Cats Purr for More Reasons than Happiness

One method of communication cats have, that few other creatures have, is the purr. We’ve always assumed that cats purr only when they’re happy, but that’s not true. Cats purr when they’re nervous, too, and when they’re injured. Mama cats purr right after they’ve given birth. Besides all that, cats have different purrs; some purr loudly, some purr softly, and others purr silently. Why do cats purr, and what do their purrs mean?

Cats purr to help heal themselves

First of all, the frequencies at which cats purr are frequencies that promote healing; specifically, healing of broken bones and damaged muscle tissue, according to Scientific American. However, purring is also thought to be an evolutionary way of conserving energy; in other words, it’s a low-energy way of promoting healing.

This is why cats purr when they’re injured and in pain. There’s also speculation that cats’ purrs help them alleviate problems with bone density, dysplasia and other bone problems that plague domestic dogs. However, cats do purr when they’re happy, and other times too.

Cats purr as communication, too

Purrs are the first form of communication between a mother and her kittens, according to Cat Wisdom 101. Newborn kittens are blind, and mama’s purr tells her kittens, “Here I am.” Cat Wisdom 101 says that cats’ purrs are, in general, a way of saying, “Here I am,” when they’re feeling affectionate. They’re also a way of saying, “Here I am, but don’t hurt me,” when they’re nervous or frightened. It could also be self-soothing, in that the purring helps to calm them a little when they’re scared.

Did you know that the great cats, such as lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars can’t purr, even though they can roar? The lesser cats, like cougars, lynxes, bobcats, servals, caracals and ocelots can purr. Cheetahs can purr, too. Oddly enough, these cats can’t roar.

Each cat has its own, unique purr

We have four cats in our house, and four different types of purrs. Chase purrs almost silently, even when he’s at his happiest and most relaxed. Kali’s purr is a little louder, but oftentimes, we can still barely hear it. We have to scratch her certain ways to make her purr loudly.

Gizmo and Aria, on the other hand, both purr rather loudly, especially when they’re happy and relaxed. They both purr so loudly that they almost trill when they exhale. None of our four cats purrs nonstop for long periods of time; however, Kali and Aria can both purr for awhile when they want to. Gizmo and Chase, on the other hand, purr for short periods of time, off and on.

You can’t tell the difference between pleasure purrs and pain purrs, just from the sound alone. You also have to look at their behavior to know if they’re sick or injured, and purring from pain. Pay careful attention to your cat, especially how she reacts to your touch, if she seems to be purring for no real reason. If you suspect that she’s sick or injured, call your veterinarian.

Cats Train Us: The Cold, Hard Truth

A common stereotype out there is that we humans don’t train cats, but rather, cats train us. In reality, it seems to go both ways; you work with your cat on improving desired behaviors, and stopping undesirable behaviors, with a reward system, while your cat likely thinks she’s training you to give her treats and attention whenever she does certain things. Is it true that cats train us, rather than us training them?

Kali: Evidence that cats train us, not the other way around

Kali is a picky eater. Some days, she’s a little piglet; eating all her food before I have a chance to sit down and get comfortable. Other days, she eats a little, then wanders away, then goes back and eats some more, then takes a bath, then eats some more. Maybe she finishes, and maybe she doesn’t. She does what she wants.

Oftentimes, when she walks away from her food after only eating half, I’ll just let her be for ten minutes or so. Then I go over to where she is, and start scratching her back, her ears, and her chin, and lightly rubbing her neck. She gets happy, and starts head-butting and purring, and I step up the attention. After a few minutes, she chirps, trills, gets down and goes back to her food.

So, what just happened here? Did I figure out that petting her, and making her happy, makes her want to eat, or did she figure out that if she stays away from her food long enough, I’ll come to her and give her attention? Is she evidence that cats train us?

Chase has us trained pretty well, too

We’ve got a similar thing going on with Chase. While we’re fixing the cats’ breakfast and dinner, he’s rubbing on our legs, standing up with his paws on the drawer handle, and mewing plaintively, or screaming in his desperate voice. Obviously, this behavior stops as soon as he gets his bowl of food. If cats train us, then he knows that all that screaming and pawing and rubbing gets him his food. That’s why he does it.

