Saturday 19 May 2012

1900 Manx Cat Compared to 2000 Manx Cat

Today's date: May 19, 2012. This is a comparison between a Manx show cat from about 1900 in England (exact date is, I believe, 1898) and a modern Manx photographed in the United States by the celebrated photographer Helmi Flick. Her photograph was probably taken at a cat show and the cat is therefore also a show cat. The cat of 113 years ago is a classic tabby and the modern Manx is a tabby and white. What separates them is selective breeding based on evolving ideas as to what a Manx cat should look like.

On the basis that both cats are good representations of the breed at the time (which I believe is the case), the Manx cat has been developed to be shorter in length and more cobby. Also the modern Manx leans forward more indicating the preference for hind legs that are longer than shortened forelimbs.  The head looks a bit more rounded as well. The 1898 cat is essentially a normal random bred cat without a tail in terms of overall shape while the 2007 cat is a refined and selectively bred Manx along the lines of what it is believed the Manx should look like but exaggerated somewhat. The general modus operandi is to breed slightly extreme and in some cases very extreme (e.g. contemporary Persian) to make the breed more outstanding and interesting while differentiating it from other breeds.

Jennings, a UK show cat judge of 1901, says1 that "In shape and size the Manx resembles the ordinary short-haired cat, and may be of any colour and markings, the absence of tail giving the appearance of greater length of limb." Mr Jennings hints that some Manx cats with stumps of tails are ordinary cats with docked tails.

The CFA breed standard for the Manx makes it clear that this cat should be short in length ("short back") and round. The forelimbs should be short and "hind legs much longer than forelegs...".

There you have it. A classic example of how a breed develops over 100 years or so. You can make up your own mind if all that effort resulted in a better cat.

Note: 1. DOMESTIC AND FANCY CATS - ISBN 9781164623557 - pages 22-23. 2. The top photo is published here on the basis that it is in the public domain due to the lapse of copyright over time. Helmi's photo is published with her permission.

Associated: Kurilian Bobtail, a short tailed cat from islands of the east coast of Russia.

Valerian and Cats

Valerian is a herb (V. officinalis). Cats are attracted to it. The plant lives for more than two years and it is hardy. It is not written about that much today (2012) but in the past it was. For instance in 1658 at page 81 of Four-footed Beasts by Topsell he writes, "The root of the herb valerian (called Phu), is very like to the eye of a cat, and wheresoever it groweth, if cats come thereunto, they instantly dig it up for the love thereof, as I myself have seen in mine own garden, for it smelleth moreover like a cat".

Valerian - Photo by helen.2006 (Flickr)

The roots and leaves of valerian have a similar effect on cats as the much better known catnip. Valerian contains a chemical called actinidine. It has a similar effect on cats as the chemical nepetalactone, which is found in catnip.

Both are called "cat attractants" by the Wikipedia authors. We know what some cats do when they smell catnip. It's a kind of mild, safe, recreational drug for the domestic cat.

Associated: Unified Catnip Theory and The Cat Drugs of Catnip and Matatabi.

Friday 18 May 2012

Sailor's Jargon "Cat's Paws"

Our long association with the domestic cat has resulted in a lot of sayings and superstitions based on the cat. This may, in part, be due to people's perception of the cat as slightly mysterious and aloof. One saying is "cat's paws". Sailors used this phrase to mean flaws or ripples on the surface of water.  When the surface of the water was disturbed for a long time it was referred to a "cat's skin".

I am not sure where the "cat's paws" term came from except for the obvious: a cat will paw at water and disturb it causing it to ripple.

Apparently there is an old Hungarian proverb, "as a cat does not die in water, its paws disturb the surface" which is mean to be the origin of "cat's paws". Also this Hungarian phrase is meant to have led to sailors throwing cats in to a dead calm sea as a charm to change the weather.

On the subject of weather, an old phrase from some parts of England is a "cat's nose", which was a reference to a north-westerly wind. There are other associations between cat and weather for some strange reason.

For example, in Germany if it rained when women were putting the washing out to dry it was a sure sign that a cat had been ill-treated.

There are many other sayings that incorporate the cat. You can read about some at cat history.

Most Common Cat Behavior Problems

A discussion about the most common cat behavior problems. First we must recognise the fact that cat behavior problems are problems from the point of view of people. Often a behavior problem is normal behavior for a domestic cat that a person does not like; not strictly speaking a cat behavior problem. In fact, that is the default scenario. I know that obvious fact is hard for some people to digest, but it's true.

My research indicates that it is difficult to rank cat behavior problems as there is not enough widespread available research. In any case if the true problem is about our perceptions, likes and dislikes, all we are doing is ranking what we don't like about domestic cat behavior.

