Thursday, February 27, 2014

John Bradshaw: Cat Sense

John Bradshaw
Cat Sense
Basic Books, NY

This is one of the best books I've read on cats.  Bradshaw is the Foundation Director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of  Bristol.  He is also the author of an earlier best selling work, Dog Sense, in which he does for dogs what he does here for cats.

He provides what little is known about the cat's early history, its likely ancestors, and its incorporation into human society, such as it is.  Little really is known about the cat's early involvement with humans since it never really was taken over as was the dog.  The cat's first encounter with humans was probably when humans noticed that cats provided a defense against rodent raiders of their storage facilities for grain.  Since agriculture was developed relatively recently, the cat's involvement with humans began much later than the dog's involvement.

However, this initial contact required nothing from humans except to allow the cats access to the surrounding area and, no doubt, the facilities themselves.  Nobody had to train the cat to hunt rodents, whereas dogs require training by humans to accomplish their numerous tasks which therefore brought about considerable interaction between the dog and humans.  In fact, Bradshaw argues that cats are not yet fully domesticated to the same extent as dogs, cows, sheep, etc.

Bradshaw also provides information about the physiology and the psychology of the cat, which he says is incomplete at present because while dogs have been studied for many decades, it's only recently that researchers have decided to take a closer look at the cat.

He has an interesting chapter on the way cats perceive the world.  While they have the same senses--vision, hearing, smell, etc.--these are not identical to human senses.  For example, cats' hearing has a higher range than human hearing, such that cats can hear bats' echo ranging cries which humans cannot detect.  This may explain why my cat at night sometimes acts as though she hears something which I am unable to detect.  As most people, I suspect, already know, the cat's vision is superior to humans at night, but human vision is superior during the day.  Humans who have a cat's color vision capabilities would be considered as suffering from red-green color blindness.

Other chapters focus on the social relationships of cats, both with humans and other cats.  While cats are perceived as loners as far as other cats are concerned, this is not strictly accurate.  Recent studies have shown that cats can gather together in groupings which are often comprised of mothers with daughters and grandchildren, and some males.  Males, though, tend to be the loners. 

Cats do not normally accept humans, but instead they must have contact with humans during the first two or three months of life.  Cats who are never handled by humans within the first three months generally never form any sort of relationship with humans, even if captured later and attempts are made to gentle it.  Kittens on the other hand are very tolerant of other critters, which is why we see photos of kittens snuggling up to a variety of feathered and furred beings, including featherless and furless bipeds.

There are also chapters on the cat's personality as well as its relationship to wildlife.  Bradshaw ends with a chapter in which he discusses what he sees will be necessary changes in cat behavior if it is to  
continue as the most popular pet today. 

Highly recommended for those who want to learn more about the cat.


  1. How timely is your posting! My wife has "adopted" two cats, and I am not thrilled (i.e., I have never warmed up to cats, and they have never warmed up to me). Perhaps she should read Bradshaw's book.

  2. RT
    I would suggest that she read it. I got my copy from the local library, and I'm now thinking about getting my own copy. Bradshaw talks about the way cats get along with each other and has suggestions about how to handle a multiple cat household, especially about the problem of introducing a new cat into a household that already has one or more cats.

    I gather from what you said that both cats were adopted at the same time. That may make life a bit easier.