Cats provide a good window into connecting with nature. Whereas humans are taught through cultural nurturing how to interact with their environment, animals–including cats–are highly in tune with their natural instincts. Here are six lessons I learned from my cat.
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Lesson #1: Appreciate Diversity
Sometimes we forget that each animal species has its own instincts, and isn’t a furrier rendition of human. We try to train our pets to act more human, and we chuckle at them when they don’t comply.
We live in a miraculous world with billions of species living interconnected lives, each having their own instincts, desire to live, and life purpose.
Studying my cat’s behavior like a curious scientist rather than an “owner” helped me to appreciate the diversity of nature, not just from a “Wow, there are a lot of species out there!” kind of way, but a “Wow, there are many ways to react to a given situation” kind of way.
Lesson #2: Learn to Communicate Like an Animal
The first lesson we learned about cats is that they have their own way of communicating (Can you imagine, they don’t speak human!). Like most non-human animals, they communicate more through body language than through vocal sound. Since we don’t know cat language, it’s up to them to try to learn our language if the mutual living arrangement is to work out.
If you have a chatterbox cat, this is why. They’re trying to communicate in human. In nature though, cats speak largely through their eyes, unless a situation is extremely intense.
Humans usually talk to their cat while looking at her with wide open eyes. You can picture it, right? “You’re a good kitty, yes you are!” while staring at her, wide-eyed.
In cat land, wide open eyes with direct eye contact is a sign of aggression. If your cat seems to have a really intense personality, try speaking in cat. Slow blinking communicates trust, safety, and calmness. Try not to talk at the same time as blinking.
Indoor cats may take longer to catch on.
I learned that it’s not always necessary to speak with words and make a whole bunch of noise to make a point. Body language, deep listening, facial expressions, and good deeds can go a long way.
Cats are not meant to eat little dried pellet balls–it is a human convenience invention. Imagine how miserable humans would be if they had to eat the same dried pellets everyday with the same flavor!
Cats are carnivores and naturally desire to hunt meat. They’ve evolved to get their moisture from a fresh kill – so they do not naturally drink water. Having a water dish for cats is a modern invention, and is essential for cats eating dry food.
As predators, cats did not evolve to eat grains, but unfortunately grains are used as a cheap filler in the dried pellet foods, upsetting their digestion and kidney function.
When Molly the Cat adopted us, however, we didn’t know better. We fed her dried cat food, and she would scarf up a serving of food all in one slurp and then beg the rest of the day for more as if she were starving. Yet she was overweight and carb-addicted.
She was always trying to get our attention with hyperactive misbehavior; like a child who ate too much sugar.
And then we read about this phenomenon that she was actually an animal! Extra, Extra! Read all about it! Cats are predators and they prefer fresh meat!
After a couple of weeks of transition from dried pellets to grain-free canned cat food, she became a calmer kitty. No more weight problems, no more begging for food, just a happy kitty with a healthy coat. If you’re committed to the well-being of your cat, you could even switch to raw food! We haven’t gone there yet because of the time and extra expense, but many committed pet parents have.
We’ve even learned this lesson for ourselves. We’ve seen amazing health improvements ourselves by eating how we evolved to eat.
Lesson #4: Get Outside
As I mentioned in my post about cats in the garden, Molly is an indoor-outdoor cat. We anticipated her being an indoor-only cat upon adoption, but soon realized she’s very active and has a strong desire to stalk, hunt, and listen to birds while snoozing outside, and that she wanted to do this on her natural nocturnal cycle.
We were not excited to unleash her on the animal population surrounding our house, but couldn’t help noticing the joy and sudden change from desperate hyperactive behavior to calm.
To control Molly’s negative effects on the local environment, we keep her happily well fed so she goes outside with a full stomach and hunts less. She is also spayed, and we keep a bell on her collar to alert the animals that she’s coming.
Many people argue that cats are greatly damaging to the local environment, but the four birds she eats a year are a far cry from the 31 acres of land required to accommodate the farms, fields, mines, forests, and roads necessary to serve the voracious appetite for consumption of just ONE AMERICAN (see Superbia!).
Anyhoo, humans usually also feel calmer and more relaxed when they get outside regularly. It’s so important to counteract all of that electronic screen time; feel the sun and wind on your skin, listen to nature sounds, get your hands in the dirt.
Lesson #5: Ditch the Chemicals
Cats are sensitive to chemicals. Their bodies are small and the cumulative effect of chemicals and synthetic fragrances from regular brand soaps, detergents, fabric softeners, and cleaning supplies can be irritating, and can accumulate in the liver, contributing to cancer. If indoor pets are stressed by the airborne neurotoxins and carcinogens, they will seek to get outside whenever possible.
Since our skin is our largest organ, we would be wise to remove these toxic products from our own lives.
Lesson #6: View the World from on High
As you know by now, Molly came to us as a really hyperactive, stressed out, misbehaving, psychotic cat. We had solved 95% of these behavioral problems within the first year by speaking in cat, feeding her real food, and letting her go outside. Yet in the winter, Molly the cat doesn’t go outside much.
Her native habitat is not the cold climate. But she really wants to be active (cabin fever!). She’ll ask to go outside (in cat language!), realize it’s damn cold, then want right back in. She’ll try it over and over.
She’ll spend winter days and nights pacing around the house, howling, clawing at things, peeing in the house plants, and trying to get on the counters and window sills. We had toys, but she wasn’t interested.
Then we came upon a show on Netflix called My Cat From Hell. The title and previews were hilarious, and we wanted to watch it for pure entertainment. We hadn’t considered that we might learn something!
But the show exposed a gaping hole in our understanding of Molly: her natural instinct as a predator of the savannah is to scan her territory from a high vantage point. Having a high perch where a cat can sit higher than everyone else in the house, scan the room, and see out windows is the final piece in correcting psychotic cat behavior.
At first we were resistant: “We will not be controlled by this cat! We are not putting one of those ridiculous cat jungle jims in our house!”
As we watched more episodes of the show, however, we realized how much a perch was missing in her indoor environment, and that it would make our winters more sane. I ordered a Tree Terrace for Cats, and Molly was climbing all over it before we even had it put together all the way.
She still loves it,
7 months 3 years later. It’s her safe place; Molly’s home base. If she thinks you might be upset or if a young child comes over, she will run to the top of her cat tree for safety.
Did you know humans also have a need for a view? We evolved to build settlements on hillsides overlooking water sources. In a study where people were shown different scenes of urban and natural environments, subjects consistently registered more positive physiological states when looking at water.
The bottom line is that our domestic animals have instincts and desires to communicate and eat like they evolved to do. They have a need to be outside, breathe fresh air, and listen to and watch what goes on around their territory.
We can learn from our domestic animals how to deepen our connection and awareness with the rest of nature by following their lead. We can communicate less with words, eat how we evolved to eat, and spend more time outside taking in the nature sounds of our habitat. And because we are animals too, it will have a calming effect.
Resources for humans:
- Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature
- Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder
- I Love Dirt!: 52 Activities to Help You and Your Kids Discover the Wonders of Nature
What have you learned about nature from your pet?