A Completely Unscientific but Useful Set of Questions to Consider
“I think there is something wrong with Max,” I said in a playful tone so my wife would know I was not serious. “Watch this.” I rubbed the thumb of my right hand against the first and second fingers of the same hand in what everyone knows is the classic “come here” gesture for cats. He simply stared at me, unblinking.
“Maybe he forgot to read the manual,” my wife suggested.
“That would explain a lot,” I said, thinking back on several “normal” cat behaviors Max did not exhibit — enthusiasm for food, interest in the great outdoors, doing slow blinks. Jasper, our other cat, is the dictionary definition of a cat in nearly all of his actions. Max is the opposite. He’s almost a dog with slightly less enthusiasm for everything.
Max and Jasper are a constant reminder that we are all individuals, our behavior a mix of genetics, how we are raised, our experiences, and our own personality. These are brothers, raised together from the moment they were born, yet they couldn’t be more different. This diversity can make it challenging for those new to cats to understand them.
In an attempt to make navigating cat behavior less mysterious for such people, who are also often dog people, I have compiled some basic FAQs. Even longtime cat people might find this enlightening.*
Q: I’ve heard all cats love catnip. My cat doesn’t. Is there something wrong with him?
No, seriously. Not all cats like all catnip. There are many, many different varieties and brands of catnip. If he doesn’t like one brand, try some other brands. He still may not like it. That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with him. It doesn’t mean there isn’t anything wrong with him, either. Liking or disliking catnip is not a definitive diagnosis of physical or mental well-being in cats.
Q: My cat likes to eat spiders and moths. Is this dangerous?
A: It is for the spiders and moths. Eating a spider is very unlikely to hurt your cat, as digestive juices will render the spider venom useless. However, poisonous spiders can bite cats and cause a localized reaction, or possibly worse, depending on the type of spider. (When in doubt, call your vet.)
I will say, Jasper has gotten to a point he only watches certain spiders rather than playing with and then ingesting them. I suspect it means he was once bitten by one and now avoids getting his mouth close enough to have it happen again. I think it’s remarkable he seems to know the difference.
Q: My cat uses her litterbox but doesn’t cover up after herself. What’s wrong with her?
A: She’s inconsiderate and was probably raised by wolves, who are known for not covering their waste. Beyond that, there is unlikely to be a problem. Some cats just don’t cover. Some experts believe it may be a dominance signal, leaving the scent to prove ownership of the territory. It also could be that your cat just doesn’t like the feel or smell of the litter. You could try a different brand or type of litter. If not covering is a sudden change in behavior, dragging your cat kicking and screaming to the vet might be a good idea just in case there is an underlying physical issue.
Q: I’ve heard cats will blink at you as a form of communication.
A: Yes, they do blink at me. It’s pretty cool, or as my son would say, “dope.” If you are hoping to get your cat to blink at you in what some call “slow blinks,” practice when your cat is calm and content. Look at him and slowly blink a few times. He might blink back, or he might look at you like you are completely unstable.
It is suspected that slow blinking is to cats as smiling is to humans. When they blink back it is a sign of happiness and trust. If he doesn’t blink back, don’t get discouraged. Our Max rarely blinks, slow or otherwise. He has huge eyes that unless he is sleeping, always seem to be opened wide. I know he loves and trusts me, but I can rarely get him to blink back at me. Maybe his eyes are too dried out from having them open all the time.
Q: My cat won’t play fetch. What should I do?
A: Don’t worry. You have options. You could get the toy yourself and don’t throw it again unless your cat is enjoying watching you play fetch by yourself. Alternatively, you could get a dog.
Q: How do I know if my cat is listening to me?
A: If you call his name and he comes, he is listening. If you call his name and he adjusts his ears just a tiny bit but does not come, he is listening. If you call another cat, your dog, your kids, or your spouse and he comes, he is listening. If you call his name repeatedly, search your entire house for him, and after 20 minutes of thinking he is lost find him snuggled under a blanket in the back of a closet, he is listening. Cats are always listening.
Q: What do I do if my cat won’t come to the universal “come here” cat signal?
A: You should probably write an article about cats so you can process your feelings about why your cat is so weird. Or, walk over to her, pick her up, and give her some love. There’s no reason she should have to do all the work.
* If your cat might be ill or injured, please don’t rely on a humorist for medical advice. Contact a vet.
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