Cats are curious critters. They’re fiercely independent, notably nocturnal and difficult to discern. In other words, they’re probably cleverer than most humans. Here are some of the most common kitty questions I get from cat people.
Q: How long do cats live?
A: Today’s house cats live 15 to 20 years, with some reaching 22 to 25. Advances in cat diets and preventing kitten-hood diseases such as distemper and feline leukemia (FeLV), parasites, heartworms and fleas and ticks are key in extending longevity. In addition, indoor cats face fewer traditional threats from predators and trauma. Sadly, house cats also are facing an obesity epidemic leading to skyrocketing rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and many forms of cancer.
Q: Why do cats knead?
A: While we don’t fully understand why cats knead, veterinarians have a few theories. One theory is kneading kitties are marking their territory with special scent glands located in the paws. Another idea is that kneading is a lingering behavior from suckling. Kittens knead the mother’s mammary tissues to facilitate milk production, and this activity may provide comfort throughout life. Finally, kneading may be a form of stretching and it just plain feels good. Think forearm yoga for cats.
Q: Why do cats sleep so much?
A: Cats sleep an average of 16 to 18 hours a day. They require all this rest for a couple of important physiological reasons:
1) Energy conservation. Cats use a special form of sugar to fuel their short bursts of activity. It takes a while to restore this energy so cats are careful when and why they rush into action.
2) Cats love low light. Cats are “crepuscular,” a term that means they’re most active at dawn and dusk. Indoor cats also want to be social. To balance their instinct and our human schedules, they end up taking lots of “cat naps” to accommodate our biological clocks. In general, indoor cats sleep more than outdoor cats. Feeling sleepy yet?
Q: Why do cats have whiskers?
A: Whiskers are known in the veterinary anatomy world as vibrissae. Most cats have these long, stiff hairs projecting from their jaw, muzzle and above their eyes. Whiskers are specially-developed and highly sensitive tissues that help inform the cat about surrounding objects, air movements and other important environmental information. Whiskers may also be used to gauge whether a cat can slip into a tight space or darkened hole. You can typically tell if a cat is nervous or scared if the whiskers are pointing forward at a potential threat. Whatever you do, don’t trim or pluck a kitten’s whiskers because they serve as an important information source for cats.
Q: Why do cats eat grass?
A: The short answer is we don’t know. Most veterinarians agree grass eating seems to be a way for cats to relieve gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, parasites or possibly infections. Another theory is that kitties are craving micronutrients found in leafy plants. Finally, cats may dine on grasses and plants simply because they like it. It’s important to remember some cats suffering from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may be misdiagnosed as “grass eaters” when the real problem lies within the intestinal tract. If your cat is eating grass every day or in large amounts, ask your veterinarian to check out your cat immediately for any underlying medical issues.
Q: What is a group of cats called?
A: A group of cats is called a “clowder.” “Clowder” originates in Middle English from the term “clotter” which meant “to huddle together.” It also has roots in “clutter” which is what my clowder creates in my house. Cute, right?
Q: Why do cats purr?
A: For starters, we’re not entirely certain. For hundreds (and maybe even thousands) of years, we’ve associated purring with a cat’s happiness and contentment. Newer research demonstrates that kitties may also purr whenever they’re hungry, hurt or frightened. The sound of purring is created by the muscles in the larynx and diaphragm, although scientists haven’t been able to parse how the central nervous system controls these precise movements that produce purrs. Purring is most likely a self-soothing behavior, similar to how humans cry, laugh or distract themselves when faced with a highly emotional situation. Regardless of the scientific specifics, I can vouch that kittens make me feel better when they purr in my lap.