Cats and their Care
- Male: – Tom
- Female: – Queen
- Young: – Kittens
- Sexual Maturity: – Male : 4-6 months, Female : 6-8 months
- Oestrus: – 6 months
- Gestation: – 56-63 days
- Life Span: – 12-14 years
All cats require a dry, warm draught-free place to sleep and will choose their own in your wardrobe or on your bed if you don’t provide a tempting basket, cat bed or cardboard box they can call their own. Domestic cats still love to have their freedom and many cat owners install a cat flap or cat door so they can come and go as they please. Special cat collars fitted with a small electronic device will allow your cat to open the cat door if living in an area of plentiful marauding neighbour cats but these can be bulky and heavy for the cat to wear. Collars of any sort should have a quick release fixing or at least an elastic insert so the cat can pull it off if he gets caught on a tree or bush when out exploring.
Most cats prefer to relieve themselves outside and will be seen digging a hole and then covering up the waste afterwards. Indoor cats MUST be provided with a cat litter tray for this purpose and trained to use it from an early age or your cat will develop unsociable habits elsewhere in the house, habits which are hard to retrain later in life. Cats also need to sharpen their claws regularly so should be provided with a scratching post indoors if you value your furnishings. Undesirable habits can often be broken by sprinkling a few drops of Citronella at the offending site – cats detest the smell and will avoid it like the plague.
Cats should be picked up by placing one hand under the chest and the other under the back legs. DO NOT pick a cat up by the nape of the neck as this is painful for all but small kittens which are carried naturally like this by their mothers. Do not allow children to pull the cat about as at some stage the cat will retaliate by biting and scratching when the handling gets painful and this could be not only dangerous for your child but often results in unreasonable and unfortunate repercussions for the cat. Teach your child to love and respect the cat and allow it space and freedom. It will reward you a thousand times over.
Cats usually love to be groomed and long haired cats should be groomed once a day using a bristle brush and steel comb, cutting out any bad knots or balls which may form under the arms and around the neck. If a cat is not groomed often enough it will lick off the loose hair which will accumulate in the intestines to form a blockage. Cats moult twice a year and will need extra attention during these times. Eyes and ears should be inspected for any sign of infection or mites.
All cats not required specifically for breeding should be neutered by a qualified Vet. A spayed female cat cannot have kittens and a castrated male cannot fertilise a female, nor does he spray, yowl or fight and is less inclined to wander from the home. A female cat produces six to eight kittens twice a year from the age of eight months which amounts to literally thousands of unwanted kittens nationwide each year. The kindest route for unwanted kittens, if you really cannot find responsible homes, is to have them humanely destroyed by lethal injection by a vet. Drowning them, abandoning them to fend for themselves and the many other ways people use to get rid of their unwanted animals are ABSOLUTELY NOT ACCEPTABLE and may be prosecutable by law.
If a queen is to be breed she should be at least one year old and can be expected to produce her kittens 63 days after mating. A pregnant queen will lead a completely normal life though her food intake will increase before having her kittens and while she is feeding them. Before the birth provide the queen with a stout cardboard box lined with clean newspaper and place it where she can get used to it, in a warm draught free spot. Do not interfere with the birth process. The kittens will each be born in a transparent sack which the queen will break open before nipping through the umbilical cord and washing the kitten thoroughly. The kitten will then want to suckle. If there are any signs of real trouble do not hesitate to call a veterinary surgeon but do not try and help yourself unless you are experienced.
Illness and Disease
A sick cat is unmistakable. It is listless and uninterested in food or exercise. It may have a runny nose and eyes, it’s coat goes dull and lank and it may ‘haw’ (the third eyelid at the inside corner may close partly over the eye), it may vomit or have diarrhoea. Common cat diseases are Feline Infectious Enteritis (a serious killer), Cat Flu or Pneumonia (a potential killer), Bronchitis and Anaemia. Another lesser known and potentially fatal disease is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) which is shed in the saliva and may be transmitted through bites of an infected cat or through saliva left on shared food dishes. Kittens may be born with the virus if the mother is infected.
