How Do Cats Jump?

There’s a one-word answer that solves the mystery as to how cats evolved the ability to right themselves in midair and land on their paws: trees. Cats have all the tools for climbing, such as claws, strong legs and sleek bodies. It is believed that the ancestors of today’s domesticated cats therefore spent a fair amount of time climbing trees. Falling out of a tree could obviously spell disaster, so cats over the millennia evolved an ability known as “air righting.”

Roger Tabor, author of the book Understanding Cat Behavior, explains that this skill is a reflex action. Looking at a cat right itself, you wouldn’t notice all of the motions involved. But when you view it in slow motion, you would note that it’s a three-part process.

1. The cat turns its head and the front part of its body so that both are facing downward. At this point, the cat has a better look at where it’s going.

2. The cat twists around the back half of its body.

3. The cat stretches out its limbs and braces itself for the landing.

Tabor also mentions that a cat’s sense of vision combined with special features of the inner ear allow the feline to have an incredible sense of balance. As a result, cats can also navigate fences with ease, not to mention home shelving units.

Even cats have their limits, though. Often, scared cats will climb very tall trees, only to discover that they may not be able to get back down without injuring themselves. The previously mentioned air righting and balance skills may not be enough to overcome the force with which the cat could land on the ground from such heights.

It’s far better to enjoy watching your cat play safely on an in-home kitty tower.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/bedo

How to Stop and Prevent Cat Scratching

Cats were born to scratch, and they have the tools to do it with too. The best first step is to keep your cat’s claws trimmed. I do not support declawing cats, but I am a big proponent of good grooming, starting with regular nail trims every few weeks or as needed. Kitties sometimes get their claws stuck in things (including your favorite furniture), so trimming your pet’s nails is good for your pet as well.

Provide your cat with a good scratcher, be it a simple cardboard one, a small flat sisal board or a larger kitty tower. Some of the latter are really beautiful these days, coming in furniture-grade wood that will enhance your home’s decor while making your cat happy.

Sometimes, however, cats just get in a bad habit. If your cat is set on scratching a certain favorite item, here are some of the latest types of no-scratch products that are available:

  • Cat-scratch prevention tape with medical-grade adhesive: Prevention tape has been around for a long time, but manufacturers are coming up with improved adhesives that really adhere to furniture and annoy cats. They usually won’t harm fabrics and more delicate materials.
  • Cardboard scratchers combined with mazes: The simple cardboard scratcher, found even in many large grocery stores, has received a makeover. Some manufacturers have added a maze game to the bottom of it, making it doubly satisfying for your cat.
  • Scratchers in cat-friendly shapes: Some new scratchers are shaped like waves, bridges and even beds, providing your pet with something to climb on, explore and scratch.
  • Automated cat-deterrents: My favorite new gizmos are automated cat-deterrents, which have motion detectors. Once they detect that your cat is nearby, they automatically spray a harmless, nontoxic spray that most cats abhor. You just set up the device and forget about it until the spray runs out. Refills are then available. These can be used to prevent cats from urinating on carpeting and from doing other unwanted things.

Lastly, buy furniture with your cat in mind. Microfiber and some other materials are not as easy for cats to dig their claws into. And if you often hold your cat, it will no doubt prefer to knead on you. Sometimes needy cats are more kneady on furniture, so give your cat the attention it craves, and better behavior often results.

Protect Your Cat From Houseplants

Cats are both perceptive and incredibly curious critters. They seem to know every inch of their territory. If you have a house cat, this means your pet has a mental map in place of almost everything in your home. Move just one fixture and most cats will immediately go to that spot to investigate the change.

The same holds true if you bring in new items, such as a houseplant. Cats have a natural curiosity about plants. Add that to the newness, stinky dirt, leaves, moisture and more, and it is no wonder that cats find most plants to be fascinating.

The first thing you can do is provide your cat with its own indoor mini garden. This can include oat grass, other edible grasses and catnip. You can find these seeds in most pet stores or online.

Plant the seeds in a heavy, shallow container that your cat is unlikely to knock over. Offer the plants to your cat when the shoots have grown to about 4 inches tall. (If your cat nibbles before then, he could kill the plants.) Keep the edible plants watered and maintained, and monitor your cat’s access, if necessary.

Aside from placing other houseplants in areas that are hard for your cat to reach, the only foolproof solution is to avoid plants that are potentially poisonous to pets. According to The Humane Society of the United States, more than 700 plants contain potentially dangerous compounds for cats and dogs. Sometimes the leaves are poisonous, and other times the roots or other parts are. The Humane Society recommends that you keep a list for reference in an accessible spot.

Does Cat Behavior Change With the Seasons?

All mammals are affected by changes in the environment. For example, have you ever felt sleepy during rainy days? The lower light levels tend to lull us into a more relaxed mood.

Such changes happen minute by minute, day to day, and week to week. Temperature, light levels, colors, odors and everything else that stimulate our senses are often not static. Seasonal changes are therefore more pronounced, so it’s true that your cat’s behavior is likely to change with the seasons.

Dennis Turner, author of The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behaviour, reports that feral cats are particularly active during the spring and summer months. These cats, which have to fend for themselves, are out and about for one-third of the day and three-quarters of the night, only resting at dawn and dusk.

Domesticity, along with spaying and neutering, can affect those behaviors, which are driven, in large part, by hormones. I’ve noticed, however, that even spayed and neutered cats can still have some mating and hunting drives. Both females and males may therefore be a bit more active during the spring and summer.

Warm spring or summer days, however, can counter hormonally induced mating-related activity. On a hot day, you are likely to find your cat sleeping on a cool, comfy spot, and for good reason. In the wild, remaining active in such weather could deplete valuable water intake and lead to overheating.

We all have internal body clocks that help us adjust to gradual changes, along with the more major ones that we associate with different seasons. Consider keeping a cat diary noting your pet’s activity levels at certain times, and what your cat is doing. You will probably start to see predictable patterns over time.

Easy Exercises for Your Cat

If you think our distant human ancestors were extremely active back in the day, imagine what life was like for your cat’s relatives before they enjoyed provided food, cozy laps and other care. Physical activity was survival -- not just exercise.

Most healthy cats need to maintain a certain level of activity for basic physical fitness. Their bodies evolved to handle this -- not a couch potato lifestyle. While it’s difficult to tone individual cat muscles, you can encourage your cat to get sufficient exercise for overall body toning.

The ASPCA offers the following tips for making exercise interesting and enjoyable for your cat:

Stay engaged. Cats don’t usually like when you plunk a toy in front of them and then walk away. They are far more interested in spending time with you, so set aside time each day to encourage your cat to play.

Try leash training. Teaching your cat to walk on a leash is a tremendous health investment. The sights and smells will get your cat excited about walking, and this gives you an incentive to walk more as well.

Invest in climbing objects. Enclosed outdoor areas with cat trees and other objects for climbing can also help to get cats interested in physical activity while staying safe. Consider adding one to your home, if possible.

Determine your cat’s preferred method of play. Some cats like to jump. Some are more inclined to run. Some are stalkers. Purchase cat toys with these preferences in mind. The old adage about how kids prefer to play with the box instead of the toy may hold true for cats. Old Ping-Pong balls, cardboard boxes, paper shopping bags, and packing paper can all be toys to a cat with a little coaxing. Usually if you are interested in an object, your cat will be too.