Of course, we’d feed him regardless of whether he did all this, or just sat quietly and waited, the way that Gizmo and Aria do. They all need to be fed, so we feed them.

The honest truth is that we’ll actually never know if we’re training our cats, or if cats train us. It looks to me like Kali and Chase have me pretty well trained, but I’m sure they let me think I’ve gotten some training done with them, too.

Cat Scratch Fever Causes Vision Loss in Ohio Woman

A woman in Ohio lost the vision in her left eye after her cat licked her. What happened? Did her cat lick her eyeball, or was something else going on? It turns out that something else was going on. It took the doctors a month to figure it out, but eventually, she was diagnosed with a form of cat scratch fever.

What is cat scratch fever?

Some cats carry around a type of bacteria that’s usually completely harmless to them, but can be harmful to us. That bacteria is what causes what’s known as cat scratch fever, and it’s carried in cats’ saliva. You catch it when your cat bites you or scratches you hard enough to break the skin, or when your cat licks an open wound.

You can also catch it when your cat licks you, and then you touch your eye or your mouth, or a cut, without washing your hands.

Symptoms and treatment

According to the CDC, symptoms of cat scratch fever include pain, redness and warmth at the site of the infection, along with round, raised lesions. You might also experience fever, exhaustion, headache and lack of appetite. The lymph nodes nearest the infection site might also swell. If you experience any symptoms after your cat scratches or bites you (or licks you), call your doctor.

Most of the time, cat scratch fever, a.k.a. cat scratch disease, will resolve on its own without the need for treatment, although, if infection persists, your doctor can prescribe antibiotics to deal with it. However, children under the age of five, and people with compromised immune systems, are at risk for developing severe complications.

The CDC says that only about 40 percent of cats ever carry cat scratch fever in their lives, and they catch it when they bite at fleas and pick up the flea dirt in their teeth. They can also catch it when fighting with an infected cat. Basically, it’s not bacteria that they always carry.

Preventing cat scratch fever

None of this means you should stop playing with, or cuddling, your cat. If you’re worried about cat scratch fever, the best way to prevent it is to wash your hands after touching your cat, and before you touch your eyes or your mouth. You should also take care to wash out any scratches or bites with soap and water, and keep them covered and clean. Don’t let your cat lick any open cuts or scratches you have, either.

Cat scratch fever isn’t really anything to be afraid of, so you shouldn’t let it worry you to the point where you decide to get rid of your cats. It shouldn’t keep you from adopting a cat, either, if you’ve been considering that. What happened to the woman in Ohio is very rare, and isn’t likely to happen to most of us, especially when precautions are taken.

Why Cats and Dogs don’t Like Each Other

Dogs don’t like cats, right? Or is it that cats don’t like dogs? It’s not that they can’t get along, it’s just that, it’s more common for them not to get along. An article in The Guardian takes a look at this, and provides an answer to the age-old question of why cats and dogs don’t like each other.

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Peterson

The history behind why cats and dogs don’t like each other

Historically, dogs and cats weren’t cared for very well. They were allowed to roam the streets, they primarily lived outside and/or in barns, and had to look after themselves for the most part. We didn’t really start actively caring for our pets as pets until sometime in the 20th century. When it came to fighting over scraps of food, dogs could communicate to one another whether they were going to fight, or if one was going to back down. They’ve inherited that ability from their wolf ancestors.

Cats, on the other hand, are more solitary, and while they do have hierarchies in colonies, they don’t have the complex communication system that dogs do. They’re far more circumspect about their intentions. Cats and dogs can’t communicate very well with each other, so, way back, they were more likely to actually get into real fights over food and territory. This is probably the biggest reason why cats and dogs don’t like each other.

What I’ve witnessed between cats and dogs, myself

I’ve never actually seen cats and dogs fight, but I have seen the evidence that cats and dogs don’t like each other. That was an issue of behavior and territory; my sister’s cat, Maggie, is an alpha and put her dog, LB, in his place by repeatedly swiping at his nose. He was afraid of her and he was afraid of cats in general. However, I never saw them actually fight. I just saw Maggie standing her ground and LB backing down.

