Secret Life of Cats

Secret Life of Cats

by Claire Bessant



Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781844543045
Publisher: John Blake Publishing, Limited
Publication date: 04/01/2007
Pages: 290
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.04(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Secret Life of Cats

Everything Your Cat Would Want You to Know

By Claire Bessant

John Blake Publishing Ltd

Copyright © 2006 Claire Bessant
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84454-304-5


The Perfect Pet

SOCIAL, VOCALLY CENTRED biped meets top-of-the-chain solitary scent-communicating predator. It's love at first sight for the biped and the two form a non-jealous, mature, mutually rewarding and respectful relationship in which the predator maintains its independence (and may even be allowed to have other relationships) and the biped takes the supporting role. Sounds too good to be true – can such a mismatched relationship last? Well, not only has it lasted, it seems to be getting stronger! Man (or perhaps more often, woman) meets cat and the fascination continues. The mystery in the relationship has kept the flames alight.

In days gone past, it was not wholly socially acceptable to be so smitten by an animal in such a way. The working dog was held in high regard because it had a role and thus humanity had a reason to lavish it with attention and affection and was not just being 'soft'. The cat had no real role (save that of ad hoc vermin control) and was seen as something of little value that lived alongside us rather than with us. For men especially, acknowledging affection for a cat was seen as rather odd. In the Middle Ages, women who liked cats were seen as witches and, until recently, a cat that was loved was explained away, rather condescendingly, as a 'child substitute'.

How times and attitudes have changed. The cat, long considered a second-class citizen to the dog in terms of a place by the fire, has quietly moved from living outside, pushed the dog out of the way and even had the cheek to take over the master's best chair with the softest cushions! There are more pet cats in the UK than pet dogs – 7.5 million cats compared to 6.1 million dogs. These cats live in about 5 million homes – thus, the average cat-owning home has one-and-a-half cats. And, whereas people tend to keep just one dog, many households have multiple cats (over one-fifth of people who keep dogs keep more than one, whereas over one-third of cat owners have more than one feline) – but more of this later.

It is now acceptable to heap love and sentiment on our animals – indeed, the old-fashioned and rather more structured role of the working dog, which is kept outside, is rather frowned upon by pet lovers – a pet's place is seen to be central to the family unit. Today, unless you are seen to behave lovingly to your animal you are frowned upon! Cats have done well out of this change of attitude and, as will be discussed later, their adaptability has enabled them to take full advantage of it.

How has the cat made this transition from low-value rodent-controller to prized companion in such a relatively short period of time? Has the cat done anything different? The answer is that the cat hasn't, but that humanity has changed considerably. The cat has merely moved into the role opened up to it by our changing lifestyles and attitudes and blossomed there. What factors have contributed to this?


Our lives have never been so busy. People are working harder and longer hours; expectations of dedication to work (demonstrated by longer, unpaid working hours) have increased. Although there is a small voice of concern raised about family values and the need for time for parents to spend with their children, pressure of work usually means that people stay there long after official office hours. Those working for themselves also have to put in long hours to ensure they take up all opportunities and are available to the people who are still in their offices! It's a vicious circle. Indeed, far from living with a shorter working week with time for hobbies – as predicted twenty years ago – today our working lives are characterised by the need to prove our dedication and to give up more of our free time.

Thirty to forty years ago there was also a dramatic difference in the home – women still usually stayed home to care for husband, children and house in whichever combination they occurred. Today, both partners in a relationship usually work, simply to pay for mortgages and the other expenses of life. Not that childcare is an easy option – most women will tell you that they go to work for a rest. However, being at home does allow a person to organise those dull chores such as doing the shopping, putting clothes in the washing machine and paying the bills. These days such things have to be fitted in late at night or at the weekend, and most of the latter can be taken up by domestic duties or children's activities. There is little time to relax and little time for any unorganised activity; simply chilling out has become a luxury option. The cat requires little formal time – eg for walking – and so can be opportunistic and snatch small bits of our time here and there.


Mankind's traditional best friend, the dog, is having a hard time fitting into our busy schedules. As a pack animal, its instincts cry out for it to be part of a group, where it feels more secure. It can be stressed by being left alone all day and this may lead it to embark on destructive activity. Because we are legally responsible for our dogs' activities, we also have to know where they are and have control over them all the time: an uncontrolled dog can be a nuisance and, at worst, a danger to the public. Even a controlled dog can foul the pavement or cause noise pollution by barking all day in a house or garden. Thus, there is great pressure on owners to provide an environment in which the dog is happy and to ensure that it is well behaved and safe around other people and animals. In the countryside, a loose dog can do great damage to livestock. Dogs seldom come to us perfectly trained or behaved – like children, they need time and some expertise to be taught what is acceptable and what is not; how to fit into the group around them. They also need access to exercise areas.

