There is something awe-inspiring about cats to me. Ever since working in animal behaviour, particularly in Zoos, they have never failed to fascinate me. What is most striking is that your cat sitting at your side, is more or less a shrunken version of its wild cousins.
If you look at your beloved feline friend right now, you will see an array of adaptations that are not too dissimilar to a lion or tiger. Sure, they're smaller, a lot smaller, but the differences between a tiger and your domesticated felid make a much shorter list than their commonalities.
So what are the main differences between the two, and why do cats behave in ways that leave even the most cat loving humans around, a little baffled?
I have no doubt that as you are reading this, your cat is contentedly purring away. And, I bet, they are asleep. Purring is often a sign of contentedness, and occurs through the vibration of their larynx when breathing in and out. It is always wise to be aware that purring however is not necessarily a sign of happiness and can sometimes be an indicator of pain or anxiety. If you are ever concerned about the health of your cat, even if they are regularly purring, do not hesitate to have them checked out by your trusted vet. The combination of purring and meowing is one that I hear usually at feeding time. You too? Research thinks that this is more of a solicitation vocalisation... as if to say 'ok, let's get on with it'.
As your cat continues to sit on you or wherever else they like, it brings me back once again to the lions and tigers, who just like your cat; sleep an awful lot. In fact, it is not uncommon for a lion to sleep the better part of 20 hours a day. What gets him out of bed is usually to eat, mate or protect his pride. You'd never hear a lion purr however. They simply have different structural adaptations for this communication and so whilst your cat may be discussing their thoughts via a continuous vibration of their vocal chords, a lion instead, can only roar. This makes me think about other differences between the two genus', which include not just their size but how their eyes function and appear, how they move and even how their tail is designed.
But, what is it about them that makes them so similar?
If you were brave enough to sit wide eyed in the Serengeti or the Sumatran Rainforest, you may find that it is difficult to decipher the behaviour of a big cat to your pet cat. They are cunning hunters, often most frustratingly, are nocturnal and spend most of their time on their own. There are really only two groups of cats who survive as groups and they are the lion and cheetah. The rest have survived over hundreds of thousands of years using their keen sense of smell, hearing and eyesight to locate those who they may want to pair up with and those who they may need to avoid.
If you are more of a cat than a dog person, you will appreciate their striking adaptations for survival. Cat lovers have a healthy respect for their independent antics, even when a deceased bird makes its way into your kitchen, or the couch services as a preferred scratching post. For me, it is quite striking how people who have dogs with similar behaviours cry out for help, where as the average cat owner, might resign to say 'yeah, that's what cats do'. It really is true what they say; 'dogs have owners, whilst cats have staff'. It just makes you respect them that bit more doesn't it!
If you are however hoping to keep your couch's expensive upholstery in its near original condition, scratching posts work beautifully, especially when positioned right beside the couch if given a yummy treat immediately after use. If they start to scratch the couch, calmly pick them up and put them on their post. If you're consistent, you will find your cat learns what you want quickly and your couch will benefit.
To prevent your cat from bringing dead birds inside, I encourage you to put a bell on their collar, giving some of our most critically endangered birds a fighting chance to get away. It is so important to control where your cat goes during day and night-time. They are extraordinary hunters and whilst you're asleep, they are capable of destroying and maiming native wildlife. Respect the cat curfew in your local area and keep more birds in trees, instead of your kitchen. This doesn't mean that you prevent them from expressing their hunting prowess completely. Create games for your cat, use toys and food to keep their mind and instincts active. You may find they are less destructive too. Whilst they may have been tamed by people some four thousand years ago, they are still hunters.
So as you sit beside your beloved cat, think about how four thousand years ago, the ancient Egyptians embarked on domestication that would make a species the most popular pet of all time. A species of animal worshipped by the Gods, and revered for their godly abilities. With cats one of the most commonly surrendered pets across the world however, perhaps we have something to learn from an ancient civilisation, that once again has proved to have been ahead of its time.