Monday 7 August 2023

"Curiosity killed the cat" is an adage which was "Care killed the cat" meaning anxiety

We all know the old saying "Curiosity killed the cat". It's a saying which fits cat behaviour. Domestic cats are, indeed, very curious. It gets him into trouble sometimes which is why they can be harmed because of their curiosity and even, rarely, killed. Therefore, the adage has some veracity.

Domestic cats' lack of understanding of activities and objects in the human world makes them nervous
Domestic cats' lack of understanding of activities and objects in the human world makes them nervous. Photo: Pixabay.

But the original version of this proverb, from its first appearance in the 16th century until the end of the 19th century was, "Care killed the cat".

Care meaning anxious

In this saying, the word "care" means to worry about or to be anxious about something or other. It points to the possibility that cats could become so anxious and worried about something that it could even kill them. And this, apparently, used to be a belief by many people back in the day when the saying was first created.

And interestingly, this concept of worry killing cats is being revisited by veterinarians. Perhaps it's being revisited in terms of the fact that anxiety in domestic cats can harm their health which can lead to on occasions a serious health problems and even death.

But apparently, about 25% of cat owners surveyed in a 2008 study believed that their cat was incapable of feeling anxiety or sadness. Times have changed thanks to the internet I would say which has educated many cat owners. It is believed now that cats can at least experience the basic emotions that humans experience which includes anxiety or sadness.

And if asked today, scientists would agree that the old version of the proverb is to a certain extent true. Anxiety does present as a serious and real affliction for many domestic cats.

Anxiety is defined as a fear of something that is not currently happening. And you will find that there are, today, some anti-anxiety drugs which have been developed for humans which can be used on cats off-licence. Although, we are still unsure as to whether domestic cat feels the same kind of anxiety that humans feel but we are sure that feline anxiety is similar to human anxiety.

Elavil for anxious cats sometimes. Last resort.
Elavil for anxious cats sometimes. Last resort. Image: MikeB

Interestingly, in the study I mention, more than 60% of cat owners thought that domestic cats can be jealous. Almost 20% of the participants thought that cats can feel the emotion of embarrassment and more than 20% believed that cats can feel shame. Around 35% believed that cats can feel guilt and 40% were sure that cats experienced grief. About 60% thought that domestic cats experienced empathy.

Home range issues

The most common cause of anxiety in cats is to worry that their home range i.e. their territory is about to be invaded by other cats in the neighbourhood. This might apply to full-time indoor cats when looking out the window into the back yard.

Or they might feel this anxiety when living in a multi-cat home and where their territory is very compressed. Under these circumstances home ranges overlap a lot and there is a greater possibility for cats to develop anxiety because of intrusions into their home range.

When Dr. Jon Bradshaw conducted a survey of 90 cat owners in suburban Hampshire and rural Devon in 2000, the participants reported that almost 50% of their cats regularly fought with other cats. They confirmed that 40% of the cats were fearful of cats in general.

He states that he has a colleague, a veterinary surgeon, Rachel Casey, specialising in cat behavioural disorders who regularly diagnoses anxiety and fear. She believes that these emotions are main factors driving cats to urinate and defecate indoors outside of the litter box.

Forced to live with cat they don't trust and owner absence

As about half of domestic cats on that survey suffer from anxiety the old adage that I mention above carries some truth. And this leads to inappropriate defecation and urination inside the home. When cats defecate on bedsheets which by the way happened to my ex-wife's cat after my divorce, the cat is desperately trying to mingle their own smells with their owner's smells to establish ownership. 

It can be reassuring for a cat to do this. In my ex-wife's case I don't think this was about ownership of space but more about anxiety about her absence. Although she had introduced a new cat to the home which would have probably compounded the matter.

The stress of being forced to live with a cat or cat that they don't trust can affect a cat's health. The classic illness caused by stress is cystitis which veterinarians call idiopathic cystitis because there is no apparent cause of it.

66% urination problems

Dr. Jon Bradshaw tells me in his book Cat Sense that "As many as two thirds of cats taking to vets for urination problems-blood in the urine, difficult or painful urination, urinating in inappropriate places-have no obvious medical problems, other than inflammation of the bladder and intermittent blockage of the urethra by mucus thereby displaced from the bladder wall. The factors triggering such episodes of cystitis are therefore psychological."

Lack of understanding

When you think about it, there are a lot of things about the human world that domestic cats are going to struggle to understand because they are human. They can become acclimatised to them but constantly fail to understand them.

Certainly, new events and activities can make them anxious because of this failure to understand.

It's a reminder that we are different species and that our relationship as is an interspecies relationship and therefore quite special.

There are numerous activities which occur throughout the day and throughout the year which can cause anxiety and which are exclusively human in nature such as fireworks, delivery vans outside, the doorbell going off, the hoover being used and so on and so forth.

Owners aware

I think based upon this article that many cat owners should really be switched onto the possibility that their cat companion is going to stressed at some stage of their lives and they should look to the causes, the most common of which, as mentioned, is another cat or cats.

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