Sunday 17 April 2022

Is catnip good for cats and is it a drug?

Yes, is the answer to both questions in the title. Catnip is good for cats because it gives them a little bit of a buzz without apparently any downsides. It excites them and stimulates them but there appear to be no immediate negative side-effects and neither would it seem are there any long-term negative effects to the brain. 

This is unusual in the human world. All the drugs that humans take to alter their minds at least potentially cause damage to the brain. Even cannabis which is regarded as completely safe by millions of people is dangerous to certain individuals who are predisposed to psychotic episodes or mental health problems.

Crackhead ginger tabby cat slides into pile of catnip. Photo in public domain.
Crackhead ginger tabby cat slides into pile of catnip. Photo in public domain.

So, the mildest mind-altering drug for humans carries a risk despite what many people think. But catnip does not. If it did, we would have known by now although it is difficult to tell whether a domestic cat has mental health problems.

It is certainly a drug because it is mind altering just like cannabis. The chemical substance that actually has an effect on the brain triggering the production of endorphins and perhaps other chemicals in the brain, is called nepetalactone. Although, as I recall, even the best scientists don't know as yet how this chemical substance works on the brain to produce the response we see. What I mean is we don't know the exact chemistry of the process. I am sure that we could find out but it seems that people are not interested enough to do a full-blown study on it.

When a domestic cat rolls around in catnip the scientists call it "olfactory enrichment". Or olfactory stimulation. I guess you know, too, that tigers respond very positively to catnip. It is just another piece of evidence which supports how close the domestic cat is to their big cousins.

Nearly all domestic cats respond positively to olfactory enrichment. And about one in every three cats, in a study, responded to catnip. Another plant that causes a euphoric reaction is silvervine. Another name for silvervine is matatabi. 

Almost 80% of domestic cats in a study responded to silvervine and about 50% responded to another plant called Tatarian honeysuckle and the same percentage responded well to valerian root. Of the cats who did not respond to catnip almost 75% did respond to silvervine and about one in three responded to the honeysuckle. Both these are good alternatives to catnip.

Wouldn't it be nice if there was a human version of catnip? It would be the saviour of millions of people. Alcohol ruins lives. Cannabis can damage the brain. All the other human drugs are addictive and can damage the brain and the lives of people who take them. But cats blissfully enjoy catnip and can do so for as long as often as they like it appears without any negative effects. Just plenty of olfactory enrichment and fun!

Saturday 16 April 2022

What does Felis catus mean?

What does Felis catus mean? It's the scientific name for the domestic cat.

Felis is a Latin word derived from an older Latin word "felix" which in English means "happy". However, it means 'cat' in Latin while catus means intelligent, sly or cunning. It seems that felis is interchangeable with feles. Both mean 'cat' in Latin.

Skulls of a wildcat (top left), a housecat (top right), and a hybrid between the two. (bottom center)
Skulls of a wildcat (top left), a housecat (top right), and a hybrid between the two. (bottom-center)

The taxonomic classification of the domestic cat until 2017 was: Felis silvestris catus as in 2007, it was considered a subspecies of the European wildcat (F. silvestris). The word "silvestris" is Latin for "wooded" or "wild".

Domestic cat doing what they do best
Domestic cat doing what they do best. Photo: Pixabay.

However, following results of phylogenetic research in 2017, the IUCN Cat Classification Taskforce followed the recommendation of the ICZN in regarding the domestic cat as a distinct species, and the scientific name Felis catus adopted. As at 2022, this is the correct scientific name of the domestic cat.

The process of classification is called taxonomy. It remains in flux to a certain extent. DNA testing changed things considerably whereas in the past the species were classified by their appearance, a far less precise method.

Cat drooling with delight is rooted in newborn experiences

Cat drooling is often associated with ill health of some sort. The classic reason is mouth disease due to rotten teeth and inflamed and infected gums - please see cat drooling for full details.

But ill health is not always the reason. Sometimes, the reason is because the cat caretaker is petting their cat. Personally, I have never seen this so it is obviously dependent on the individual cat.

Photo: by emilybean (Flickr)

Petting often takes the form of stroking. When we stroke our cat, it is the equivalent of a mother cat licking her kitten. The argument goes that our cats are kept in a perpetual state of kittenhood by us and we are their surrogate mother.  That is the normal arrangement.

Reason for drooling with delight!

In my opinion, cats might drool when being stroked by us because they link the act of stroking (licking) to the time when they were at their mother's nipple being nursed. At this time the mother and kitten purr to communicate with each other. The kitten is saying, "I am receiving milk". The mother's response it an acknowledgment.

