When my elderly cat left a smelly ‘present’ on my husband’s pillow, I knew something was wrong – incontinence? He was 18, after all.
But according to ‘catspert’ John Bradshaw, he was actually suffering from chronic anxiety. Bradshaw’s book, Cat Sense: The Feline Enigma Revealed, lifts the lid on what your cat is really feeling and what they’re really capable of…
1. They can parachute
We all know cats land on their feet when they fall from a height, instinctively twisting themselves into position. But if it’s a really long way down, they gauge as they’re mid-fall whether it’s worth going into ‘the parachute’ to slow themselves down.
“It’s quite primitive, they basically just stick their legs out towards the four corners, which causes the skin of their belly to spread out making more air resistance,” says Bradshaw. “Quite how effective it is, no-one’s worked out, but they’ve been caught on film doing it.”
2. They live in the moment
Don’t worry, they’re not dwelling on the time you accidentally caught their tail in the front door.
“They’re much more reactive than reflective,” says Bradshaw. “Humans can conjure up memories from the past and think about something not in front of us, but cats are much simpler.
“For example, if separated from their siblings, they wouldn’t sit and worry about them, but if they bump into them one day, they’ll recognise them. It can look like a cat is planning for the immediate future, but they’re driven by basic instincts such as hunger.”
3. They suffer from stress
Never mind curiosity killing the cat, feline anxiety is a much more serious issue - and it’s more common than people think. “When a cat is peeing indoors or messing on the duvet, that’s chronic anxiety,” says Bradshaw.
“Many owners are oblivious to smells which are upsetting the cat. Another cat could have stuck its head through the catflap, which would be like opening your front door in the morning and finding someone had sprayed graffiti all over it.
“Watch out for things like skin complaints, over-grooming and cystitis, which can all be caused by anxiety.”
4. They might move out
Because of this propensity to get anxious, cats are after a secure physical environment: food, water, and a place to sleep where they feel safe.
Bradshaw explains that if something changes – say, another pet or a new baby - they may choose to move in with a neighbour.
“It’s not that they’re fickle – cats actually bond well to their homes, as long as it’s comfortable and reassuring, but if it changes, they might seek a more secure life elsewhere,” he says.
5. They’re fussy about dating
Female cats have a slightly unusual mating strategy.
“She becomes attractive several days before she’s ready to mate, which gives her the opportunity to attract a lot of males around her then visually assess them. She doesn’t have to accept the first one that turns up.
“Males (who are still intact) leave scent marks full of chemicals, similar to garlic, in order to attract females. The more pungent the pee, the better a hunter – and hence mate - they are because it shows they’ve killed lots of prey.”
6. They purr to keep you near
While humans think cats purr when they’re happy, it’s actually more about getting you to stay still. “They’re telling you to settle down and stroke them – they also do it to other cats so they’ll continue to groom each other. Kittens purr to get their mothers to lie still and let them suckle. It’s a way of getting mum into a trance.”
“But a purr combined with a meow is the solicitation purr when they want you to feed them.”