scratching releases these cat pheromones into objects that are within their territory. When you declaw a cat you remove their ability to do this. They can't leave these subtle scents behind for other cats to smell. So you know what happens as a result? Many cats suddenly start spraying on things. They still need to mark territory, but their territory marking tools just got cut off. All they have left now is their urine.
Let me refer you now to experts on the topic, who have created a very compelling documentary on the long term health problems that declawing can cause. The Paw Project.
Why They Do What They Do
So think about it, when your cat is acting weird, jumpy, frightened or excited, it isn’t because your cat is “psycho”. It’s because your cat is having an entirely different view of the world than you are. Sorry to disappoint, but the answer is really easy. They hear things you can't, they smell things you can't, they have whiskers that enhance their ability to feel things around their bodies, and we don't.
The Meat of the Matter
Because your cat experiences the world in a very different way than you do, it is important to be aware of her perspective when considering her behavior. It is essential to have this view point, and this is why Animal Behavior Consultants are so valuable.
Pam Johnson-Bennett is a widely published, well-known feline behaviorist. Her approach is friendly, supportive, warm and understanding. I really appreciate that she has written books specifically targeted to some common issues, and her book Cat vs. Cat: Keeping Peace When You Have More Than One Cat is a must read if you are considering adding a cat, or dealing with whatever is happening now that you already have. I first got this book at my local library, and then I bought it. This is Pam’s official website.
Jackson Galaxy is powerhousing into public awareness right now with an Animal Planet reality TV show, My Cat From Hell. The show demonstrates the problems and Jackson’s solutions in a way that you can apply to your own lives. I often get the feeling that Jackson’s involvement may actually be acting as occasional couple’s therapy, too. Here is Jackson’ Galaxy’s blog.
The Best Life Possible
As a cat owner, I want to give my pets the best experience possible.
I want them to be comfortable, content, relaxed, and stimulated. I want them to poop in the right place, I don’t want them to fight or destroy my furniture, and I don’t want them to be dangerous. I absolutely recommend learning more about cats, and professional Cat Behavior Specialists can help so much!