I also saw LB back down in the face of a terrifying puffball of a kitten named Kali. The one time that LB was at our house, after Chase and Kali came to live with us, she stuck to LB like white on rice. If he so much as twitched, she’d hiss at him. She kept her little back arched as much as possible, and her fluffy tail as puffed up as possible, and hissed nonstop at him. Poor LB kept trying to back down from this kitten that didn’t understand backing down. Occasionally though, he’d look at her like he was saying, “Yeeeeeeah…keep practicing, kid.”

Generally, though, a bigger dog will chase a smaller cat. According to Animal Behavior Associates, cats usually run, which excites dogs, and entices the dogs to chase them. Only occasionally will a cat actually turn and fight. The relationship that existed between LB and Maggie (and by extension, all other cats) isn’t all that common.

If cats and dogs don’t like each other, how do you get them to?

Since generally, cats and dogs don’t like each other, does that mean they’re natural enemies? The Guardian’s piece says that they probably were at one time, but they’ve lived together for too long to be natural enemies any longer. The evolution of their relationship is rather dark and nuanced, and is where the phrase, “Fighting like cats and dogs” comes from.

You can train your dogs and cats to get along with each other and like each other. With all the photos and videos out there of cats and dogs together, it can be hard to believe that cats and dogs don’t like each other. Training your cats and dogs to like each other takes love, patience and time, but it can be done.

Cats and Soldiers Rescue Each Other From the Horrors of War

It’s no secret that cats provide lots of comfort to us, especially when we’re down. Cats can even help with depression and grief. Their soft paws, their quiet understanding, their sympathy (whether real or perceived), all conspire to help lift us up, even just a little bit. Overseas, a mutual rescue relationship has developed between our soldiers, and cats displaced by war. In the chaos and terror that is war, we find that, often, cats and soldiers rescue each other.

Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Knott, and Koshka, in Afghanistan

One very touching story of how cats and soldiers rescue each other is that of Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Knott. He was in a remote part of Afghanistan for a week when he noticed a little gray kitten that was hanging around with a pack of stray cats and dogs, according to an article in USA Today. Unfortunately, it was fairly soon that Knott began noticing signs of abuse on the kitten, likely by other soldiers in the area.

When the kitten appeared one day, trailing blood from an injury to its paw, Knott couldn’t sit by anymore. He took the kitten, and then told his commander that he had a refugee. His commander wasn’t amused at first, and left, but then returned with “humanitarian aid” in the form of tins of salmon.

The kitten, whom Knott named Koshka (Russian for “cat”), became a kind of mascot for his unit. After long, grueling, difficult missions, Koshka could provide amusement and comfort for the soldiers of the unit. For Knott, Koshka helped to distract him from chronic pain due to injuries sustained in a previous deployment. When he suffered a new injury—a fractured clavicle—he was unable to go out on foot patrols due to the pain.

A suicide bomber stepped into the middle of that patrol and blew himself up. Knott lost two friends, and became suicidal himself. He was trying to work in his office one day, and Koshka just wasn’t having any of it. He was head-butting, purring, rubbing, and pawing at Knott. Koshka reminded Knott that his life was connected to other lives. He felt he owed it to Koshka to rescue him from Afghanistan.

Knott arranged to have Koshka sent to Oregon, where he now lives with Knott’s parents. He’s healthy and happy, and a testament to how cats and soldiers rescue each other.

Three Marines have a mission to rescue animals from Afghanistan, and send them to the U.S.

Love Meow has a series of photographs of Marines with cats in Afghanistan, and is another example of how cats and soldiers rescue each other. Three Marines have actually started a mission to get some of these cats from the war-torn areas of Afghanistan to the U.S., and into loving forever homes.

The mission is found at AfghanKittyRescue.webs.com, and one of the things they talk about in depth on their main page is how cats and soldiers rescue each other. The cats provide companionship, love, and help boost morale; and the soldiers provide food, veterinary care, and their own love.

Afghan Kitty Rescue has the stories of three of the cats that they rescued and managed to get to the U.S. It’s expensive to rescue animals and ship them to the U.S., because they aren’t allowed on military transport. Afghan Kitty Rescue relies entirely on donations to meet their mission.

Cats and soldiers rescue each other quite often

Bored Panda has a ton of photos showing how cats and soldiers rescue each other. They start their listicle with this:

“War is hell, and the soldiers that fight it are just people – they need love too. The animals stranded in dangerous warzones and the soldiers that fight in them gravitate towards each other because they need each other – the soldiers can rescue animals that would otherwise remain homeless, while the animals provide soldiers with some much-needed love and therapy.”

