Domesticated cats may still hear the call of the wild

Many behaviors we see in our domesticated felines speak to their wild ancestry, as evidenced by similar behaviors in lions, tigers and other big cats, writes wildlife cameraman Simon King. Cats’ habit of rubbing against their owners at mealtime mirrors lions’ social behavior, and felines sleeping on high perches in the home resemble African leopards, who dine and doze on tree branches high above potential threats on the ground. The Huffington Post/The Blog

Have you ever wondered why your pet cat rubs up against your legs, kneads your thighs with its forepaws or sleeps on top of a wardrobe? These, and many other behaviors, can be attributed to the tiger lurking within your pet tigger.

A recent report conducted by feline experts Whiskas has established close links between domestic cat behavior and behaviors exhibited by their wild big cat cousins.

The report also revealed some startling statistics about the way cat owners relate to their pets.

Over a thousand owners were involved in a survey that investigated regularly observed behaviors around the home and garden and also asked how owners responded to their pets. Some of the results were startling!  Over 95% of cat owners considered their pet as part of the family. And a surprising one in 10 admitted to preferring having a cuddle with their cat than with their partner!

Many cat owners maintain that stroking their pet reduces feelings of stress and this has been born out by empirical study that correlates a reduction in blood pressure among people who regularly look after and show affection to their pets.

One of the most tangible illustrations of owners recognizing the similarities between domestic cats and their wild counterparts is when it comes to naming them, with Tigger and Tiger being among the favorites!

As someone who has spent a great deal of the past 30 years watching and filming the big cats of the world, chiefly in Kenya and India, I was asked to analyze some of the most regularly witnessed domestic cat behavior to see if there were indeed any patterns which echoed that of their big cat cousins.

A common observation was that of cats rubbing against their owners’ legs with their temples, cheeks and flanks, especially as meals were being prepared. The cat is in fact scent marking, using special glands in their face and sides, and in so doing they are reinforcing a ‘family’ scent.  Very similar behavior can be seen in lions, particularly when subordinate females or youngsters greet more dominant animals in the pride. As the subordinate lion approaches it lowers its head slightly, often raises its tail and then pushes its head into and along that of the more dominant colleague. The importance of establishing a clan or family scent for these sociable cats is key to the avoidance and diffusion of aggression. And woe betide any intruder that does not bear the familiar smell! When your domestic cat scent marks you it is showing its confidence and comfort in being close to you and at the same time recognizing your dominance in the relationship. In short, it’s a cat compliment.

Many owners observed their pet cat choosing to rest on a high point like the top of a cupboard, and some said that their cat preferred to eat from a bowl that was raised above ground level. This again is echoed by one of their big cat cousins, the African leopard, which in parts of its range regularly climbs trees to rest and may haul meals up into the branches too. This is a defence strategy, avoiding contact and conflict with other predators, especially hyenas and lions. When your pet cat seeks a high point it is responding to an ancestral urge to get out of the way of trouble that may lurk on the ground.

Padding, or kneading with the forepaws is another behavior often witnessed in pet cats, especially when they are lying comfortably on their owners’ laps. This action stems from infantile behavior, when nursing kittens rhythmically knead their mothers’ mammary glands to stimulate milk flow. Over thousands of years of domestication we have encouraged cats to maintain much of their kitten-like relationship, with ourselves playing the role of surrogate parents, and it is this that leads to the perpetuation of this padding behavior. The same can be said of play behavior, with many pet cats remaining very playful with their owners well into adulthood, a pattern of behavior that generally wanes soon after adolescence in wild cat populations.

So much of the charm of living with a cat can be attributed to the close connection many have with the wild side of their character, whilst continuing to surprise and amuse us with their sense of fun, trust and independent character.

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