Tabby Cat Behavior And Facts
Tabby Cats Behavior: Why We Do What We Do
Speaking as a tabby cat, I’ve seen a lot of humans with some pretty crazy ideas about tabbies. Some of them think we have no feelings or awareness of any kind. At the other extreme, some of them think we’re like tiny humans, capable of complex motivation and detailed planning. The truth about tabby cat behavior is a lot more interesting than either of those options.
Tabby cats are complicated creatures with complex behaviors. Our brains, like yours, enable us to feel fear, sadness, anger, disgust, desire, and happiness. We are driven to explore and interact with our environments. When we are prevented from acting on our instinctive drives, we can experience boredom, frustration, anxiety, and depression.
I’m writing this to set you people straight about tabby cats. I’ll tell you where we came from, who we are, and why we do what we do. I’ll also tell you how to make your home a peaceful, tabby-friendly environment. As always, I’m here, to tell the truth about tabbies.
A Brief History of the Tabby Cat
When Tabbies Met Humans
If you want to understand who Tabby Cats are now, it helps to know where we come from. Tabby cats (Felis sylvestris cattus, to you biology nerds) are descended from the African Wild Cat or Desert Cat (Felis sylvestris lybica). To tell you the truth, all domestic cats are descended from the African Wild Cat — it’s just that us tabbies are lucky enough to show our original wild heritage.
African Wild Cats eat insects, amphibians, birds, and reptiles, but their preferred food is small rodents like mice and rats. This is what led some of them to associate with humans a few thousand years ago. You people are big on farming, which means you need to store your excess food, including grain.
The trouble is mice and rats like grains as much as you do. Fortunately, some of my ancestors realized that your grain storage places were an abundant source of tasty mice and rats. Then, some of your ancestors realized that having us around meant fewer rodents, which meant more food. It was clearly a beneficiary arrangement to both parties. Pretty soon, we had moved in with you and you were worshiping us. The proper order of the universe had been achieved!
Tabby Social Life
It’s pretty laid-back and chilled.
The African Wild Cat is a solitary animal, living, and hunting by itself. Kittens are completely dependent on their mothers when they are born, but by six months of age, they are ready to strike out on their own. Wild Cats pretty much only socialize when they’re mating or raising kittens.
Domestic cats are a little different. When we live in feral situations, we often from social groups called “colonies”, which are centered around a food source and based on cooperating females. These females are often related to each other and look after each other’s kittens.
Each cat in the group has their own territory. Sexually active males have the largest territories, which can overlap with that of some of the females, and all cats mark their territory with urine. There are “neutral” areas where cats within a colony can meet each other without aggression. If a cat violates another’s territory, or if a strange cat comes into a colony, the residents will defend their turf.
It’s important to note that cat colonies are not packs. Dogs form packs to hunt cooperatively, but also as a survival strategy — if a member of the pack is attacked, the rest of the pack will come to its aid. Cats, on the other hand, always hunt alone, and we handle danger by fighting it individually, by hiding, or by running away. We’re way too independent for the kind of collaboration dogs are into.
Tabby Cat Emotions
Now that you know how we act in the wild, you have a better understanding of what drives us to act in certain ways. You now know that we’re social, but not cooperative. You know that we hunt small animals to survive. You know that we’re territorial. You also know that we experience the same emotions we do: fear, anger, sadness, disgust, desire, and happiness.
Now I’d like to take a minute to talk about those emotions. They’re an important part of why we tabbies do what we do, and that’s because they’re rooted in our very survival.
- Fear alerts us to the possibility of danger. When we’re afraid, we’re more alert, and better able to assess the situation for potential threats. Being afraid of unfamiliar people, animals, and situations prepares us to react to them quickly and gives us a better chance of survival.
- Anger is related to aggression and prepares us to fight in a situation that is unpleasant or threatening. By fighting our way out of a situation that doesn’t seem quite right, we gain a better chance of survival.
