Monthly Archives: December 2017

Black Cats and Feline Reputations

Most people in the United States have heard that if a black cat crosses your path, bad luck will follow. Most people who respond to such an event by saying something like “uh-oh” don’t follow up and blame the cat for the fact that a few days later they are, say, fired from their job or trip over the dog and sprain an ankle. But the notion persists, as do many other folk beliefs about cats-as-trouble. Most of these notions arose (in the West) during the late Middle Ages, persisting well into the seventeenth and even the eighteenth centuries. They come down to us today, happily, for the most part filtered by time and reason into paler, less scary versions. In fact, in England it is good luck if a black cat crosses your path. But Europeans in earlier times found plenty of reasons to be truly horrible to cats, especially black ones.

Black cats were not only nocturnal like all cats, skulking around in the dark as if guilty of something, and they were often indifferent to humans, even haughty, but also they had the misfortune of being black. For Europeans in early times, black was-simply-bad. It was associated with the underworld, with night (when bad things like werewolves were on the prowl), with the dark forests where dangerous spirits and crazy people bent on mayhem lurked. It was a scary world, where Satan himself was a constant threat. He and his dark minions practiced the black arts and were always looking to traduce innocent souls into evil.* The world, back in late medieval times, was also full of somewhat attenuated beliefs based on ancient times. Rome’s Diana the Huntress was associated with cats and later in her career morphed a little bit into Hecate, goddess of the underworld and given to dark doings. Also she was associated with the moon, that unreliable and protean body in the night sky. Cats were awarded these attributes.

Early on, the Catholic Church tried to dispel any such pagan notions, discouraging belief in the witchcraft that appears to have always been part of life in most preliterate societies. But late in the Middle Ages when universal satisfaction with the teachings and workings of the Church began to decay, scapegoats were needed. In 1233, Pope Gregory IX explained that black cats were satanic and suddenly the Christian world was overrun with witches and their “familiars,” which is to say the black cats that the witches sent forth to do harm to people. Indeed, witches often turned into black cats. And witches of course were agents of the devil. Thousands of people, mostly women, were burned at the stake along with their cats. Putative witches were typically tortured, and they readily admitted their guilt to stop the torture, even repeating various totally made-up incantations. Thus the virulence of witchcraft was proved, leading to a kind of mass hysteria in which yet more witches were put to the torch. Meanwhile, with such a bad rap, cats of all colors were persecuted.

In one common event, they were hung in bags that avid medieval sportsmen would attack with lances. Indeed, killing cats by one means or another was a highly popular pastime. In these exercises, there was no special emphasis on black cats-any cat would do. From this era comes the old saying “no room to swing a cat,” another sportsmen’s amusement. Possibly harking back to the Egyptian belief that cats were associated with fecundity, some medieval European farmers would bury a cat-alive- near each field they planted, to ensure the growth of the crops. In one macabre case, English archaeologists in the nineteenth century found the remains of thousands of cats buried by the adoring ancient Egyptians, and shipped them back to Albion to be ground up and used as fertilizer.

Mistreatment of cats in this era took many forms. As James Serpell of the University of Pennsylvania describes it, On feast days as a symbolic means of driving out the Devil, cats, especially black ones, were captured, tortured, thrown onto bonfires, set alight and chased through the streets, impaled on spits and roasted alive, burned at the stake, plunged into boiling water, whipped to death, and hurled from the tops of tall buildings; and all, it seems, in an atmosphere of extreme festive merriment.

Europe was not alone in the world in its distaste for all that cats stood for. Evil cats were common features of some Oriental folklore. In Japan, huge vampire cats took the form of human females and sucked the blood and strength from unwitting men. The Japanese used to cut off cats’ tails, believing the tail to be the seat of their malevolence. On the other hand, cats were looked upon with great favor in many Japanese monasteries, where bobtail cats called temple cats or kimono cats were thought to exemplify much of the wisdom passed on by the Buddha. And today, the Japanese have given the world the manekineko or beckoning cat, which can be found in many Asian restaurants and homes in this country as well as Japan and the rest of Asia.

The ceramic figure, something like a children’s illustration, recalls a cat that legendarily stood at the entrance of a famous temple beckoning a feudal lord to come inside. A lightning bolt struck where the lord had been standing and thereafter the beckoning cat was taken to be an incarnation of the goddess of mercy. It is also said to be good for businesses, beckoning customers, and for happiness and harmony-a long way from the cat vampires of old. Today in the West the association of cats with witches is memorialized in Hallowe’en costumery and iconography wherein witches on broomsticks ride across the disc of the full moon, while cartoonish black cats with malevolently arched backs spit and hiss in the foreground. On the last day of October, diminutive witches with black pointy hats will now turn up on doorsteps cheerfully calling for tricks or treats. And, of course, at least 278 zillion people have read about Harry Potter whose witch-filled world is also populated by kneazles, catlike creatures with spots and big ears, that appear to be mostly benevolent. In Islamic countries, cats are and were much admired, especially since the prophet Mohammed was particularly fond-and respectful-of cats, once cutting off his sleeve rather than awakening the cat who was sleeping on it. On the other hand, most Muslims find dogs objectionable. Dogs are eaten in many Asian restaurants, but I know of no place where cats are part of the normal diet.