In no particular order the most common cat behavior problems referred to Pet Behavior Counsellors (APBC), a UK organisation were:
  • Indoor marking behavior - this will be spraying urine and depositing feces. Feces are used by wild cat species to mark territories. Domestic cats can do it too from time to time for various reasons.
  • Aggression towards people. This is particularly unhelpful as often aggression towards a person will be defensive in nature. Accordingly it might be argued that the aggression as caused by the person.
  • Aggression towards other cats. This was complained about half as much as aggression towards people. Once again the root cause of this form of cat behavior problem might be traceable back to the person who looks after the cats. If he or she introduces a cat into a multi-cat household that upsets the hierarchy leading to inter cat aggression it could be said that the problem is a human one.
  • Difficulties with house training.
  • Attention seeking.
  • Self-mutilation (one cause: separation anxiety). This is often caused by stress and stress can be caused by an inappropriate environment created by a person. The point I keep making is that cat behavior problems are not free-standing but often a reaction to something we did.
  • Of the purebred cats the Siamese and Burmese (related cat breeds by the way) were the most represented in respect of cat behavior problems. This does not automatically mean that these breeds are the worst behaved. It might mean there are more Burmese and Siamese cats in circulation. They are popular cat breeds especially the Siamese.
A study published in 2000  and 2001 (Bradshaw et al and Casey respectively) compared:
  1. data collected from questionnaires given to English people living in the south of England with:
  2. a diagnostic review from the USA.
Certain cat behavior problems were "over-represented" meaning occurring more than average. These were:
  1. House soiling which includes inappropriate elimination and marking. Inappropriate elimination is a litter box/stress problem while marking is deliberate territory marking and
  2. Aggression towards people and other cats.
Cat behavior problems that were under-represented were scratching and fearful behavior.

The studies produced different results to the APBC referrals. This is partly put down to differences in cat caretaker knowledge of cat behavior. Also people will seek help for problems such as house soiling as it causes a lot of disruption in a person's home.

Domestic Cat Predatory Behavior

Expectations, knowledge and education are important if you keep a cat. If you have a reasonable knowledge of cat behavior and sensible expectations based on that knowledge, it is highly likely that you will have a successful relationship with your cat and that you will respect your cat and cats generally.

Take predatory behavior. It is said that the cat is the world's most skilled predator. It does not matter if we are referring to wild or domestic cats. In the wild, cats have varying degrees of success when capturing prey. Sometimes the success rate is unexpectedly low reflecting the difficulty of catching prey. Apparently feral and domestic cats have a success rate as low as 17% when hunting rabbits (Corbett 1979). See hunting success of wild cats.

You can see the predator in the cat when she pokes a pen around a desk and it falls onto the floor - it is fun to see that or a bit irritating. However,  when your indoor/outdoor cat comes in with a mouse and shows it to you after playing with it all over your hardwood floor, you might become a bit squeamish or annoyed. A reason that some people find this irritating is because they have probably fed their cat the best available commercially manufactured food. Their cat is not hungry. They think their cat gets a kick out of cruelly playing with and then killing a cute mouse. It can be distressing. I understand that.

It helps to accept our cat's predatory behavior if we understand that the motivation to hunt and the feeling of being hungry are separated in a cat.

Cats are finely tuned animals that respond to stimuli that tells them that prey is in the vicinity. The cat will automatically respond to these stimuli such as the high pitched sounds of a mouse and rustling in undergrowth. This automatic response to the presence of prey means that the cat is hunting when at maximum strength as opposed to being hungry and perhaps underfed, thereby in a possibly weakened condition. Killing prey surplus to requirements is a proactive measure in the interests of survival. We should respect cats for that.

Desmond Morris says that the domestic cat plays with his prey as a cautionary measure and/or because the domestic cat has less opportunity to hunt and so extends the process. Some wild cats also play with prey; servals come to mind (they kill 4,000 rodents per annum).  Batting the mouse all over the floor is safer for the cat than biting it in the nape of the neck to kill it.

Female domestic cats will bring prey back to your home as an instinctive desire to teach offspring how to hunt and kill prey. We should be proud of her rather than annoyed.

In the modern, sterilized human world we need to get a bit rough and raw when we keep a domestic cat that goes outside. Despite 9,500 years of domestication and adaptation the domestic cat is wild cat heart.

There is much debate about the effect of the domestic cat on wildlife. The effect is often exaggerated especially by bird conservationists but there must be some effect and it would be nice to reduce the predation of wildlife by the domestic cat. This can be done by keeping the cat in at all times or at least at dawn and dusk, the preferred times, it is thought, for a domestic cat to hunt. However, is that fair on the cat; to prevent the expression of entirely natural behavior? In addition, restricting natural innate activity can lead to stress and unwanted behavior such as aggression. Clearly a good substitute to predation needs to be found and that is play that we manage. However, with the best will in the world, I don't think people want to play with their cat for long periods or at all. That is why manufacturers invent devices that do the work for you. Domestic cat predatory behavior can certainly present problems.

Associated: Domestic Cat and Mouse Picture.

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