The mother licks her kittens at this time. She certainly licks the bottom of her kittens to stimulate defecation.

When a kitten is feeding on their mother's milk, they will produce saliva to digest the milk. If there is a connection between feeding at their mother's nipple and being stroked then it is plausible to suggest that as domestic cats are kept in a mental state of kittenhood, they will salivate when stroked if so inclined. Although this is not common feline behavior. It must depend on the personal early experiences and character of the individual cat.

Some cats salivate so much (hypersalivate) that the cat caretaker has to keep a cloth handy!

Oral health

If my cat drooled when being petted, I would be relaxed about it but I would also just check to see that his or her mouth was in good health. A routine check of a cat's mouth is easy to do. Just have a peep when they yawn or call out. It is useful to keep an eye the health of a cat's teeth. Poor oral health is a huge problem in elderly domestic cats because of neglect to be honest. 

This is not meant to be a criticism. It is easy to overlook a domestic cats oral health. I am referring to gum disease primarily. The link below takes you to more on the topic.

Friday 15 April 2022

Behavior of a calico cat. Do they have a specific personality?

The behavior of a calico cat is no different to that of other cats. In other words, the genes that give this cat her calico coat do not affect her character. That, in any event, is my considered view. I guess we all know that a calico cat is not a breed of cat but a description of the coat color. My view may be incorrect 😉 - see below.

Calico cat and her offspring
Calico cat and her offspring. Photo in public domain.

"Calico" is a North American term. In the UK the calico cat is called "Tortoiseshell-and-white". As the UK name suggests the coat is a mixture of tortoiseshell fur (black and orange) and white. The white is caused by the white spotting gene or piebald gene. This gene causes the mitted or gloved cats (Snowshoe and some Ragdolls) and the van cats (Turkish Van).

 We also know that due to genetics, calico cats are virtually always female. This is because the gene that determines red (orange) coloration is carried on the X chromosome and a cat has to be XX (female) for the orange gene to take effect (I think that's correct - tell me if I am wrong, please).

Japanese people like the calico color. This is shown in their love of bicolor and calico Japanese Bobtail cats. They call this color pattern mike-cats or 'tricolour' cats.

The genetics at work are all concerned with the coat color. As far as I can see there is no further effect (beyond coat color) that determines the character of the cat. I conclude that calico cats have no specific character associated with the coat color. 

However, I may be wrong because Dr Bradshaw says that there may be a link between coat type/colour and personality in pedigree cats due to selective breeding. Breeders may create this link by choosing foundation cats which have a nice character plus the desired coat. It is an artificial connection in purebred cats due to human intervention.

RELATED: Ginger Cat Personality.

The association between the color of the fur and character of the cat is similar to our perception that red-headed people (and particularly females) have a specific and associated character e.g., fiery and volatile. This is due to their "difference" (in the way they look). People tend to be frightened of different people and attack them. 

In the same vein the calico and tortoiseshell cats are considered to have 'catitude'. We tend to stereo cats according to their coat type and colour. Sounds familiar?

They do this by making slightly derogatory remarks (this is my theory, anyway). It is untrue that red-headed people are generally fiery. If they are sometimes like that, perhaps they are being irritated by being thought of as being fiery by other people! I can't find evidence on the internet which scientifically links red hair with a specific personality traits. Wrong? Please tell me in a comment.

One point though does come to mind about the behavior of a calico cat. We know that females of the species act differently to the male. As calico cats are nearly always female it could be argued that their behavior is different to the average. Just a thought. 

 There is a tendency then for humans to assign a character to an appearance. This is the same for people's perception of cats generally. Some people hate cats because they think they "sneer" at them when it is in fact the person's own prejudice coloring the perception. The same distorted perception is found with black cats. They were thought of as witch's cats and there are still numerous superstitions surrounding black cats (good luck, bad luck you name it).


  • Me
  • Wikipedia
  • Cat Fanciers

Cat Ear Mites

Brown gunge caused by ear mites in a ferret. Image in public domain.

Yes, I know this is a ferret! It does show the build-up of dark brown to black ear wax caused by the presence of the cat ear mites in the outer ear canal. This parasite is not restricted to the domestic cat, which makes this photo valid and a useful illustration (I was unable to find a suitable photo of a cat with the condition). Photo Stacy Lynn Baum under a creative commons license.

Can cats give ear mites to humans? Very rarely, yes.