- Happiness or contentment tells us that all is well in the world. It’s an emotional state that rewards us for beneficial behaviors, like finding food, a mate, or a warm lap. It is also evident in play because the play is a form of practicing our hunting and fighting skills.
- Disgust alerts us to substances that could be harmful to us, such as tainted food or a dirty litter box. By avoiding situations that trigger our disgust, we are safer from toxins and disease.
- Desire is the mating instinct. It helps us to seek and court a suitable mate so we can perpetuate that awesome tabby genetics of ours. Unless we are spayed or neutered, desire is truly a force to be reckoned with and attempting to contain it will result in problems.
- Sadness is emotional discomfort which lets us know we’re not in our preferred milieu. We experience sadness when we’re deprived of play, a companion, or a human caretaker. By feeling sad when things aren’t right, and happy when they are, we learn to seek out situations in which we are safe and comfortable.
Taking Care of Tabby
How to take care of your tabby cat.
Being adopted by a tabby cat isn’t as simple as moving in together. You are the human minion in the relationship, and it’s your responsibility to learn how to provide the best care for your feline companion.
Tabby Cat Psychology
Frustration, Stress, and Depression
When tabby cats are unable to act on our instincts and emotions, we experience other mental states — frustration, stress, and depression. Remember, all emotions — in tabby cats and in humans — are essentially physiological. They’re produced in order to elicit a physical response, whether that response is to fight or flee, to mate or to nurse kittens. And this is where things can really go downhill between Tabby and human.
Frustration happens when we are unable to take action. For example, if our instinct to fight has been roused, we will lash out at the first thing that crosses our path. Addy found this out the hard way. A few weeks after I moved in with her, she tried to pick me up in order to keep me from kicking the sorry butt of a strange cat that had the audacity to come up the stairs in MY BUILDING that led to MY APARTMENT. I mean, can you believe the nerve? MY APARTMENT!
Anyway, Addy thought she was doing me a favor by intervening, just because the other cat was bigger than me, even though I still TOTALLY could have taken him — and since I was all worked up to fight the other cat, I wound up scratching her. I couldn’t help it, my body was telling me to attack something, and she put herself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Stress happens when we are confronted with an unpleasant stimulus that we can’t escape. If something makes us feel fearful, sad, or disgusted, and there’s no way we can get away from it, we will experience cumulative stress. We’re a lot like humans that way.
Depression happens when stress from emotional causes or physical pain is ongoing. Just like with humans, we react to prolonged stress by shutting down. We withdraw, sometimes losing all interest in our food, water, cleanliness, and our companions. If we stop eating entirely, depression can ultimately be fatal.
Cat Scratch Fever
Some of the behaviors that humans see as “bad” are, in fact, simply instincts. Take scratching as an example. I scratch on things all the time. Why? Well, because I’m a cat, and my instincts tell me that it’s important to keep my claws sharp and that I need to leave my scent around to mark my territory — things like that. I can’t help scratching on things. It’s part of who I am as a tabby cat. I have to do it.
Since scratching is an instinct, I will scratch whatever is available, whether it be the carpet, the drapes, or the new chair. Let’s pretend that the only things I have to scratch on are, in Addy’s opinion, off-limits. For instance, I know that I’m not supposed to scratch the couch or the bed. If I do, Addy will make loud noises with her mouth and spray me with a water bottle. So now, even though I need to scratch on something, I’m afraid to do it; but I do it because I have to, and the unpleasant consequences make me sad. Pretty soon I’d be one crazy tabby.
Fortunately for me, Addy knows enough to have several scratching toys around the house. They’re made of things like sisal and corrugated cardboard, and they feel good on my claws. I have to scratch, but I don’t have to scratch the furniture because I’ve got something better.
Litter Box Problems
When the loo just won’t do.