The idea that a black cat crossing your path is bad luck is a southern European and Irish superstition, exported to the Americas. The English, as noted earlier, consider such an event good luck, and here and there local superstitions suggest that the appearance of a black cat in the presence of a pregnant woman assures a healthy offspring. Cats, and especially black ones, seem to have enjoyed a remarkable power: to be (in one place or another or at one time or another) all things to all people. Even at the height of cat persecution, plenty of cats lived comfortably with families who valued them for their help in vermin control. Indeed, in some places in England, if someone killed your cat, he would be forced to provide you with a pile of grain as high as the cat was long.

I myself had a black cat for several years. I did not seek him out. Instead, two women in the office where I worked at the time thought it would be funny (I suppose) or somehow fitting for them to present me with a large carton at the end of one October day-it was a few days before Hallowe’en-in which there sat a lanky young black cat with a look in his eyes of what seemed low-level outrage. The carton itself was decorated with various kinds of feline graffiti. I was unable to think of a graceful, or even ungraceful, way to refuse this gift, but the thought of schlepping the elaborately decorated carton to Grand Central Terminal in New York City and boarding a crowded train for the hour’s ride to my town, then arriving at my door and trying to explain to my then wife how we had come to have a cat and then introducing the cat to our dog while our three young daughters enthusiastically mauled it… well, it was not an auspicious beginning.

I was aware that black cats had a reputation for bringing bad luck, but as a science editor I was not going to worry about such nonsense. We found it difficult for reasons I don’t recall to come up with a name for this interloper, so finally, in a burst of paternal authority (this was the late 1960s) and stunning imagination I unilaterally named him Cat. Science or no, I was tempted to look up a few superstitions about black cats and found, of course, that I should be careful about him crossing my path, and if he did the antidote was something like walking around the point where I had seen him twelve times, then heading off backwards in my original direction. I pronounced myself grateful for my exposure to science, thinking how time-consuming it would be for me to feel I needed the antidote, what with Cat strolling though the house day in and day out. Imagine the superstitious life: you would have hardly any time for anything else.

Anyway, I came to know Cat and to be very fond of him, admiring all the things about cats that all cat people admire, though if he ever caught a mouse and dispatched it (or a bird, for that matter), I was unaware of it. I did not consider this a failing-just Cat’s amiable and, I thought, admirable approach to life. He took things easy and stayed out of trouble. Like most people, I have experienced plenty of misfortunes, mostly minor ones, but it has never occurred to me to blame any of them on Cat, who was a really good guy. One day, in his late teens, with out having shown much by way of signs of aging, he simply stopped being alive.

I have since learned that nowadays it is not always easy to obtain a black cat from an animal shelter in the days near Halloween. This is because some of the good people who devote themselves to such places do not want to run the risk of someone taking a black cat off to some horrid altar and performing lethal satanic rituals with it. This, in the twenty-first century!

It is a sad commentary to think that such a precious and complicated organ as the human brain, capable of designing a laser, or a symphony, or a democratic constitution, or of divining the common molecular basis for all of life on this planet, can still be so foully and stupidly misused.

Not all superstitions about cats that persist today are malevolent, of course; most of them are positive and harmless, if a bit silly. Upon reflection, it does seem strange for an animal whose evolutionary history is so steadfastly catlike-you have to go back many millions of years to find a cat ancestor that doesn’t look and act unmistakably like a cat-to be assigned so variegated an array of meanings. The human propensity to imagine the supernatural or the anthropocentric and pin it on perfectly innocent animals is astonishing. Snakes have, as noted, gotten an especially bad rap (aside from the fact that some are poisonous) for conning Eve, and other offenses. Most American Indian cultures believe the presence of an owl, and especially the hooting of an owl, presages a death. Who doesn’t-deep down-believe that the bluebird brings happiness? Dogs have both suffered and been esteemed in their symbolic essences. Horses come off pretty well in this regard: malevolent horses are rarely seen in human folklore or in the tribunals of people of faith.

Cats and dogs are considered either contemptible or splendid in a kaleidoscope of ways and for a host of reasons. The Church of Rome, for example, found dogs to be despicable because of their licentiousness but also heroic for their loyalty. The Church held cats in some contempt (not only were they licentious but they were noisy about it) until a papal successor to Pope Gregory IX began raising them. Then attitudes toward cats slowly changed to mostly positive. Today, in the United States, more cats are pets than dogs.

