Cats have overtaken dogs as the most popular pet in the United States. The gradual change in the demographics of the workplace plus the cat's independence and intrinsic charm have somehow come together to produce this surge in popularity for this cousin of the king of beasts. The fact that the density of the human population is increasing, the average age of the population is on the rise, and we are in an age of convenience may also have a bearing on the new trend. Cats are relatively inexpensive to buy and keep; they can be left alone while both parents work, do not require intensive management, and are clean and self-sufficient; they do not bark, bite the mailman, chase cars, or make a mess on the sidewalk. These strong suits, coupled with affection on demand, make the cat a fairly attractive package for yuppies and seniors alike.
These considerations all center around our own requirements, not the cats'. What would cats ask for if they had a say in things? They might request a piece of real estate to patrol, some trees to climb, a mate, a few rodents to chase, and somewhere warm and comfortable to take naps. For various reasons, some good and some not so good, we don't come even close to fulfilling this wish list. We limit their freedom, prevent their romantic aspirations, strive to curb their "barbaric" tendencies to grab their lunch on the run, and have a thing about growing trees in our living rooms. So what's left? Free lunch, a warm place to take a nap afterward, and with luck a window through which to gaze out on life in the real world. Some cats settle into this unnatural existence quite well, particularly if their territory is not invaded and their social life remains stable. They may adapt so well that in time, given the choice between staying in or going out, they will peer nervously at the great outdoors through an open door and then turn around and head in, refusing to cross the threshold. This does not necessarily mean that the environment they live in is optimal. Farm animals that have lived in restricted environments will initially select the familiar prison over the open range, but the selection reverses if the choice is provided frequently enough for them to explore and adjust. For other cats, apartment life is a precarious balance easily disrupted by the comings and goings of other members of the household. The addition of new members to the home, changes in routine, and boredom can take their toll and lead to the kind of behavior problems described in this book.
Some of the fundamental issues cannot be addressed to suit the cat. It's too late for that. We can't stop neutering cats and then let them run around loose on city streets. If we did, we would see worse problems than the ones that we currently see. What we can do, though, is to realize what makes our cats tick, take steps to prevent sudden change, and fill as many of the voids as possible. We can think carefully before adding a new cat to the family and make any such additions gradually. We can provide prey facsimiles and take time to awaken those stalking, hunting, and pouncing instincts. Constructive interactive exercises such as click-and-treat training are also helpful, and good old-fashioned care and affection are musts. In addition, we can provide climbing structures, cat nests, scratching posts, and other environmental enrichment strategies to liven up our cats' surroundings and daily existence. At least we can make the effort, and even if we fall a little short of the ideal, they'll be better off than if we didn't try--and they'll probably understand. After all, we're only human.
Many of the problems that arise in the domestic situation stem from the cat's natural behavioral tendencies. It is often difficult to remember that, size aside, a cat is not far removed from its wild cousins. A cat is in some ways like a miniature tiger in your living room. But despite the obvious differences, we have a lot in common with our wild friends. Territoriality and aggression, dominance and fear, anxiety and compulsions are all very human-sounding drives and emotions. This is hardly surprising when one considers the other side of the coin, our biological relatedness. We both inhabit the third rock from the sun and are warm-blooded mammals more closely related to each other than to a fish or a reptile. We have similar brains with similar control centers and identical chemical messengers. Humans just happen to have a few more corrugations in the cerebral cortex, but who's counting? Our peripheral nervous systems, autonomic nervous systems, and hormonal systems are also so similar that they are discussed in the same breath in physiology class as examples of each other. In light of such striking congruence it is hardly surprising that we experience comparable psychological problems. Cats' response to psychogenic medication alone is a powerful piece of evidence to support the view that cats are sentient creatures with feelings and emotions similar to our own. Why else would an apparently anxious cat have its symptoms alleviated with human anxiety-reducing medication? Although scientists have failed to give full credit to the cat's cognitive abilities because they can't quantify them, the concept of feline intelligence is nothing that would surprise the average cat owner. It will just take time for the pundits to prove what the rest of us already intuitively know to be true: that cats have feelings, too.
Excerpted from The Cat Who Cried for Help: Attitudes, Emotions and the Psychology of Cats
by Dr. Nicholas Dodman. Copyright (c) 1997 by Nicholas H. Dodman. Excerpted by permission of Bantam Books, a division of the Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Cat Who Cried for Help by Nicholas Dodman. . Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.