Some of those photos are actually with dogs, which are just as therapeutic as cats, and help soldiers suffering from anxiety, depression, and PTSD. There are many heartwarming pictures where cats and soldiers rescue each other, too. This happens because they fill a mutual hole inside each other’s hearts and souls.

Cat Mummies may not Actually Contain Remains of Cats

Image by Mario Sánchez. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Thousands of years ago, Egyptian culture revered cats, to the point where people would pay good money to have a beloved cat embalmed and preserved. Cat mummies were quite common because of this. Now, Egyptologists and other researchers at the Manchester Museum and the University of Manchester have been studying some of these cat mummies, hoping to learn things about that ancient culture. What they found, however, was something completely unexpected.

Cat mummies might not actually contain cats

According to a story on CNN, the researchers used a CT scanner and an x-ray machine to look inside the cat mummies, so they could see without harming anything. They discovered that much of the animal mummifying industry in ancient Egypt may have been a huge scam. One of the researchers, Lydija McKnight, says that they expected that not all of the mummies would contain what they expected them to contain. However, they were surprised to find that at least one-third of the mummies they studied didn’t contain any animal remains at all.

Even after all this time, the mummies should contain skeletons, at the very least. However, that ancient industry was so huge that fake mummies would have been inevitable. Selima Ikram, who helped curate an exhibit of mummified animals for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, says that, in some cases, real animals were expensive and hard to find. If you wanted to offer an animal that you couldn’t actually get, you made a fake one.

Cat mummies were representations of gods

Egyptians were buying animal mummies as representations of their gods; the culture didn’t lend itself to the “you should get exactly what you buy” mentality the same way we do today. Cats, in Egyptian culture, represented Bast, one of the Egyptian goddesses, and also the one most closely linked to cats.

They could also represent Neith and Mut, and the god Ra sometimes took on the form of a cat. Therefore, it’s entirely possible, and even likely, that the “scam” wasn’t a scam at all. The fake cat mummies were not passed off as actual dead, mummified remains, but rather, simply as representations of gods and goddesses. McKnight says that the ancient Egyptians believed whatever was inside the mummy could be magically transformed. In that sense, they were getting what they paid for.

Still, it’s kind of odd to find out that these cat mummies might not actually contain anything at all.

How to Train Cats to Wear Collars

A friend recently asked me if I know how to train cats to wear collars, because she’s having problems getting her cat to leave her collar alone. I gave her the usual advice, such as making sure the collar was tight enough that her cat couldn’t pull out of it, but loose enough that she could still get a finger underneath it, and other such advice. Her question piqued my interest, though, because our cats don’t wear collars (yet), so I don’t have a lot of experience in how to train cats to wear collars.

We actually need to train our cats to wear collars, because we have two that like to try and get outside. Chase has actually succeeded in bolting out the back door. Fortunately, he was overwhelmed by the wonder of actually being outside, and stopped in the middle of the yard to look around and sniff the air. I was able to get him to come to me, and I carried him back inside.

He hasn’t tried it again since, probably because we’ve been extremely careful about making sure he can’t get past us when we open the door. There’s always the possibility that he’ll manage to do it again, though. He could then head for the driveway and the street, or worse, the hole in the back fence. All of our cats are microchipped, but they don’t wear collars at all. If Chase did manage to get away, without a collar and ID tag, someone might see him and decide to take him in, without ever finding out if he belongs to someone else.

All cats should wear collars, even if they’re indoor-only

It might seem a little silly to put collars on cats, especially if they’re indoor-only cats. However, a combination of ID tags and microchips are your cat’s best bet for getting home safely and quickly if he ever gets out. Thus, it’s always a good idea to train cats to wear collars, even if they’re indoor-only cats.

You’ll want to buy a breakaway collar, because even if it fits perfectly, and your cat has learned to forget about it, he can still get it caught on things inside. The last thing you want is for something terrible to happen to him while you’re at work, or asleep, because his collar was caught and he couldn’t get out of it.

