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Cats are thought of as being fairly mysterious creatures, and in contrast to dogs, they don’t try to meet us halfway or moderate their behaviour according to our norms!
This means that understanding cats is by no means intuitive in all cases, and assuming that it is, and applying human traits and a human understanding to them, can actually be harmful.
This article will tell you six common misapprehensions made by cat owners, which might be compromising the health and/or happiness of your cat. Read on to learn more.
Cats and dogs have very different relationships with food to each other. Dogs will willingly and knowingly keep eating even when they’re uncomfortably full, while cats tend to graze and pick at food throughout the day, stopping when they’ve had enough and returning to their bowl an hour or two later for a little more.
This does mean that cats are less likely than dogs to overeat, or just to eat for the sake of it. It does not, however, mean it never happens. For instance, if your cat (like most) goes mad for Dreamies, or tuna, or another particular favourite, they will usually manage to make room for it even if they’ve just left their food bowl because they’ve had enough food to feel full.
If you are seeing signs that your cat is overeating, like weight gain, don’t just write this off; cats can indeed overeat, and this in turn leads to being overweight and this can directly compromise your cat’s health.
Cat pee has a very distinctive smell, certainly one you wouldn’t want fragrancing your home! Urine spraying or scent marking in turn is very pungent, and for many of us, the smell of it immediately brings to mind tomcats, or unneutered male cats.
Unneutered males or Toms are certainly the most likely cats to spray, and it is rare for tomcats not to spray at all. However, both neutered males and also female cats, (both neutered and unneutered) can and sometimes do spray too, so don’t assign the smell and mess to one cat unless you’re sure about that.
The reasons why cats spray too can be complex, which we’ll look at next…
Another cat-related myth when it comes to spraying urine is that this is territorial. It certainly can be; tomcats do tend to spray to mark their territory, but this is not the only reason why cats spray.
Cats that feel secure in their home and surroundings don’t tend to feel the need to spray, other than in the case of tomcats. This means that if your cat is spraying in or around the home, they might feel insecure there; such as if there are cat neighbours chasing or bullying them, or coming into the home to eat their food.
It is important to note too that spraying might not be a territorial behaviour in the cat at all, and can have other complex behavioural and even physical causes behind it. Spraying might be due to an infection or other problem with the urinary tract, or even as a result of arthritis or another joint disorder that causes discomfort if the cat tries to urinate in the usual squatting, wide-legged stance they would use.
Writing off spraying as territorial – particularly if your cat is not a tom – can be overlooking a health issue, or unhappiness that makes them feel insecure in their own home.
Cats do have a physical reflex that causes them to turn the right way in the air if in freefall, so that they theoretically land on their feet when they hit the ground. This is called the cat self-righting reflex. However, this doesn’t mean that cats can fly, or that a fall cannot do them a serious injury!
The cat’s self-righting reflex needs time and enough distance from the ground to kick in and rotate the cat the right way around to land on their feet. Also, even landing on all four feet does not guarantee in any way that the cat will survive or be unhurt, if the fall was more than a few feet.
Cats sometimes do fall from great heights (several stories high) and survive and recover with prompt treatment.
But they can still fall; and how they land and whether or not they get hurt depends on far more variables than the self-righting reflex alone.
This means that if you live in an apartment block, or your cat otherwise has access to somewhere they could fall from a height at – like if they went out through an attic window – you need to look at how to secure this (such as by using screens and nets on balconies) to negate the chances of a fall, and serious injury or death.
We all like to think that we’d know if our cat was in pain, and that we could recognise the signs of pain and discomfort in cats. There’s a serious flaw in this understanding though, because it is based on the assumption that cats manifest pain and so, show the same sort of signs of pain that we people do; and that they would proactively try to alert us to this too.
This is not the case; in fact, cats work very hard to mask signs of pain, injury, or weakness. This is an instinctive survival mechanism and not a case of them deliberately trying to keep it secret from you.
This is because cats as a species are both predators and prey – and as an animal that is prey to some other species (most notably dogs in the UK, and in other countries, wolves and larger predators too), they would be at risk if they looked like an easy target.
This is also why cats are apt to go off and hide if they’re hurt or unwell, rather than seeking help.
If you know what indicators to look for to let you know that a cat is in pain, however, you can learn to spot them when they manifest.
Finally, cats are fairly adventurous animals and they’re also not a social species; which means they don’t naturally seek out the presence of other cats to form packs and cooperatives. Generally, cats that share a home will rub along ok after they have gotten used to each other, and cats that live in the same neighbourhood tend to make their peace with the presence of other cats over time, though this usually means avoiding each other and maintaining a distance rather than becoming pals.
This combination of an adventurous nature and tendency to be defensive and hostile with strange cats or other cats that overstep their territory means that cats do tend to come in with the odd scrape, cut, puncture wound or in the case of cat fights, bite and scratch wounds now and then.
Cats tend to heal fast too, in terms of how quickly their skin recloses over an injury; and this can actually be a problem. This fast healing tends to trap harmful bacteria from say, the cause of injury and notably, teeth and claws, under the skin; which can make a small wound appear healed, only for it to worsen and turn into a painful and often frightening-looking abscess.
Cats instinctively clean and lick their wounds, but this does not cure them and can worsen them by introducing more bacteria – and so cuts and particularly, wounds from cat fights need proper cleaning and wound care, which is a veterinary job in the case of puncture wounds from teeth, and often in the case of very innocuous-looking injuries too.
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