And because we are legally responsible for the behaviour of our dogs, if they cause harm or damage we may have to pay the consequences. We are not responsible for what our cats get up to – if a cat was to break into a pigeon loft and kill some of the birds there, it would be up to the owner of the loft to build it more strongly to prevent the cat getting in. Sometimes this can work against the cat. For example, in the UK if you hit a dog while driving your car you are legally required to report the incident – not so with a cat. Under the law, a dog should not be out on its own and, in our cities and towns, dog wardens are employed to ensure that any dog found wandering is taken off the streets. Thus, while a cat may be seen as less important in the eyes of the law, this means that less control is required and there is less onus on owners to control their cats.


The number of people who have the time, space and knowledge to keep a dog are decreasing. Yet whatever it is that makes us like to keep pets – perhaps we might call it the 'nurture factor' – has not disappeared. We like to care for something; we like to be welcomed home by something that in turn responds to us unconditionally. It is not pleasant to go home after a long day in the office to an empty house. Being met by a pet that is delighted to see you and welcome you gives you a lift. Enter the cat – clean, independent, unlikely to get lonely, good on companionship and low on maintenance – the answer to our prayers. Moreover, it is unlikely to cause our neighbours and friends much (if any) nuisance or danger.


Cats make excellent companions. Most are happy to mooch around the house with their owners, having a sleep on or near them and generally joining in by sitting on the newspaper that someone is attempting to read, filling the computer with hairs as they lounge on top or pottering with us in the garden. Stroking a purring cat can be wonderfully relaxing and great therapy.

There have been many studies on the benefits of dog ownership – dog owners have lower blood pressure, less depression and recover from illness more quickly than those without canine companions. Some of this may be due to the exercise that is part and parcel of owning a dog – and which, of course, is missing from this list of feline factors. Cat owners are spared the need to go out in all weathers and pound the footpaths and moors and can look forward to a warm cuddle in front of the fire instead of a cold excursion in the winter. Admittedly, they do miss out on the contact with strangers that usually accompanies a walk with a dog – all sorts of people stop and talk to you, feeling they can approach and make conversation if it starts with a comment to or about the dog. There are even schemes in practice whereby owners of temperament-tested dogs are taken into hospitals and homes to visit the patients; undoubtedly, some people obtain great therapeutic benefit from meeting and patting dogs. There is a similar scheme for cats, but it does take a rather special cat to enjoy going off its own territory and meeting strangers in a strange place. Cats usually want to take their time to assess a person and decide if they want to make contact. Cat companionship is of a rather more personal nature than the sociable companionship characteristic of dog owning.


Women's role in our society has changed even more rapidly than that of cats! Women now juggle home and work and are equal decision makers within the home. The male-orientated household, in which the man would probably have chosen a pet to fit the perhaps more male role of the dog, is vanishing rapidly. For whatever reason, women like cats. Moreover, they are 'allowed' to like cats and to form strong relationships with them, and tend to choose them in preference to the dog – one possible major reason for this being that cats are easier to keep.


But it is not only women who like cats. Men have had a hard time being allowed to say they love their cats and, often, men prefer the more controllable, non-questioning loyalty and obedience of the dog. And perhaps because they have not owned a cat, their assumptions about the cats are based on viewing at a distance – the cat may seem independent and aloof; it will probably not run up to strangers and ask for attention the way a dog will, and thus close encounters with cats may have been few and far between. However, the convert, as is often the case, can be the strongest advocate of the cat. Many self-confessed male canine lovers might never have chosen to take on a cat, but for some reason a cat may have come into their lives, either accidentally or because it arrived with a new partner or via a child. They may initially view the cat as non-loyal and rather too independent but will usually find themselves gradually won over by its intelligence, its grace and that same feeling of 'specialness' we all get when the cat runs to greet us or deems to grace us as its choice of soft lap. These men are the first to become distressed if the cat is ill, and the most upset when it is lost.

They also get to study the cat in comparison to the dog and, quite frankly, the cat often makes the dog look rather a fool, falling over itself to please its owner or hanging around waiting for a word or pat. The cat seems immensely cool, calm and collected seen alongside its canine cousin. Indeed, in the cat/dog relationship, it is usually the cat that is in charge. Many times a cat will simply sit and stare at a dog, which will not catch its eye, and will sit or even lie down to try and avoid the feline attention! Of course, some cats and dogs become the best of friends – the lack of inter-species competition allows them to enjoy each other without fear of losing position!


Guilt provides another strong reason for the popularity of cats. These days, people have many calls on their time – they can't manage to do everything, and feel guilty about those things they cannot fit in. One's partner does not get enough of one's time; one's children do not even get that 'quality' time which is supposed to be allotted to them and thus make parents feel better and, to crown it all, the dog is unhappy because it doesn't receive enough attention – more guilt. A dog that has been left too long may soil in the house, howl, bark or chew up the furniture because it feels distressed at being left alone. Such behaviour not only causes dog owners to worry about annoying the neighbours, but makes owners feel very guilty about leaving the dog alone for too long.

