Playing vs Fighting

Feline housemates, just like human housemates, may not always get along. Depending on the cats involved, they may actually fight or simply ignore one another. Other cats like to play and tussle with one another, and that can sometimes look like they’re fighting.

Photo courtesy of Petcha

How do you tell the difference between tussling and actual fighting? Here are a few things to look for:

  1. Body language. When cats prepare to fight, they will adopt a defensive stance, curve their spine, bristle their fur, and flatten their ears. A big bottle-brush tail lashing back and forth is another indication of escalating aggression. By contrast, play cats will generally have calm, forward ears (sometimes they may flick back but are not flattened down) and won’t not have bristly fur or look like a classic Halloween scaredy cat.
  2. Position. Playing cats generally have looser positions as they tumble. Sometimes they put a paw around the head or go after the belly area (playing may look rough), but note that they take turns. Fighting cats square off against each other, attempt to intimidate each other with posturing and loud vocalizations, and strike only when necessary.
  3. Noise. Playing cats generally don’t make a lot of noise. They don’t yowl and scream, but if the play gets too rough, there may be a couple meows of protestation! When they do this, they teach each other manners and that biting too hard ends the game. Kittens learn this from an early age, ideally from their siblings and from occasionally disciplinary nips from their mom. Fighting cats hiss a lot, growl, scream, snarl, and generally make A LOT of ruckus.
  4. Friendship. Cats that play together generally have a friendly relationship and see each other as belonging to the same social group. They may snuggle together, groom one another, and even share toys or food. When cats do not have this kind of cordiality, they avoid one another and may have totally separate territories.

Photo courtesy of PetMD. Note these two tense cats are squaring off and just look angry.

Photo courtesy of Free Cat Images. These two cats are tussling, not fighting.

Photo courtesy of Chewy. The tabby on the right prepares to playfully bop the one on the left.

If you want more information about determining whether your cats are playing or fighting, check out Vetstreet, AnimalWised, and PetHelpful.

Do your cats play or do they fight? Do they like each other? What kind of antics do they do during a tussle session? Please share in the comments!

Foster Anniversary

At last year’s Clear the Shelter event (held on Saturday, August 19th), our lives changed when we decided to foster two tabbies. We had not fostered before but Aaron and I decided jointly that these boys really needed us.

Aristotle was gaunt, pitiful-looking, and had patchy fur due to overgrooming. Because of his severe stomatitis, he had (understandably) a poor appetite.

Tink, then two years old, had spent cumulatively 18 months at the shelter (partly in foster care). He had been adopted and returned three times, and had recently lost his buddy cat Pan. While he had been successfully paired with a new buddy, Tink was decidedly not doing well in the shelter and spent 95% of the time hiding.

Both cats were skittish, extremely shy, and wary. They needed a lot of TLC and a quiet respite from the shelter. In our care they made noticeable improvements, especially because we were patient and made an effort to gain their trust. Only two weeks later they moved in! Since we brought them home during the Clear the Shelter event, the adoption fees were waived.

A year later, they are very different, and much happier, cats. They are no longer so skittish and timid. Charlie (formerly known as Tink) blossomed into a perpetually sunny, friendly, and affectionate cat. He squeaks! He flops! He snuggles! Garrus (formerly known as Aristotle) underwent dental surgery to treat his stomatitis and is now a much healthier cat with bunny-soft fur. While still on the reserved side, he now asks for visits, bats at crinkle balls, and chases after the red dot with gusto.

As you can see, Charlie and Garrus are not concerned. They may, however, be only slightly overloved in our house.

Pet Appreciation Week

The first full week in June–Sunday, June 3rd through Saturday, June 9th–is Pet Appreciation Week! Summer is the time for family vacations and fun, so make sure you take the time to acknowledge and truly treasure all the benefits that your pets have brought to your life. My cats bring me joy, laughter, and warm fuzzies, and have taught me about love, family, true friendship, and compassion.

I managed to snap a photo with Charlie looking directly at the camera while Garrus enjoys his buddy’s company.

What do you appreciate most about your pets? What lessons have they taught you? Share in the comments!

Farewell to Boudicca

Shortly before 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon, my beloved Queen Boudicca Mata Hari Sophia passed from this life and found peace. It was dreadfully sad. Boudicca was terminally ill with multiple chronic, incurable, and progressing medical conditions, and she was suffering as a result. I had to to be her advocate and, out of love and duty, I had to act on her behalf and end that pain. The tears flowed and ebbed. Boudicca passed painlessly away, hopefully with the knowledge that her human family loved her fiercely.

I knew this day was coming and began to prepare myself mentally and emotionally weeks beforehand. I had to make a hard choice but in the end it was the right one, and I don’t regret that choice. Her human mother–me, the human she chose all those years ago at the ASPCA–loved her enough to let her go.

Afterward, everything seemed surreal and out of focus. Happysad feelings are difficult to articulate in coherent sentences. I felt a sinking feeling in my chest–sadness and loss. At some point, relief trickled over me. Comfort knowing that Boudicca was in good company with the rest of my family’s pets that have gone over the Rainbow Bridge. Gratitude for the 18 years of loving companionship and joy that she brought to my life.

