Thursday 3 February 2011

Ideal Cat Caretaking

What is the benchmark for cat caretaking? The absolute ideal against which we can measure our performance. The ideal will not or need not be realistic as it is a near perfect goal and reality and practicalities dictate that we will not meet that. However, a model example of cat caretaking should assist us as it should guide us. Also, the advantage of working out an ideal scenario for the domestic cat is that we are forced to think about the domestic cat's needs. If we meet those needs perfectly we have got the ideal, it seems to me.

Walled Garden - Ideal cat environment - Photo Kevin Smith (Flikr)

Let's begin then. But please note that this is a bit of free thinking. It is not conventional pet website regurgitated stuff! We need to go back to the moments when the wild cat became a domestic cat and the early days of the domestic cat. The domestic cat (Felis catus) is still largely a wild cat (Felis silvestris). There was a moment when it was a wildcat - the first days of domestication. It is said that the domestic cat is not domestic1. Well, I am not completely sure that is correct. The domestic cat is very domesticated having lived with people for 9,000 years. Lets say it has adapted to living with the human but behaviorally and psychologically it has a wildcat mentality and we need to recognise that to discover its needs.

In the early days of domestication - lets not go too far back but back to the time of the pilgrims when they came to America with their long haired cats which turned into the much loved Maine Coon purebred cats - the domestic cat was a more or less full-time outdoor cat, mousing for a living with some titbits from their human companions. They were more of a working cat. They had a function beyond keeping us company. They had more space, space commensurate with their natural desire for territory, but less security and they were more exposed to infections. Their lives were more natural but less safe. Their lives were shorter as is the case for feral cats today.

Over the intervening almost 400 years you would have thought that the deficiencies of that cat caretaking scenario, laissez faire and loose that is was, would have been improved. The only improvement needed was to make the domestic cat physically safer and less exposed to illness. The diet, after all was pretty damn good. It was the natural prey of the domestic cat and small wildcat.

But what happened was the modern world got more hostile for the cat. There was a massive expansion in automobile traffic, a deadly killer for the outdoor cat. People became busier and busier. Because people were busier they moved their preferences to the cat and away from the more demanding dog as a companion animal. In America, the largest domestic cat population in the world, people kept their cats in full-time to keep them safe and to a ease the anxiety that they feel when their cats go out. Keeping cats in full-time is for the benefit of us and the cat let's be honest.

So we ended up, by dint of circumstance and an uncontrolled world with a situation that is not a massive improvement for the cat over its lifestyle some 400 years earlier. Full-time indoor living is good and bad. It can generate laziness and inactivity in the cat. Yes, they are good sleepers but they need to exercise; normally achieved through hunting prey.

Dog food was changed into cat food and that transition was not a very clever one although it was an efficient one for the pet food manufacturers. The trouble is the dog is an omnivore and the cat a strict carnivore. Modern cat food contained and still often contains too much starch, carbohydrates and not enough protein. It contains cereal and grain. Dry cat food is for our convenience but it can cause health problems if it is the sole source of food despite the fact that it has been refined with additives etc. It is inherently incorrect.

The benefits of safety from being indoors all the time is undermined by the deficiencies in the modern way of life and diet of the current cat. These produce illnesses such urinary tract infections and feline diabetes. These illnesses have become far more prevalent in the modern cat world. There is also the possibility of stress caused by both the slight dehydration as a result of eating dry cat food and an unnatural living environment - indoor our homes.

Not that I am decrying full-time indoor living. There are massive advantages to both us and cats. But there is the issue of space and cohabiting domestic cats. Cats are essentially solitary and the albeit small domestic cat has a naturally decent sized home range, its territory. It needs that space to feel natural. It needs it own space. And it has to adapt to live in groups in a person's home. And two cats is a small group.

This can set up stresss as can such conditions as cat separation anxiety. We seem to have gone from the raw more natural environment of 400 years ago to a very refined perhaps over refined environment for the domestic cat today that is shoe horned into our distorted world.

The ideal cat caretaking situation for me is one where we can replicate as near as possible the naturalness of yesteryear but add to that situation modern veterinary practice and greater security.

That leaves us with this ideal and very specific scenario. A large house with a large, say 2 acre garden totally (secure) enclosed by a 10 foot high brick wall. The cat is allowed into the garden only in respect of outdoor activity and the cat is fed with perfectly produced cat raw food diet adhering to all the necessary health requirements. The cat sees a good vet twice a year for check ups and this cat is not declawed! No never. That is the benchmark...of course it includes play, love, cuddles and conversation as standard!


1. Your Cat by Elizabeth M Hodgkins DVM.

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