November 25, 2008

Animal behaviour and welfare: Cats Part 1


Origins: Domestication: Social structure: Territory

By Dr Clive Dalton

  • Ancestors of domestic cats started to live alongside humans as early as 130,000 years ago attracted by vermin and discarded food scraps.
  • Then when man changed from hunter-gatherer to village resident, the cat became domesticated. DNA evidence now shows cats can be traced to the Eastern Mediterranean and Persian Gulf (the Fertile Crescent) to five female ancestors. These “founding felines” came from a wild cat Felis libyca, still found in remote deserts of the Middle East.
  • There are records of domesticated cats in ancient Egypt about 3500 years ago, where the cat was hunted for food and skins, and then encouraged to enter the human family for these reasons.
  • It fitted easily into the human family hierarchy.
  • It then developed religious significance in human society.
  • Cats are very reward-seeking which always appealed to humans as well as their aloofness.
  • Pest control was also a major reason for man keeping cats.
Modern cats
  • There's a vast range of breeds, and there are breeders increasing new genetic types all the time as there is big money in being the exclusive owner of a new type of cat.
  • We refer to "domesticated cats" or those that live in close association with man.
  • Then there are "farm cats" that are domesticated but not keen on close human contact.
  • "Feral cats" are those that have escaped from domestication and are fearful of human contact.
Social structure
  • Cats are "reward-seeking" animals and this helps in developing a social hierarchy.
  • Cats generally have a loose hierarchy - not as structured as dogs.
  • They time share areas in their territory.
  • Generally entire males are most dominant, followed by entire females, then spayed females and neutered males.
  • Most wild cats live solitary lives, but they can also live happily as part of a group.
  • Most domestic cats do the same but they have bonded owners to live with.
  • The "mother-kitten" relationship is the basis of group development. The female kittens stay on with mum while the males leave to set up territories and go solitary.
  • Some males are happy to stay in a single family group or they may move between groups.
  • A social group of females allows for synchrony of oestrus and mutual care including cross suckling of kittens.
  • Social structure becomes more defined and competitive when food is scarce, or where there is a limited amount of shelter.
  • Remember there is a lot of individual variation between cats due to genetics and early environment.
Cats and territory

  • Cats are territorial predators, which has important implications for modern humans.
  • They have a home range that they routinely check out daily to hunt and explore.
  • Home ranges of cats can overlap resulting in conflict and savage fights.
  • Tom cats have large territories that can cover around 1 km in all directions for their den (home). But this depends on other Toms in the area and where there are few, a Tom may extend his territory to much greater size.
  • Male cats know when they are not welcome in a strange area - note their stealth when they visit your property during a mating season.
  • In their home range they have all they need - food source, shelter, social contact, urination and defaecation areas.
  • They scent mark their range by clawing objects and spray urinating, and will protect it against intruders.
  • Once established - this marking routine may provide an expression of security (marking in the house).
  • Spraying. Urine contains glandular secretions so spraying is like leaving their CV around. It denoted gender, age, hormonal state and general health.
  • Middening. Cats normally bury their faeces but they sometimes deliberately leave them on the surface to add scent to their territory, especially if they sense a challenge.
  • Clawing. This is used as a visual sign but also leaves odours from the glands from the pedal (foot) glands.
  • Nose rubbing. Cats rub their cheeks on twigs (and their owners) to leave odours from their cheek glands.
  • Hunting the territory occurs mainly at dawn and dusk - they tend to be active only in short bursts. Cats are incapable of sustained effort.
  • Cats are excellent climbers, and can handle falling in emergencies. They can swim when forced to, but it's not a preferred mode of transport.
  • Territory becomes a problem in cages but cats can survive together, even including Toms. But it needs skilled observation.
  • They can act in an "indifferent" mode to each other, as long as they have enough personal space above ground. The floor is used on a time-share basis.

No comments:

Post a Comment