Cats may also suffer from various types of various kidney disease or congenital heart disease. Most cat diseases can be controlled or prevented through regular vaccination and it is necessary to talk to your vet on obtaining a kitten to find out which diseases can be prevented and how best to avoid others.
Kittens have round worms as a matter of course. These appear as thin pieces of string in the motions. A flea ridden cat will invariably end up with a bad case of tape-worm infestation, segments of which appear like small grains of rice and may be found attached to the cat’s coat under his tail, or in his bedding. The cat may have a big appetite yet be out of condition and have a dull ‘staring coat’. Your vet will recommend tablets for worming and other products such as Spot-On and Frontline for the prevention of infestation by fleas, ticks, lice or mange mites.
Suspect ear mites (Canker) if the cat scratches its ears a lot and have the cat treated before it becomes a major and distressing problem.
Cats are complex, independent creatures but make rewarding pets with a little care and TLC. They fit into most situations and are flexible and tolerant of most lifestyles given stimulation, space to themselves and as much freedom as you can allow.
History of the Domestic Cat
The African Wildcat, felis libyca was the first cat to be domesticated around 2000 years ago by the Ancient Egyptians, who revered the cat. As Egypt’s wealth grew largely from its massive grain stores which encouraged rodents, it is understandable that the relationship with cats would develop along friendly lines but the Egyptians went further than that. To them the cat was a sacred animal dedicated to the love goddess Pasht (from which our own word Puss is supposedly derived). They likened the cat’s glowing eyes to the moon and allowed them to run free through the temples to be worshiped by all. To kill a cat was punishable by death.
It was the Romans who brought the easily tamed African Wildcat to Europe where they soon ousted the traditional ratters and mousers (tame weasels), mated with the local population of wildcats and established themselves very successfully as a domesticated animal which any respectable homestead would not be without.
Ironically it was the same glowing eyes that captured the Ancient Egyptians that brought the cat’s downfall. Because of their link with the goddess Pasht and the moon, a strong symbol of pre-Christian paganistic religions which the medieval church was desperately trying to stamp out, the cat was decreed an evil animal of Satan. In the early 1400′s Pope Innocent VIII officially ordered all witches cats to be burned along with the witches themselves and for the next four centuries cats were systematically tortured, abused and burnt with the blessing of every authority, especially the Church. It was not until the 18th century that cats once more gained popularity as human attitudes became more informed. When the British artist, Harrison Weir, launched the first ever cat show in the Crystal Palace at the Great Exhibition of 1871 it seemed, that in Europe at least, the cat had finally turned the corner and many other specialised breeds were imported to add to the collection.
The Siamese arrived in Europe around the 1880′s, the Burmese much later; the beautiful Chinchilla with it’s dark rimmed eyes arrived quite early on but it’s pink shaded cousin, the Cameo, is a recent arrival. Now there are countless different breeds including the Abyssinian, the Asian, the Bengal, the Birman, the British Sorthair, the Burmilla, the Persian, the Rex, the Exotics, the Maine Coon, the Manx, the Ocicat, the Oriental, the Ragdoll, the Russian Blue, the Foreign Shorthair, the Exotic Shorthair, the Egyptian Mau, the Korat, the Norwegian Forest Cat………and thousands of wonderful crossbreeds, each with their individual temperaments, colours and conformation.
Traditionally cats are said to have nine lives but perhaps this is largely due to their incredible suppleness and agility and their innate ability to fit in with their surroundings, be they wild alley cat’s or an adored and pampered family pet. Cats love to be the centre of attention, waited on hand and foot but if this is not forthcoming they are perfectly able to fend for themselves and some choose to live this way, hunting, scavenging and scrounging for their food. Cats are natural hunters with skills being polished from a very early age. As quite small kittens they can be seen to play with a piece of dangling string or pouncing on imaginary prey. Its supple spine, large eyes and ears and deadly sharp claws are its hunting tools all honed by a long tail which is used for balance. The tailess Manx compensates with extra long back legs.