Description of ear mite
Can cats give ear mites to humans? Yes but very, very rarely indeed.

Ear mites (minute crab like creatures) are one of the causes of inflammation of the outer ear canal (scientific term for this inflammation is Otitis externa). The outer ear canal is the tube that runs from outside to the ear drum (the pathway for the reception of sound), which can be seen when looking at the ear. Otitis externa affects humans and often swimmers as it is called "swimmer's ear" in humans.

This YouTube video show ear mites under a microscope. They are not actually in the ear in this video. There are many possible causes of Otitis externa in cats. The cause of the inflammation can be complicated by the instinctive reactions of the cat when he/she scratches an ear than is irritating her. This leads to tissue damage, which can then lead to infection by bacteria and fungi. 

Discharge from cat ear mites can be foul smelling. Image: PoC.

A cycle starts when the cat scratches more and so on. A cat may also shake her head when mites are present in her ears. These are signs of infestation. Cat ear mites are a known possible underlying cause, however, and the most common cause.

One of those damnable parasites which cause so much discomfort in cats.
Photo in public domain.

The scientific name for an ear mite is Otodectes cynotis and the condition of infestation is called Otocarisis or "canker". The term canker is also used for any long-term outer ear canal inflammation. About 50% of Otitis externa is caused by cat ear mites. The percentage is much lower for dogs. Cats can tolerate a higher level of infestation than dogs and if there are dogs and cats in the same household the cat could infect the dog with ear mites as a consequence. 

Apparently, a high percentage of cats have ear mites at one time (one website quotes 90%, although this seems high to me) The mites stimulate the production of wax by glands situated in the ear canal (these wax producing glands are called ceruminous glands).

Some treatments. Image in public domain.

Excessive production of wax forming a thick brown/black layer is a sign of infestation of cat ear mites. They can be seen with the use of a special device called and auriscope (a kind of illuminating magnifying glass). Although some veterinarians may have a Video Otoscope, a device which transmits an image of the inside of the ear to a screen allowing more than one person to see (including the cat keeper). The mites appear as moving/crawling white objects on the brown/black wax, which is sometimes referred to as ear mite dirt. 

Above: Home remedies for cat ear mites (or any animal with eat mites I guess).  Photo above by Stacy Lynn Baum under a creative commons license. There is though not real substitute to seeing a veterinarian. The cure seems relatively straight forward but there can be complications.

It is important to make sure that the symptoms you see are being caused by ear mites as treatments for ear mites can complicate other causes that have not been spotted. An acaricidal drug is administered into the outer ear canal after the ear has been cleaned (with extreme care and in safe manner). If the ears are not cleaned the wax build up can shelter the mites and prevent the drug working effectively. 

I understand this drug to be a kind of insecticide. In order to prevent recurrence of infestation all dogs and cats in contact with the infected cat should be treated. The treatment should continue long enough to interfere with the 21-day cycle of the ear mite and kill the mites that are in the eggs.

Tense and slitty eyes with downturned mouth clearly in acute discomfort due to intense itching from the head mange mites tunnelling into her skin.
Tense and slitty eyes with downturned mouth clearly in acute discomfort due to intense itching from the head mange mites tunnelling into her skin. Head mange mites are not ear mites but the point I am making is that both parasites cause intense itching and distress and in this cat, you can see it in her facial expression,

In addition, the cat ear mites will migrate from the ear to other parts of the body during the treatment (including the tail as it is sometimes near the ear when the cat is sleeping). The cat's body should therefore also be treated with an appropriate insecticide preparation. 

I have tried one of these once for my cat and I didn't like the effect, she licked it off and started foaming at the mouth. I had to take her to the vets but it was OK in fact. Home treatment remedies are, as you can see, available (my cat touch wood has never suffered from eat mites). 

On a commonsense level, if my cat had suffered from this condition in the past, I would regularly inspect her ears and if infected ask the vet for medication that could be administered by me.
Note: don't try and clean the ear by sticking a cotton bud down the ear canal. This is very unwise. See a vet instead please. Ear mites are very distressing for a cat so please don't delay. Ear mites can be a condition that is overlooked as cats are stoic and cat owners can sometimes be very busy and pre-occupied. But you'll be allowing your cat to suffer. You can see the difference in the facial expression of a distressed cat.

  • Veterinary Notes for Cat owners
  • BBC health
  • Myself
  • The Veterinarians' Guide to Your Cats Symptoms
  • Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook by Drs Carlson and Giffin

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