Cat Sense

the feline enigma revealed

by john bradshaw

published by allen lane in 2013

What is this book about?

‘Cat Sense – the feline enigma revealed’ by John Bradshaw explores how cats have changed and developed throughout time to become the modern cat we know and love. It begins by considering when and where the domestication of the cat begun. Unlike dogs, there is very little evidence to support how this process took place but archaeology and other historic accounts, including artwork give us some clues. Furthermore, we can use genetics to investigate which wild cats were the ancestors of our domestic Felis catus. The book then goes on to explore the building relationship of cats with humans. Initially, it is likely that cats were attracted to human civilisations as they began to store food, creating intense populations of rodents. Therefore, humans appreciated the work cats were doing for them in catching mice and rats. This is why cats are so different from dogs in their affection for humans: for the domestication of dogs was based on companionship whilst the domestication of cats was based on hunting. After covering this basic history, Bradshaw goes on to explain how cats think and feel according to research, a lot of which Bradshaw has carried out himself. This follows into the relationships cats have with each other, humans and wildlife. Finally, this is used to question how we keep our cats and consider how we should act to maintain a positive relationship with the domestic cat as we step into the future. In doing this, Bradshaw touches upon the controversial topics of selective breeding and neutering. Generally, neutering of cats is actively encouraged (see poster on right) to prevent the possibly millions of unwanted kittens. However, Bradshaw suggests that perhaps we shouldn’t be advocating neutering to such a degree. If all owners have their cats neutered, soon the only fertile cats will be strays – those cats who cannot be caught and detest the sight of humans. These will be the cats breeding our pet kittens, forcing the genetic line of the domestic cat away from an affectionate bond with humans. I was almost shocked at this opinion, but realised how true it is and that in the coming future, this is something we need to consider if we want to continue owning and loving cats.

Areas of Interest for Further Research

  • An Interaction Between Genes and the Environment

I learnt many extremely interesting things from ‘Cat Sense’, which enlightened my biological and historical view of cats and questioned the anthropological relationships we form with them in our society. However, one of the most fascinating discoveries I made was about the Siamese cats’ coat colour. The darker areas on a Siamese cat’s face, paws and ears result from a temperature-sensitive mutation. At body temperature, the hairs will be white, therefore when Siamese kitten are first born they are white all over because their mother’s womb is uniformly warm. However, as they grow, the coolest parts of their bodies – the extremities including face, paws, ears and tail – become darker in colour. Furthermore, cats living near the equator or in very warm houses tend to be lighter than those living in cooler climates. I have never considered temperature sensitive genetics and this is definitely something I would like to look into further.

See my post about Temperature-Sensitive Genes for more information.

How good was this book?

I really enjoyed reading this book, although it took a while to get into. This is because I am less interested in the history of cat domestication and found it hard to follow the exact dates and geographical settings of each area Bradshaw explored. However, it was easy to become engaged by the fantastic experiments which Bradshaw directly referred to. Despite not owning my own pet cats, I was immediately able to appreciate the significance of many of the findings on society’s view of domestic cats.

Who would I advise this book to?

I think this book would contribute greatly to the knowledge of anyone working alongside cats. Whether this be in a cattery, veterinary practice or at home. It would be extremely useful for anyone considering getting more than one cat or anybody interested in finding out more about the mysterious life lead by our feline friends.

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