I’m sure you’ve been in situations where you’ve taken one look at the available bathroom and then headed for the bushes, right? Well, cats aren’t all that different from you in that respect. As I mentioned earlier, cats can and do feel disgusted, and if a litter box gets too nasty, we won’t use it. This is simply our brains warning us that a gross pile of kitty litter could carry disease, which might be dangerous to our health. It’s a question of survival.
On the other hand, we cats see the whole urination issue a little differently than you humans do. This is because we sometimes urinate to mark our territory. If we feel that our territory is being invaded by another cat, a dog, or a new baby, we will feel threatened. Our fear of the newcomer and our sadness at not getting as much of your attention as we used to, will cause us to take steps to protect ourselves. We might try reasserting our territory — and our place in it — by skipping the litter box.
This is another situation where are our instincts are telling us to do one thing, and our training is telling us to do another. On the one hand, our brains and our bodies want us to protect ourselves from disease or strangers by avoiding the litter box. On the other hand, we know that if we do, there will be bad consequences. We’re between a rock and a hard place, and we’ll get stressed, which can lead to still more behavior problems.
Getting the Litter Box Right
It can be a simple a matter of location, location, location!
Fortunately for us and for you, litter box problems can be avoided.
First, make sure that the litter box is in a quiet, private space. If we feel exposed, we’ll be afraid to use the box. For some cats, this problem can be solved by covering the box, but for other cats, that can be a deal-breaker. You should be aware that individual preference can be a factor.
Next, make sure that you’re using a type of litter that your cat likes. Most of us get used to a certain type of cat litter, and we don’t like it if our cat litter is changed suddenly. If it smells and feels unfamiliar, we may go elsewhere.
It’s can also be important for each cat to have her own litter box. Now, Piglet and I are from the farm, and when we grew up we didn’t have any of those fancy litter boxes. We had to go outside in all weather, uphill both ways, in rain and sleet and snow and dark of night! And when we moved in with Addy we were grateful just to be able to go inside instead of braving the legendary blizzards of the Great Plains! But I digress. Some cats don’t like sharing, and it can be the safest option to give everyone her own box from the get-go.
Finally, keep the litter box clean.
Remember, you get to flush away your business. What if you had to stand in it? For weeks? You might find a new location too.
Bad Tabby? Bored Tabby.
Our idea of entertainment may not be the same as yours.
Cats may not have invented digital watches or New York City. We don’t use tools, and we have giant brains with speech centers. We are nonetheless intelligent, sensitive animals who are capable of feeling bored. If Tabby is an indoor cat, she might be safer from many dangers, but she also misses out on a lot of stimulation.
Why do I bring this up? Glad you asked. It turns out that boredom is another huge culprit when you people diagnose us with “behavior problems”.
In the wild, there are plenty of stimuli just waiting to be discovered. There are strange odors to check out, insects to chase, trees to climb. Indoors is a different story. Indoors it’s the same old same-old.
How would you feel if you had to live your whole life surrounded by the same four walls? Wouldn’t you get bored? Worse yet, what if you were only a foot or so off the ground? What would you do then?
I tell you what you’d do. You’d jump up on the counters. You’d shred the upholstery just to see what was inside. You’d push the china off the shelf to see if gravity still works, because you’re a cat, and you don’t know Limoges from a Nerf ball.
Now think how much worse it would be if the people responsible for your care were always angry with you. You don’t know why they’re angry; you’re just doing what you have to do. You might get anxious because you can’t exercise your instincts, and if you try to keep your instincts in check, you get depressed.
You’re a human. I’m a cat. If you bring me into your home, it’s because you love me, and want me to be happy, right?
To be honest — not to get all mushy here — we cats are rather fond of you too. We want to have a good relationship with you, in a peaceful, warm, and loving home.
The best way for you to accomplish this noblest of goals is to learn as much about us as you can. Educate yourself about tabby cat behavior. Learn why we do what we do. By doing that, you can prevent friction from developing between our species before it even starts — and that’s a better thing for everyone.
Once again, you may praise me.
It’s why humans are here.