It still feels mildly surreal to accept that my sweet baby girl no longer lives among us. Her pink beds lie empty, vacant thrones upon which Queen Boudicca lay in languid repose. In the evening, the boys aren’t interested in or know how to enjoy lap time yet. Charlie, for example, would probably enjoy it quite a bit but he’s rather wiggly. The boys certainly like to snuggle with one another but they’re not snugglebugs with humans yet. We’re working on that. I love Charlie and Garrus deeply (every pet in my house always winds up slightly over-loved) but they do not and will not replace Boudicca.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of little things I will miss about her. Without fail, Boudicca greeted me when I came home, yammering and dancing around my feet until I picked her up. She turned into a limp slinky accordion cat when held. Her purr rumbled, punctuated with trills, when she was filled with lazy contentment (or feline entitlement), especially when I kissed her in between the ears. I would sometimes wake up with her camped out on my chest in a smug cat loaf. I miss her quirks, like when she went through a kleptomaniac phase and repeatedly stole my grandmother’s light blue mohair scarf, complete with matching hat and gloves, and absconded with them to her tower. She became an early riser and pawed me awake. Her eyes turned lantern bright Maleficent-esque green, as though she was plotting nefarious deeds and how to take over the world…just as soon as she finished her nap. She sprawled across books and newspapers and refused to budge. She explored new boxes with relish or took her responsibilities seriously when testing a crocheted blanket for softness and nappability. When I spoke on the phone, Boudicca contributed her two cents to the conversation. Queen B was an excellent reading buddy, especially on quiet rainy days.

Rest in peace, Queen B. I love you.

P.S. I am very grateful for all my friends and family that reached out to me and offered me hugs, comfort, and condolences. Your kindness and thoughtfulness is truly touching. Thank you.

Garrus and Charlie’s Story Part Five: Slowly Opening Up

The boys needed time to realize that they were in a safe, quiet, and less-stressful space and were not going to be roughly handled. All of us needed to get to know one another and establish trust. In order to do so, Aaron and I spent time sitting on the floor in order to hang out with them; if we stood up, the boys scattered and hid. (Understandably, humans loom over cats when they stand up. We needed to work slowly with these guys.) We spoke in low, quiet voices to the boys as another way for them to get used to us.

Garrus was the first to come out of hiding and tentatively approached us. We moved very slowly around the boys as to not inadvertently startle them. We let Garrus sniff us and choose on his own terms how to engage with us. If he wanted to come toward us for pets, he could do that but if he chose to back off and hide, we did not reach in after him. A few hours later, Charlie emerged from his hiding spot and timidly checked us out. We noticed that he first watched what Garrus did and followed his lead. We were both quite pleased when we were able to give the boys gentle pets and strokes. They jerked away if we put our hands on either of their bodies, even to give scritches, so we worked very slowly, read their body language closely, and took our cues from the cats.

Garrus slowly started to explore his surroundings. He was the first to explore the chair and desk.

Charlie came out from his hiding spot!

Stay tuned for Part Six! (If you haven’t already read them, check out Parts One, Two, Three, and Four.)

Garrus and Charlie’s Story Part Four: Bringing the Boys Home

We brought the boys home and, knowing that they would need time to adjust to their surroundings, we set up a foster area in Aaron’s office, complete with food and water bowls, a comfy bed and chair, a litter box, and toys. Initially we closed the door so that all three cats would not be spooked by each others’ presence; later we used baby gates to separate them from Boudicca. (For her part, Boudicca was mildly alarmed when she saw carriers. Otherwise, she was confused as to why we took food into the office, did not share with her, and closed the door.)

At first both the cats hid under Aaron’s desk or bookshelves. It became evident that they were accustomed to eating and using the litter box predominantly at night, presumably because the shelter was quieter during that time. They were incredibly skittish, reacting immediately to noise, sudden movements, and any change. We had to be careful and solicitous in order to not spook them any more than they already were.

Aristotle (Garrus) was highly wary of people and hid under Aaron’s desk when we would first enter the room.

NB: Before we left the shelter, Aaron decided on the name Garrus after the Mass Effect character. That is what we called him before we properly adopted the boys so henceforth I will refer to him by that name.

Tink was initially wide-eyed, jittery, and, a bit agoraphobic, often bunched in a corner or behind whatever he could find.

NB: It took us a few more days to decide on a new name for this handsome guy. Aaron proposed Charlie and we agreed that it simply suited him without further ado.

Stay tuned for Part Five! (If you haven’t already read them, check out Parts One, Two, and Three.)

Garrus Chills Out

Over the last couple months Garrus has made huge progress in becoming less wary, engaging more with us, and generally relaxing. He now asks for visits several times a day, purrs and slow-blinks regularly, lets me touch his paws, dances around our legs and feet, and gives tail hugs–and not only to get food! He even talks a little in this soft, vaguely squeaky meow, but he typically only meows when his wet food is being prepared. (I believe Charlie has rubbed off on him.)

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Aaron and I found Garrus sprawled on the ottoman yesterday evening. You can see what a long, stretchy, and handsome cat he is. Naturally we had to visit. He seemed to enjoy all the rubs and let both of us pet the delightfully fluffy fur on his belly.

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I managed to snap this photo just as Garrus began to yawn. Here he looks like he is roaring!

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I know it’s a bit blurry but I laughed when Garrus got up and stuck his face right up against the camera. “Alright Mr. Deville, I’m ready for my closeup…”