Aggression Between Cats

Litter mate aggression is very different from aggression between cats whether it is a neighbors’ cat or one you bring home. I love the idea of two cats to exercise and entertain themselves but cats tend to be very territorial and you must take several steps to identify aggressive behavior and perform proper steps to introduce the new cat in the house. First let’s define the types of aggressive behavior often demonstrated by cats.

Territorial aggression: This occurs when a cat feels that an intruder has invaded her territory.

  • Cats can be aggressive toward one cat yet friendly and tolerant with another.
  • Aggressive behavior problems often occur when a new cat is brought home, a young kitten reaches maturity, or a cat encounters neighborhood cats outside.
  • The most typical behavioral actions are stalking, chasing, ambushing, hissing, loud meowing, swatting, and preventing access to places such as the litter box, or another room.
  • Female cats can be just as territorial as males. This I know because I have one.

Inter-male aggression: Adult male cats may threaten and sometimes fight with other males. This aggressive behavior is common with typical of feral cats or cat that have not been neutered. They may fight over a female, for a higher place on the totem pole, or to defend territory.

Cats stalk, stare, howl, and puff up their fur to back each other down. If one does back down and walk away, the aggressor, having made his point, will usually walk away as well. If no one backs down the cats may actually fight. They may roll around biting, kicking, swatting, screaming and suddenly stop, resume posturing, fight again, or walk away.

When you see signs that a fight may occur, distract them by clapping loudly, tossing a pillow nearby, or squirting them with water. These actions can also be used to break up a fight.

Defensive aggression: Defensive aggression behavior occurs when a cat tries to protect himself from an animal or human attacker he believes he can’t escape. This behavior may be in response to the following:

  • Punishment or the threat of punishment from a person
  • An attack or attempted attack from another cat
  • Any incident that makes the animal feel threatened or afraid
  • Demonstration of aggressive defensive behavior postures include:
  • Crouching with the legs and tail pulled in under the body
  • Flattening the ears against the head
  • Rolling slightly to the side

Approaching a cat in this posture is likely to cause an attack.

Redirected aggression: Cats direct this type of aggression toward another animal, or even a person, who didn’t initially provoke the behavior.

A good example of redirected aggressive behavior is when your cat sees another cat in his territory and you happen to pet him during or shortly after and the cat attacks you. The cat doesn’t even know who you are at that moment because it is so worked up about the other cat that he attacks the first thing that crosses his path.

First steps you should take with a cat that demonstrates aggressive behavior:

1. Contact your veterinarian for a thorough health examination. Cats often hide symptoms of illness until they’re seriously ill. Your aggressive cat may be feeling sick and taking out his misery on others.

2. Should your cat get a clean bill of health your cat has an emotional problem. Please consult with your vet for further steps or get a referral to an animal behavior specialist for help. A behaviorist will advise you on what can be done. You may need to start the introduction process all over again between the two cats. Also, you may have to keep the cats in separate areas of your home, or even find one of the cats a new home if the aggression is extreme and can’t be resolved.

3. Consult with your veterinarian about a short course of anti-anxiety medication for your cats while you’re working on changing their behaviors. Never attempt to medicate your cat on your own always seek professional advice.

4. This could mean keeping the cats separated from each other while you work on the problem, or at least prevent contact between them during situations likely to trigger a fight.

The behavior of one intact animal can negatively affect all of your pets. Always have your cats spayed or neutered as a first action step to curb aggressive behavior.

Actions to avoid during the reintroduction process:

    • Don’t count on the cats to “work things out.”The more they fight, the worse the problem is likely to become. To stop a fight in progress, make a loud noise such as clapping your hands, squirt the cats with water, or throw something soft at them like clothes or a pillow.

    • Don’t attempt to touch them. Your chances of personal injury from a scratch or bite are highly likely.

    • Don’t punish the cats involved.Punishment will only cause further aggression and fearful responses that will make the problem worse. You could even become a target for redirected aggression.

  • Don’t add more cats or get litter mates in the beginning. Some cats are willing to share their house and territory with multiple non litter mate cats, but the more cats sharing the same territory; the more likely it is that the cats will not get along with each other.

In summary, the aggressive behavior found in cats is usually due to introduction of another cat you brought home or from other neighborhood cats in its territory. Litter mates tend to get along better if you are inclined to have more than one pet. Some cats are just aggressive in nature regardless of other cats and a trip to the veterinarian or a cat behavioral specialist may be needed. Remember there are several types of aggressive behaviors that can be demonstrated and you should be aware of the signs.

Cat Food: Many Choices

As I began researching articles about cat food, I found many with authoritative documentation and some with personal opinions. I personally wanted to know what would be the best to feed our mature cat. He has been on dry food since birth with expensive treats and occasionally a few pieces of meat – table scraps – of cooked chicken, beef, tuna, salmon or pork. This may not have been the most correct choice.