All healthy cats are brilliant climbers, going up, anyway. They are not always as good at coming down as many fire brigade can testify, but when cornered cats will
often jump from quite considerable heights, their legendary ability to land on their feet being another tool in their survival kit.
Most cats love to be outdoors and a farmyard where it can earn its keep catching rats and mice is a cats idea of heaven. Their sense of smell is nowhere near as good as that of a dog but in every aspect they are as keen as they come. Some cats, like the placid Persian breed, settle as indoor cats though most cats kept indoors will need plenty to entertain them in the way of stimulation, toys and company.
A cat’s main diet is meat and whether this is butcher’s meat, canned meat, meat flavoured biscuits or kitchen scraps depends largely on the taste of the individual cat. The only thing for sure is that if his dish is not filled regularly he’ll be off to catch his own or find someone else to provide his preferred delicacies. Not all cats like fish, but many like milk, especially the cream, butter, eggs, cheese and ice cream and some display eccentric tastes when it comes to their particular idea of a treat. All cats need grass to aid their digestion and it is important to remember this if you have an indoors cat and either provide regular walks outside for the purpose of grazing or grow some grass in a window box for his use. Cats also drink water which must be clean and fresh as they are fastidious animals. An adult cat needs one good meal a day, fed in the evening. Kittens need four smaller meals at regular intervals.
Always throw away left overs after a meal as a cat will rarely eat fresh food placed on
top of ‘old’ food.
Kittens live on their mother’s milk for the first few weeks. Each kitten has it’s own teat and will always return to the same feeding station, paddling with its little paws to encourage the flow of milk from its mother. This paddling habit often stays with the cat throughout its life so nursing a cat on a friendly lap can sometimes be a painful experience as the cat exercises its claws on an unsuspecting thigh!
Kittens are born blind and toothless and spend their time eating and sleeping for the first two weeks, after which they begin to get more lively, experiment with solid food around four weeks and are generally weaned around seven weeks. Kittens should not be taken from their mother’s before 10 weeks as it learns many basic survival skills in this precious time.
Cats come in a vast variety of colours and patterns, even hairless, most of which appear in both sexes. Although the ginger cat is predominately male, female gingers are not uncommon whereas the tortoiseshell and white cat, also known as the Calico, is almost always female. A male Calico is very rare and when they do occur they are always sterile.
Cats are famous for their cleanliness and grooming and it is often said of a cat – ‘if in doubt, WASH!’. Cleanliness is part of the cat’s weaponry as a lank cat does not keep out the cold and a smelly cat interferes with it’s stealth and invisibility when hunting. Grooming is also social and covers up for a number of off guard emotions – a puzzled or embarrassed cat will lick a paw or nonchalantly start to wash itself – our equivalent of scratching our heads or fiddling with something. Kittens learn the technique from their mother’s and can soon reach every part of their body either directly with the tongue or with a well licked wet paw.
Although the basic shape of a cat is always the same, some are longer and more lithe, other are shorter and more compact, some have long nosed, big eared ‘Oriental faces’, others have round chubby faces with enormous eyes. Some cats are quite small and neat, others are large, big boned and strong. Each breed has its own characteristics looked for by the judges, but the majority of domestic cats fall into all of these categories and all of them are just as loved by their owners.
Cat’s eyes are world famous and give rise to the invention of the reflective ‘eyes’ that line the centre of all our main highways the world over. Cats see very well in the dark (though it is a myth that they can see in total darkness) which helps enormously with their nocturnal hunting forays. The reflective mechanism which allows the cat’s eyes to glow in the dark simply means he gets a double dose of whatever light there is but adds to his sense of uncanniness and mystery. Cat’s eyes come in many colours from amber to yellow to orange and copper and even, in the case of the Siamese, blue. White cats are sometimes blue eyed too (which is only one stage short of being albinos) and are usually deaf. Orange and yellow eyed cats rarely have this problem. Of the long haired cats only the silver tabby and white Chinchilla have the green eyes that we usually associate with cats, though there are exceptions to every rule as in the odd-eyed cat which will have one blue eye and one of another colour.