The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


May 8, 2011

Linda Cannon, book review: Cat expert packs new book with good information

JOPLIN, Mo. — The newest addition to our roughly 100 books on domestic cats is “The Secret Life of Your Cat” by Vicky Halls. She is a cat behavior counselor, has written eight books about cat behavior, publishes a free bi-monthly e-zine and was named Nation’s Favorite Cat Author in England in 2008, so she knows her stuff.

I’ve had cats since I was three years old and have read a good deal about them, but found information in this book that was new to me, both about cat physiology and behavior.

The book is divided into six sections. The first is “Knowing Your Cat Inside Out” and focuses on the physical nature of the cat.

Did you know that cats can’t focus on objects that closer than eight inches? They’re not colorblind, but can’t see red. When they drink, they only swallow after every three or four laps.

Astonishingly, cats have an average stomach capacity of 10 ounces. That’s a lot for an animal that weighs, on average, between nine and eleven pounds! There’s a lot of information on everything from whiskers to tail in this section that cat owners should know.

The second section, “A Walk on the Wild Side,” covers the lifestyle of feral cats.

Feral cats are those cats who have either stopped living in companionship with people (generally when very young) or who are born to cats that have done so. Their lives are much harder, and shorter, than domestic cats.

The average domestic cat lives 12-14 years, while a feral cat is lucky to make it to 5. There are an estimated 50 million feral cats in the U.S. This section outlines what and how they eat, how territory is determined, and how feral cats interact with one another (both within colonies and with outsiders).

For some reason, reproduction is also covered in this section rather than in the first section. There is also information here on kitten development, including the 13 different play behaviors. Thirteen? Who knew?

“The Life and Times of the Domestic Cat” briefly covers domestication and genetics. There is a short section on the behavioral characteristics of some of the most popular breeds. (There are more than 80 breeds of cats currently recognized by the various cat registries, so there are lots of variations in size, coat, color, and termperament to choose from.)

Then comes information on each stage of a cat’s life, from kittenhood to senior citizenship along with a chart of human/cat age equivalence. According to this particular chart, at any rate, I now know that my 19-year-old cat is, in human terms, 92! The last part of the section covers the basics of feline interactions with other cats in the household and their response to the world outside the home.

 Section four, “The Secret of a Happy Cat,” outlines everything you need to know about living happily with a cat. The cat’s emotional nature is covered first, then the physical needs are thoroughly addressed, including cat-friendly (and safe) physical surroundings, appropriate food and water dishes, litter boxes and litter materials, scratching posts, cat doors, collars, crates and carriers, toys and bedding.

Speaking of cat doors, in parts of rural Spain, houses still often have doors remaining from the days when random cats were welcome to come in to take care of rodent problems!

Section five is “Understanding and Tackling Problem Behavior,” ranging from aggression and bullying to house soiling and spraying, overgrooming, nervousness and timidity, and pica (the eating/chewing of inappropriate items). This is, of course, the author’s prime territory and all these issues are well covered.

The last section covers “The Dos and Don’ts of Cat Care,” including preventive care, choosing a cat, bringing the cat home, making introductions to existing household cats, travel and vacations and moves. All very sound information.

Overall, I found the book informative and interesting, and it has some nice pictures, too! I would enthusiastically recommend it to cat novices and think even experienced cat people like myself could benefit from it.  

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