The Cat's World

Having a home where cats are both well-behaved and comfortable can take some rethinking on the part of the human who has made the home. There are strong instinctual imperatives which drive cat behavior and must be understood.

Cats think in three dimensions. They regard all surfaces as part of their territory, which must be investigated to determine their qualities. Cats need to know what happens when they do this, and when they do that, because at any time they might have to run down a rodent or flee from a predator. They have a constantly updated wire-frame model in their heads of all possible hiding places, ambush points, and escape routes.

We might notice that when a big box or new piece of furniture arrives in the house, the cat will smell it and study it, but not indiscriminately. Cats tend to go over the object at the angles and corners, following its spatial lines, updating their internal model. Surfaces are a given. Cats need to know the angles.

This emphasis on geometrical points can mislead the cat. This is a good assumption in a cat’s natural habitat. Humans and their fondness for containers are a relatively recent development. A considerate human will keep this in mind.

If the cat routinely jumps on top of the toilet tank to hang out with us in the bathroom, and one day the top is off the tank because of some repair work, the cat is likely to come along and jump on top of the toilet tank anyway. This can mess up the repair work, and will certainly upset the cat. Either keep the cat out of the bathroom, or pick them up and show them the tank is now an untrustworthy surface. The cat will appreciate it, and think more of us for thinking of them. When the job is over, show them that things have gone back to normal. The cat will update their mental model and continue to hang out with us in the bathroom.

People who don’t understand the way cats think can find themselves annoyed by the cat’s insistence on climbing and jumping and finding high places to hang out. As confident climbers and joyous jumpers, cats use their abilities to outwit both their prey and their predators. They need to be up or down, hidden for an ambush or proudly visible to potential interlopers on their hunting grounds. Taking the cat out of the desert does not take the desert out of the cat.

So it makes sense for us to understand this need of the cat, and accommodate it with either not minding their perch on the back of the sofa, or giving them an equally good perch with their own cat furniture.

Cats want to be with us. Isn't that a great feature?


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