The cat, on the other hand, is more often than not very happy to be left alone and will get on with its own life without too much worry. Because cats will usually eat in a fairly measured fashion, they can be left food to eat as they wish; they can go outside if they need to or be provided with a litter tray and thus are not crossing their legs if their owner is stuck on the 17.30 train outside Waterloo for two hours. Cats are content without too much input. An owner can alleviate any small worry that they might get lonely by getting two kittens together so they have company when they are left alone. Two cats are seldom much more work than one and they provide at least twice the fun.


Because people are working longer hours and money is perhaps not as readily available as it was in the late eighties and early nineties, we do not actually have a great deal of free time. Our entertainment is often centred around the house – home-entertainment centres with mini-cinema screens, DVDs, videos, Sky television, etc. are all aimed at those who don't go out all the time, but have home-based entertainment or relaxation. Our televisions have been swamped by a glut of house-design programmes over the past few years and, as a consequence, we are all much more interested in what our rooms look like and how to get the best from them. One such programme, House Doctor, which features a female Californian house expert who will give a house a make-over in order to help it to sell, has majored on this lady's frankness about the fact that dogs make a house smell and can thus make finding a buyer problematic. Even the cleanest and youngest of dogs can smell pretty bad if it gets wet – and the older and damper the dog, the worse the situation becomes. While country dog owners may have a boot room or an outdoor kennel for the dog, at least until it dries out, most homes have to contend with a damp dog in the kitchen, and wiping up the muddy paw prints and wiping down the mud spatters all over the walls. Cats do leave hairs around and if you have a very fluffy type of cat this can be a problem. Thankfully, cats don't smell (unless you don't clean out the litter tray regularly). They also look great draped over the new throw on the settee, or lying on the Habitat rug.


Even the scruffiest battleworn tomcat has a certain grace – but the healthy, young supple cat has an elegant beauty of form and movement that is hard to beat. Luckily, we have not tried, or have not been able if we have tried, to change the feline form too much. Some pedigree cats may vary in how much hair they have, or in their body form from slim to more stocky in shape, but the feline form, the beautiful eye colour, coat colour or pattern and the fluidity of movement and grace remain. It is a joy to have such beauty in our homes.


The cat-flap is second only to the litter tray in making cat-keeping easy. It removes the need to control or be at the beck and call of our cats; they can be in or out as they please without needing a middle man. Modern cat-flaps do allow us some control if we want it – to shut out the world or to keep cats in at night or during potentially stressful occasions, such as fireworks night. Sometimes flaps can make it all too easy to let any cat in the neighbourhood visit, but, in terms of boosting the popularity of cats as pets, it has had a great effect.


Excerpted from The Secret Life of Cats by Claire Bessant. Copyright © 2006 Claire Bessant. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title page,
1 The Perfect Pet,
2 How it all Began,
3 The Natural Cat,
4 What Makes a Cat?,
5 The Hunter,
6 Cat Talk,
7 Living With Us,
8 Intelligence and Training,
9 What Cats Want,
10 The Intensity of the Cat-Human Relationship,
11 How to Make a Cat Happy,
12 Stress and Health,
13 Getting the Balance Right,
14 A to Z – Tips for Common Feline Problems,

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Secret Life of Cats 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
dk_phoenix on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Despite what you may be thinking, this one isn't just another cat care book!No, in fact, if you own a cat, I'd highly recommend you seek out this book and give it a read. I thought there wasn't really anything left for me to learn about cats (I've studied them obsessively since I was 7 years old... I used to take my enormous book of cat breeds and use a piece of paper to cover the breed labels while I turned the pages, in order to force myself to be able to recognize the various cat breeds on sight... heh... yes, I was 7 or 8 at the time and can STILL identify breeds on sight because of it)... but, this book taught me several new and very interesting things.Without going into too much detail, in case you want to read and learn for yourself, Bessant spends a lot of time discussion cat communication, particularly cat-to-human communication. She identifies which vowels in a cat call are drawn out, depending on what the cat wants, and discusses things like tail positioning (which also indicates mood & is used to communicate). I'd never thought about tail positioning before, and thought this was fascinating.There are a number of diagrams to complement certain chapters, and I found myself feeling far more appreciative of my cat's natural behaviors once I finished this book. I think it will help me to relate to my cat better, utilizing her natural habits & understanding, in order to create a better bond between us (and any future cats I might have).The book reads easily and flows very well, and like I said, definitely isn't a 'cat care' book per se -- if you have a cat and would like to better understand her, here's an excellent place to start.