Our cat Simba, is strictly an indoor cat. He has always had good health and has a beautiful, glossy, smooth, orange tabby coat. He has starting vomiting a little bit, which appears to be unprocessed dry food or treats, and occasionally hair balls. I will leave the hairballs for another article. In this article I will look at cat food options. I decided to find out what kind of cat food we should get for him or if a dietary change is needed.

In my opinion, it often the ‘cost’ that drives the consumer’s decision on what cat food to purchase, even though our cats are very precious to us. I am sure we want the best food we can afford to give our pet, and what is best for him. In evaluating the issue, I believe that ‘costs’ can be evaluated in two ways.

First, we can get the best from the grocery store. Much of our decision is probably based on the advertising we hear or see through the media, and occasionally from a friend. It is often that we are at the store, cat food is on our list, our selection is on sale, it says it’s ‘natural’ or some other persuasive word on the label, and we place it in our cart with little thought to read the ingredient list. At home, our cat likes it when we feed him the selected food, so we think we have made a good choice.

Second, we can do a lot of research, decide to go to a pet store or make a purchase online for a good quality, high protein cat food, and know from what we have read that it is a good choice, and ‘cost’ didn’t really become the deciding factor. Our cat’s health became the more important issue.

Some cat owners are probably a little on both sides when selecting the cat food; I know I am. Cost is important, but the quality of health our cat enjoys is also very important. We enjoy spoiling our cats, and our cats love to be pampered, so sometimes we supplement our cat’s food with cat treats. Spoiling our cats with treats may not be a good decision either. He may want more because he is not nutritionally satisfied with the cat food we give him. How do we make the right decision?

As with ourselves, we feel better when we eat better, and so will our cats. Let me briefly share with you some information I found it articles that I researched.

1. Whole meats such as chicken, beef, lamb, salmon, etc. vs. cat food with ‘meal’, ‘by-products’, ‘animal digest’, and added sugars. Analysis: Whole meat is best, as you may know. If you really want to know what goes into some inexpensive pet food, and your stomach can stand the information, take the time to read about it on the web. Many of the products put into pet foods should not be ingested by any living thing, and these are products are put into pet food by many large pet food companies.

2. Grain based vs. grain free cat food: Analysis: Cats do not need grains. Most grains are used a fillers in canned cat food and as binding agents in dry cat food. Some manufactures believe that grains will add protein content, which it does, but cats need meat protein, not grain proteins. Some cats may also develop allergies to wheat or corn when added to their food.

3. Cat food with vegetables and fruits: Analysis: Often you can observe that vegetables, such as peas or corn, go right through a cat’s digestive tract without being processed in the intestines. Cats process meat proteins, but not vegetables or fruits.

4. Dry cat food vs. Canned/moist cat food: Analysis: Dry cat food is not natural. It has carbohydrates for fillers, such as grains, to hold it together. The label may indicate that it has high protein content but most of the protein is grain or milk protein, not meat protein. Don’t, however, feel that canned cat food is the only answer because it may also contain fillers including grains, meal, by-products, milk, etc. Several articles suggested that a combination of dry and canned may be the best for your cat.

5. Raw meat vs. high-protein canned cat food: Analysis: I never felt this issue was totally resolved. It has much to do with the individual cat and his owner. Canned food is more convenient and has a longer shelf life, and should be kept refrigerated after it is open. Raw food takes more preparation and has a shorter refrigerated shelf life. You can read discussions on this subject on several cat forums.

6. Grocery store cat food vs. pet store or online high quality cat food: Analysis: I believe that we could all come to the conclusion that a high protein from meat is the better choice, and that product would probably best be purchased at a pet store (which also carry the grocery store brands), or online.

In conclusion, here are a few final thoughts.

* Even thought the cost is higher with a better quality cat food, your cat will eat less because it is a better protein and he is nutritionally satisfied. He won’t eat as much, and he will be less likely to develop liver or other diseases. You, therefore, will have less expensive vet bills, and a happier, healthier cat.

* Read the labels, do research (other than asking friends and listening to or reading ads), and become an educated consumer. Purchase the cat food you feel is best for your cat.

* Consider the age of your cat. A kitten shouldn’t eat the same cat food as your mature cat. The brands will indicate on the label which food is best for your age of cat.

* Introduce any dietary changes slowly, probably over the course of a week or so.

* Research the web, read books, or talk with your vet so you can decide which cat food is best.

All cat foods are not the same. Your cat’s taste buds may like some brands or meats better than others. Purchasing the cat food you feel is best will give you peace of mind by giving him the best cat food you can afford, and he will feel better and more satisfied as he adjusts to his new diet.