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What Your Cat Needs You to Know

How to enrich their cognitive, social, and emotional lives.

Umit Ozbek, Pexels, free download.
Source: Umit Ozbek, Pexels, free download.

All too often, I hear people say things such as, "I got a cat because they aren't as needy as a dog" or "I don't worry about leaving my cat alone with food and water while I go off for a few days." I usually politely say something along the lines of, "Well, cats have social needs, have rich inner lives, and are highly emotional sentient beings just like dogs, so if you're not ready to bring a dog into your life, it's best not to get a cat as a supposedly less demanding substitute."

When compared with companion dogs, cats often are portrayed as less social, or even asocial, animals. But this is a myth that researchers who study cats and "cat people" in general know to be false.1 This misleading impression of cats is discussed and summarily dismissed in a classic book called Cat Behavior: The Predatory and Social Behavior of Domestic and Wild Cats by ethologist and cat expert Dr. Paul Leyhausen. Unfortunately, this book is difficult to find and very pricey, but some of his ideas are discussed in an essay about "allegedly solitary mammalian species" titled "The Communal Organization of Solitary Animals" published in 1965. It would be good for companion cats if Leyhausen's important ideas that have been supported by subsequent research were more well-known than they currently are.2

Because cats, like dogs and many other nonhumans, need all the love they can get, I was pleased to read Ingrid Newkirk's new fact-filled book 250 Vital Things Your Cat Wants You to Know: The Cat Guardian’s Bible. I learned a lot from this practical and easy-to-read book. Here's what Ingrid had to say about her comprehensive guide.

Why did you write 250 Vital Things Your Cat Wants You to Know?

People think dogs require work, but that cats are easy keepers, and they’re not. Cats are emotional, complex, sentient beings who may not be as exuberant as dogs, but have a deep need to be loved, paid lots of attention to, and looked after considerately and carefully. They regard you as their family and know that you control every aspect of their lives.

When the BP oil spill occurred in Louisiana and people lost their jobs and fled the state, some left cats behind. PETA took in about 60 and adopted them all out but three: a mother who had lost most of her hair due to stress, a father with 3 ½ legs, and their highly strung kitten. We wouldn’t separate them, so they still live in our headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia and we set out to try to remove the trauma they had suffered and to make their lives as safe and happy as possible. What we learned in caring for them is in this book.

How does your book relate to your background and general areas of interest?

When my last old cat died, I became a cat “auntie.” In my early years as a humane law enforcement officer, I saw terrible cruelty to cats, including Satanic ritual killings. I also made a lot of mistakes, like letting my cats out, thinking that in rural America on a dead-end street with little traffic nothing would happen, but it did. Through stories, life lessons, and tips, I’d like to help other cat guardians not learn the hard way.

Who is your intended audience?

Anyone with a cat or who knows someone with a cat and can share this book with them.

What are some of the topics you consider and what are some of your major messages?

There are a lot of dos and a lot of don’ts. Cats are fastidious, groom themselves constantly, and do not want to put their pristine paws and delicate noses inside a cat box that isn’t clean, and so, at least twice a day, you must clean it. I’m against a self-cleaning box as the mechanism can scare a cat, and they can still detect the waste it leaves underneath so they may not use it comfortably or at all. Don’t ever scold your cat as that’s rude and ineffective.

If your cat does something outside the box, be impressed. They have found a way to get your attention. Perhaps they have cystitis, a potential fatal urinary tract condition and you can’t see a drop of blood in urine when it’s in litter; perhaps you have a new partner who has pushed them off the bed and they are letting you know that they are deeply upset as you are their first love and they thought they were yours.

Use a corn cob litter as clay can block intestines. I offer lots of tips for traveling (never in cargo, only one cat in a million is found after shifting baggage or something else damages the crate and they escape). Never board at the vet’s as that is scary for the cat who hears sad wailing sounds of patients, and can catch something.

Choose a cat sitter much as a French chef chooses vegetables: very carefully, without the squeezing part, remembering that a nice smile and a website are not reliable recommendations. Always check the dryer before hitting the “on” button as cats love to curl up inside. Never accept a gift of a house plant with heart-shaped leaves and keep the poison control number on your fridge and phone. Adopt not shop, as your local shelter is full of cats aching for you to save their lives, and try to get two for twice as much affection and to keep each other company.

Don’t be a blur in your cat’s life as you are their world. Try cat TV, collect feathers and cardboard boxes for them, and make sure that they, like Virginia Wolf, have a room with a view as they are professional bird watchers. Learn the hazards of letting a cat outdoors, including bubonic plague brought back inside; and always spay/neuter and microchip them.

There’s tons more inside the book, including herbal remedies, how to cook for your cat, and a quiz to see how you rate as a cat guardian.

How does your book differ from others that are concerned with some of the same general topics?

It really does have 250 vital tips in it, so that even someone who thinks they know cats inside and out will learn many useful things.

Facebook image: Duet PandG/Shutterstock


In conversation with Ingrid Newkirk.

1) For more discussions and data on the social behavior and inner lives of cats see: Are Cats More Socially Inept Than Dogs? (We don't know because of large individual differences among cats and dogs.); Dogs and Cats: Their Brains, Faces, Blinking Eyes, and Us; The Cat-Human Relationship and Factors That Affect it; Dogs Are Not Smarter Than Cats, and More: A Media Muddle; Dogs Are Brainier Than Cats, But Are They Really Smarter?; and The Inner Life of Cats Reveals Fascinating Feline Secrets. (A new book shows these mysterious animals truly are loving and social beings.)

2) For more information on the extremely interesting, complex, and varied social lives of cats, click here.