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Your Cat Worries About This

Updated: Tuesday, May 28, 2019 03:48 PM
Published: Sunday, February 21, 2016 06:52 PM
Written by Margaret Gates

Everyone who shares their life with cats at some point wonders how they see the world. In the literal sense, they do see it differently than we do. Their distance vision is blurry, their close-up vision is pretty bad, too. They see the same colors. But, vision is not really what I'm thinking about.

I'm thinking more about their outlook – what they care about. What do cats think is important in life? My answer would be food and safety. That's not unusual; it's what all animals, care about – people, too! With cats, though, the two may intersect in ways you might not think. A problem in one area may drastically impact the other. Take safety. Most people wouldn't think of this as a top priority in their lives, but it controls a lot of their behavior. Companion cats are very close to the wild creatures they once were. They haven't lost the instincts of their wild cousins. One of these is not to get eaten. We know small cats are predators, but they are far from the top of the food chain. There are plenty of predators larger than they that would be happy to have them for lunch. She hasn't forgotten this despite spending most of her time on the couch. It's one of the reasons why it can be so easy to startle them. Have you ever walked up to a cat from behind to pet it, only to have it shoot straight up in the air because it didn't see or hear you coming? Kitty automatically assumes the worst and reacts accordingly. Think about all of the recent videos of people scaring their cats with surprise vegetables. No, it's not funny. They're doing their best Not Getting Eaten Today reactions.

How does a cat's concern with safety intersect with food? There are some activities they understand are less safe. Eating is one. When you're eating, your head is down and you're distracted. Plus, a cat's usual diet in the wild is fresh prey. The meal itself may attract larger predators who may not only want your dinner, but you as well. So, it's pretty hard for kitty to relax when eating. There is usually lots of looking around and pausing to check the environment. They instinctively know eating is dangerous.

That a cat knows she is vulnerable during meals can affect her eating habits. If you are trying to change her diet, taking the whole safety issue into account is important. Most people feed their pets on the floor, but this may not be a good choice. Cats feel most vulnerable and exposed when on the ground – almost any predator would pounce from above. Moving her feeding place to a table or counter may go a long way toward making her feel safe and more relaxed. This may become an important factor if you're transitioning to raw cat food, which itself could cause some anxiety.

Unfortunately, houses don't anticipate the need for a designated, elevated cat feeding area. And, having one that is quiet and away from household traffic is even rarer. But, if you are transitioning your cat, finding such a place may make it a smoother and faster process. Take a look at where she eats. Then, think like a prey animal and see if it's a stress-inducing place. Sometimes when I feed a chunk of meat, my cat will grab it and run off to eat it elsewhere. Pay attention to where she goes. It may be a "safer" place where she feels comfortable. She may be giving you clues you can use in choosing a better place to feed her.

For multi-cat households, that quiet place may need to be behind a door. Some cats can be aggressive about competing for food. A more timid cat may give up her food to one that's more dominant. She might choose safety over food if forced to make a choice. This can make meal time stressful and the transition to raw cat food more difficult. Most of my cats prefer to eat on a table I added to a bathroom. To them, the smaller space means less area to keep an eye on. They're calmer on the elevated surface. It's good for me, too, as I chose a surface that's easy to clean.

So, next time you feed your cat, think like prey and ask yourself, "Is it safe?" Your kitty will appreciate it.

Margaret Gates is the founder of the Feline Nutrition Foundation.