The best way to train cats to wear collars

The first thing to do is put the collar on your cat only when you can supervise him. This way, you can monitor him for excessive scratching or pulling, and remove the collar quickly if something happens. You can take the collar off when you go to bed, or to work, as he gets used to it.

World of Animal Welfare (WOAW) advises choosing a time when your cat is calm, and preferably happy, to introduce him to his collar. You’re putting something around his neck, which is his most vulnerable spot, so he’s not likely to be happy about it. Trying to train cats to wear collars when they’re already stressed is an exercise in futility – you’ll never be able to do it.

The American Humane Association says that one of the best ways to train cats to wear collars involves positive reinforcement and distraction. Put the collar on him, and then give him one of his favorite treats. You can also distract him with a little playtime, or perhaps even mealtime. This helps to teach him that he can still do everything he enjoys, even though he’s got a foreign object around his neck.

WOAW also says that, for the first few weeks, your cat might become quite skilled at slipping the collar off. Whenever that happens, simply put the collar back on, and reward him with more treats, scritches, and playtime. Keep trying to distract him from the feeling of the collar. Fun distraction may prove to be your best resource when you’re trying to train cats to wear collars.

Finally, patience is always the key. It can take awhile to train cats to wear collars without pulling them off. Never yell at him, or punish him, for finding a way out of his collar, because he either won’t know what you’re punishing him for, or it’ll give him a bad association with the collar and you’ll never be able to train him to wear one.

Do Cats Forgive? The Answer Might Surprise You

The common perception of cats in our psyche is that they hold grudges forever. You upset your kitty tonight? Expect her to be angry at you tomorrow morning, and for the rest of her life. She might even glower at you from the Rainbow Bridge. However, when I actually watch my cats’ behavior, that image dissolves. They’re upset for a few minutes, and then everything’s fine, especially if I make a peace offering. Do cats forgive us?

My cats get most upset with me when I take them to the vet. For obvious reasons, they do not like visiting the vet. On the way there, they’ll cry in their carriers, but on the way home, they’re curled up as small as possible in the back. When we get home, they run and hide. You might think my cats forgive me for when they’re good and ready, and not before.

However, with treats, or their meals, or even just a tentative, friendly scritch of their ears, they’re wholly ready to forgive and forget the whole unfortunate episode. The question, though, is whether they actually do forgive me, or if it just appears they do.

Science currently disagrees that cats forgive us, or anyone

Scientists have observed actual conciliatory behavior in other species, but not in cats. While New York Magazine concedes that the bulk of that research has been done on primates—specifically, bonobos, gorillas and chimps—they have studied other species, and found conciliatory behavior in them, too. However, they have yet to find evidence that cats forgive, either us or each other.

Could whether cats forgive actually have to do with memory?

A lot of people assume that cats only retain memories for a few minutes (they assume that of dogs, too). However, according to Canidae, cats’ short term memory is actually about sixteen hours. If your cat forgives you for taking her to the vet within an hour of getting home, it may be that she’s forgotten, but it’s more likely that she feels better now that she’s back in the comfort of home.

Being back in the comfort of home has to do with her associative memory. The smells, sights and sounds are all familiar to her, and if your home is a warm and loving one, all of those things work together to make her remember that home is a safe and fun place. That’s as opposed to the vet’s office, where the sights, smells and sounds all have a negative association for her. So perhaps she hasn’t forgiven you, per se, but since she associates home with happy feelings, it seems as though she’s forgiven you because she’s relaxed again.

That’s why treats work to help her feel better, too. The treats are tasty, and she gets them when she’s been good, done something right, or just because. So, if you give her treats after you’ve upset her, it likely helps to relax her and make her feel better.

So, whether cats forgive us not is a question that doesn’t yet have an answer. However, like I do with my cats, we can take comfort from the idea that they don’t hold grudges against us for very long.

Chase ‘Knocks’ on a Closed Door

If Chase doesn’t spend the night with me, this is often how he’ll wake me up in the morning. This is also how he lets me know he can’t find his food, and how he says he wants in at night (or any other time). We have no idea where he learned to “knock” on the door like this, but it’s a very effective method for getting what he wants.

He will also paw at the knob on the back door if he wants to go outside. We don’t let him outside by himself; we only ever take him out on his harness, and just on our property. Chase is a demanding cat; he rules the house, however much we might think otherwise.