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Fuzzy Companions or Fierce Predators?

How do you see cats? Are they fuzzy companions that sit and be cute in the home? Are they fierce predators? I experience both sides of this discussion regularly in my work.

And even in my home.

Take our cat Eno.

Eno joined our family as an adolescent male cat. This fellow was born in rather an unsavory house for cats to be brought up in. And then, as a little boy, he was left on the streets to fend for himself. We took him in from our local shelter and it soon became apparent he had plodded along in life seemingly without any sense of training or socialization. We wonder if at that time he even knew what it meant to be a cat. He does love to play. With anything that moves. To the annoyance of our other 3 cats, Eno did not know when to leave other cats alone.

Our little boy has adapted very well. Since we live close to a main road, our cats roam the garden only, but can’t get out. Eno being a muscular, lively cat hell-bent to explore has found countless ways of getting out of our garden. So, I trained him to go for walks with me. He walks off-leash and stays within about 20-30 feet of me.

But he’s also equipped with his natural instinct.

Cats’ instincts are vital to their survival. They help a cat determine when to hide if confronted with danger. They guide a cat what to eat, and what not to eat. Perhaps most importantly, instincts are the build in programs that cats have relied on for thousands of years to recognize opportunities to hunt, catch and eat. When cats grow up, they learn to use those instincts. They learn how to behave on those urges that they feel. They learn how to hunt, to play. And growing up with us humans also how to be cute.

But what if they don’t learn? What if they did not get an opportunity to learn what it is like to be a cat?

This is what happened a few months ago when I took Eno out for his daily walk through the neighborhood. He got all excited when we entered the patch of green he usually mucks about in. I did notice the big black birds circling over our heads. Eno ran off to a corner with 2 of those birds and another magpie sitting on a fence displaying an interest in the ground below them. I waited and let Eno sort out his business with birds. They were too big for him to catch anyway.

Then it happened. Within a few seconds I spotted Eno coming from underneath the bushes following a big juicy mouse. As the mouse crosses the stony path intent in reaching safety, Eno smells the rodent. Looks at it. And continues to follow the mouse, all at a cat’s claws distance. Surely one sweep with his claws will get him a priced prey.

Now, this happened in broad daylight. In an open space. The birds knew this and were evidently circling, waiting for their opportunity to strike and catch the price. Yet, Eno, with all his instinct, did not seem to know what to do. And almost sheepishly followed the mouse until it reached safety.

Eno, the muscly playful energized cat in the prime of his life? Yes, that Eno. His lack of socialization suffered though his upbringing and time surviving on the streets all alone as a little boy robbed him of the opportunity to learn how to deploy his instincts to hunt. He did not know what to do when he had a chance. He did not even touch the mouse to play with it like he does to his moving toys.

So, what can we learn from this?

Cats are rapidly losing the ability to act on some of their most primal instincts. Cats generations are short. Remember how just a few short generations ago, a cat was expected to bring home prey? Now, with extended urbanization, cats that live excursively inside and effective pest control in our cities, the predator instincts are not called upon at all.

In fact, instinctual behavior is often considered a nuisance. Thus, I think the question is not how we see cats, but what do we want from them? Do we want to them to continue being fuzzy companions or being fierce predators?

And how must we support that? Getting a cat bed set-up is something we all do. But how many of us would go to the pet store, buy a live-mouse, let it loose in the house so that kittens can learn to kill? How many of us would find that practical or ethical? I wouldn’t.

However, I do believe we must preserve our cats’ instincts as much as possible. What we can do is understand our cats for who they are. In health, behavior and nutrition. We should buy toys that keep our cats’ senses active. Find ways of letting them somewhat enjoy the outside – I have seen people bring in patches of grass for their cats to play with and I think it’s fantastic. And strive to find the best food available within our budgets.

And that is exactly what I did with Eno.

The other day he brought home a bird. It had passed away, but Eno did show he knew it was HIS prey. And he played with it just like he should.

It makes me content that I helped him find the ways to let his ‘inner cat’ come out.

What is your opinion? Share with me at: 



  • Feline Behavior Therapy
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    My name is Jonne Kramer. Since my childhood, I have enjoyed the companionship of cats. I have four adopted cats: Fripp, Eno, Peter and Madison. I have completed a Master's degree in Biology at Amsterdam University VU.
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    Local rehousing centers house lot of cats in my area. I support these by (re-)socializing (re) cats with severe behavioral problems. I specialize in in cats that show excessive fear or aggression, but I also support the team by recognizing health problems, and optimize living arrangements for elderly cats, and other cats with special needs.
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