Cat Watch 2014 is the second Horizon cat experiment in the U.K. It documents the behavior of cats when they think we’re not watching. It’s a followup to last year’s experiment, The Secret Life of Cats, that attached GPS trackers and cat cams to 50 cats in a Surrey village, then followed their activity.
This year, the investigation has been expanded. In Cat Watch 2014 they followed 100 cats in different locations in Sussex over three nights. It included city, coastal village and rural farm areas.
Are Cats Antisocial?
Cat Watch noted that many of the Brighton cats rarely left their homes during the course of a day, but they attributed it to a cat’s natural antisocial behavior — not wanting to encounter other cats. Trackers showed that cats who lived in rural areas with lesser cat density would roam up to two miles a day. Cat Watch concluded that this was because they didn’t have to worry about bumping into other cats.
I really have to question this tidy cause-and-effect conclusion, and not just because cat mind-reading technology is not yet ready for primetime. Rural cats may spend more time hunting prey and to that end, may wander further. Urban cats may not be comfortable with all the sights and sounds of city bustle and keep closer to familiar ground.
Yes, cats are less likely to wander further in high cat density areas, but not specifically because they’re anti-social (which I don’t buy), but because they respect the territory of other cats. The higher the density of the cat population, the less territory available for claiming. There is a difference between being anti-social and being territorial.
Cats Can’t Stand Other Cats?
According to Cat Watch 2014, cats are solitary creature and can’t stand other cats. Animal shelters often insist that kittens are homed in pairs, but the Cat Watch experts believe that this is fraught with peril since cats who aren’t related can rarely tolerate each other.
It’s a bunch of hooey to classify all cats as solitary creatures. In the wild, lions live in prides and adult male cheetahs live in pairs. Feral cats live in colonies. Many cat households have multiple cats living in harmony. Anyone who’s worked in an animal rescue or shelter knows that yes, some cats are solitary and detest other cats, but many more cats enjoy company, and bonded pairs are common, whether littermates or not.
Kittens Should Not be Adopted in Pairs?
Animal shelters do often insist that kittens be homed in pairs (or adopted into a home with an existing kitten or energetic young cat) to ensure adoption success. If a cat owner is away from the home all day at work, a young kitten can get into a hundred kinds of trouble while seeking stimulation and play. Another kitten keeps him occupied, and incidents of destructive behavior in the name of play are greatly reduced.
Those who have not owned kittens before can greatly underestimate the level of interaction the young’un requires, and may return him to the shelter — unfortunately at a point when the kitten is no longer in the cute kitten stage and adopting is more difficult (especially when potential adopters learn of the unsuccessul adoption). Pairing kittens usually ensures adoption success, and shelters/rescues take care to make sure the pair is a harmonious coupling. It’s irresponsible of Cat Watch to suggest that cats who aren’t related can barely tolerate each other. I’ve had and observed cats since I was a kid in the Pleistocene era, and most of my cats were bonded with a buddy.
Like anything else, there are exceptions. Some cats are loners; some take a dislike to a single cat in the household. Usually, helping the cats establish individual territories and have positive associations with interaction time (and lots of Feliway) can help establish harmony. The cats may never be best friends, but they’re no longer a danger to each other or the owner.
Cats Dart and Sniff When Faced with Change?
The series’s big “revelation” is that when cats appear to misbehave for their own amusement, they’re actually stressed, and that source of stress is usually the presence of other cats and change in the environment. Cat Watch says that if they’re darting around and sniffing things, urinating where they’re not supposed to and generally behaving erratically, it’s almost always because something in their environment has changed and their sense of security has been compromised.
In theory, that sounds good and is sometimes true. But it’s a narrow view.
Yes, change is difficult for many cats to accept. I learned this when Mr Tasty Face moved in with me eons ago, and one of my cats proceeded to pee on every single piece of his expensive furniture. She’d also poop on beds in the guest bedroom when we had guests. (Not such a bad thing, really, in hindsight. Kept the number of visitors down.) However, this behavior probably was related more to territory issues than change or the presence of other cats.
And HELLO! Cats by their very nature dart around and sniff things. Many cats are obsessed with sniffing out their environments. What appears to be erratic behavior may just be a cat being a cat. If they’re peeing where they’re not supposed to, it is far more likely that the litter box needs flushing, the cat is suffering from a UTI or blockage, or they don’t like the type of cat litter (especially if it is perfumed) or location of the litter box.
Cats Want You to Leave Them Alone?
Cat Watch had good suggestions for helping cats acclimate to change — for example, when you move. But they also recommend that you just leave these antisocial creatures alone. That made me GRRRRR! A cat is more likely to suffer from behavioral problems when starved of attention and stimulation. “Shy” cats are often brought out of their shells only after being showered with attention that builds their confidence. Leaving a cat “alone” borders on abuse.
Yes, cat overpopulation is a problem that will not soon be resolved, and it does create a problem for many cats, both domestic and feral. But it is irresponsible to propagate the myth that all cats are anti-social, detest other cats, and aren’t too wild about humans, either. It’s on par with saying that cats suck the breath from baby’s mouths.
In the U.K.? You can watch The New Horizon Cat Experiment tonight on BBC Two at 8.00pm. But if you’re a cat lover, it will put you in danger of having a stroke from all the misinformation.