Some Observations on Felines and Canids

Repost from the old site.

I’ve been having some conversations lately with some of my smart friends about felines and canids, and here is some what we think we have worked out.

First of all, a cat is supposedly as smart as a 1½ year old human. As a human, albeit a human who is also a cat-lover, I find such a comparison insulting. I just spent some time with my 1½ year old niece. No way on Earth is my cat as stupid as that kid was.

I’m spending some time as a caretaker for my 86 year old father who lives 33 miles away. My folks have two cats and recently acquired another one. This one is a Siamese named Cleo. When I met this cat, very quickly, I thought it was one of the smartest cats I have ever known. I don’t know why, but someone said that Siamese are an intelligent breed.

The other night, one of other cats, Callie, got the night-crazies and took off running across the house for no reason. Cleo saw this and immediately chased her for equally no good reason. I immediately began to reassess my opinion of her as the smartest cat I’ve ever known. I asked around about this.

Turns out that in general, if a cat sees another cat take off running for any reason, the observer cat will often give chase. Why? Possibly instinct. They seem to be programmed to chase after any non-predatory moving object.

Many prey animals, like the rabbits who live around here, practice freezing as a form of predator avoidance. On the principle that predators generally hunt by following rapid movement rather than attacking stationary objects. The rabbits around here will freeze and let you walk right up next to them before they take off running.

There have been some mountain lion attacks here in the West recently. Attacks have, in general, been on little kids or on adults either jogging or riding bicycles.

Reason? A little kid is about the size of many of the mountain lions more slow-moving prey objects. An adult human really is not, except if it is running or riding a bicycle fast, in which case apparently it is about the size and speed of a deer, one of the lion’s favorite prey animals.

As long as you are strolling along in the woods, the cougar usually won’t bother you. But start jogging, and you turn into a human deer and you might just get nailed.

Observations of wild cats have shown that wild domestic cats make few sounds except when fighting or mating. Why do cats meow? Probably because we make sounds, and their meows are their way of trying to speak human language back at us.

Cats are generally solitary, and the cat adaptive style is to hide. If you notice, your cat at home likes to hide in really weird and hard to find places. Often a place where it can see out but you can’t see in. They will do this whether they are threatened by other cats or by dogs or not.

The reason cats hide? Probably instinct. The cat style is to hide and only come out at night. Wild felines such as bobcats and mountain lions hide much of the time and are mostly nocturnal.

This is also why cats bury their shit. They are probably not naturally fastidious, but instead, I suspect that they do this to cover up their trails from predators. This is also why they roll around in the dirt. They are covering themselves with dirt to hide their scent from predators.

On the other hand, the dog has a different adaptive style. Does a dog ever hide? What for? A dog is always walking around, right out in the open, afraid of nothing. With wild dogs it’s pretty similar. Coyotes and wolves are active all hours of the day and tend to roam around in plain sight. Foxes do hide, but they are pretty small, and they also spend time hunting in broad daylight (I’ve watched them).

Cats are generally solitary (although lions are an exception), and dogs are pack animals. Cats hide because they are solitary, and dogs walk around in plain sight because they are instinctively pack animals with little to hide. Wolves, jackals and hyenas travel in packs. If something wants to kill a hyena (and a lion might), it would have to deal with a whole pack of howling hyenas that would come to the defense of the hunted one.

Hunting in packs is also a strength. A pack of hyenas could possibly even kill a lion, and I suspect that they do sometimes.

Since dogs are pack animals and find strength in numbers, they don’t give a damn about burying their shit or rolling around in the dirt. There is no need to cover one’s tracks when one has strength in numbers.

One of my friends insisted that canids and felines are closely related, and that both go back to some ancestral canid-feline duoform. Raccoons and bears are related to dogs, but they supposedly split off from proto-dog after the split from proto-dogcat. I don’t know enough to comment on this, as I’ve never heard of dogs and cats going back to a feline-canid ancestor.

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3 thoughts on “Some Observations on Felines and Canids”

  1. You have to go back 60 mil years ago to find the last ancestor that both, cats and dogs, share. From there they split, with cats, hyenas, civets and mongooses. The dog split included bears, seals, skunks, raccoons, badgers weasels and otters.

  2. Foxes do hide, not just because they are less closely related to other canids than the canids are to each other, but because foxes are at the bottom of the predator chain. I’m thinking red foxes primarily but they’ll quickly get killed by a bobcat and can’t hold their own against raccoons and weasels either. Most of the time they’ll back down from a confident housecat too. Arctic foxes have it even worse. Just as polar and grizzly bears have been encountering each other in the wild for the first time thanks to global warming, arctic and red foxes have been meeting too. But this hasn’t been as friendly for the foxes resulting in offspring as it has for the bears. http://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Animals/Archives/2010/How-Animals-Fight-Global-Warming.aspx

  3. You know who just died? The world-famous Grumpy Cat. I liked her. She was just 7. One of her “sayings” that I liked the best:

    I had fun once. It was awful.

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