Despite being in the lab so much this week, I did have some time to read, mostly while waiting on reactions to happen. So I decided to finish the alarmingly large pile of cat books I picked up while reading in the 636’s and for bookends this week I’ll be giving a brief review of each of them.
The first book I read was The Complete Cat’s Meow: Everything You Need to Know About Caring For Your Cat and it was exactly what I expected from a book about owning a cat. It was clearly written, had cute cat pictures, and covered the material I guessed it would cover. This included tips for picking out a cat and introducing it to your home; advice on your cat’s diet and health care; and suggestions for dealing with problems that might arise, such as your cat clawing your furniture or not using the litter box. Although useful, it was not especially entertaining.
Another similar book I read was The Complete Guide to Understanding and Caring for Your Cat. Although this book covered the same material, I liked it much better. There were a lot of fun anecdotes about cats the author had helped adjust to changes in their human’s lives or to settle in to a new home. Much of the book was presented in question and answer format, which I thought made the book flow slightly less well than it might have, but there were complete paragraphs in each section containing a lot of the same information. There was quite a lot of product placement, which was a little off-putting as it made me wonder about the author’s motives, but was also much more helpful than more general advice. The author does frequently recommend tranquilizers for stressed cats. Personally I wouldn’t be comfortable trying this with my cat, but she seems to have had some success with it. She also always emphasizes that the tranquilizers are a temporary treatment for that cat’s stress, only used when necessary and until a solution to the cause of their stress can be found. Finally, the main reason I would recommend this book is because it contains some of the best advice I’ve ever seen on introducing a cat to a new person, new pet, or previous pet. The advice for figuring out what is at the root of a cat’s misbehavior and dealing with different possible stressors was also superb.
The two worst books I read were a cartoon guide called Totally Fun Things to Do With Your Cat and Cat Speak, a book about communicating with your cat. The cartoon guide just offered a lot of really bad advice, like suggesting you greet a cat by putting your face next to the cat’s face. If I tried that with my cat, I would consider myself extremely lucky if she didn’t take a swipe at me. She seems to find me putting my face close enough to bite her threatening and would much rather have a hand slowly extended for her to smell. The book also suggested that some cats might like water, without adequately stressing that some cats might equally well hate it. Although these flaws might be ok in a book meant for adults, who could recognize how bad some of the ideas are, in a cartoon guide meant for children I think such advice could have unfortunate consequences.
Cat Speak had all the worst qualities of a really bad self-help book, presenting advice that was either common sense dressed up in pseudo-science or which sounded good, but wasn’t. The author begins by talking about how famous he is for his work with dogs, but he’s really always loved cats too (honest!). The self-aggrandizement was pretty annoying and read more like an ad than a passage by a cat lover. Things only got worse from there, starting with some gimmicky lists such as “The Seven Instinctive Feline Behaviors” and the “Six Special Feline Abilities and Idiosyncrasies”. The advice for understanding your cats mood was mostly of the obvious type – at least, no one in my family has ever had trouble telling when our cat is angry, sad, or hungry without someone to explain what different ear angles mean. If a cat wants you to understand how it’s feeling, they’re pretty good at letting you know. Where the book really went wrong was when it tried to give scientific explanations for cat behavior. One mistake they made is referring to cats as nocturnal, when they are actually crepuscular (awake at dawn and dusk). While this might seem nit-picky and unimportant, as someone about to adopt a cat it would be nice to know that they might (like my cat Maggie) be really wild as you’re going to bed and want lots of attention in the morning – but not all night. In a lot of cases, I just felt like the author was trying to do too much in too little space. He went into just enough detail to get it wrong and not enough detail to explain cat behavior accurately.
Finally, these last two books are the best books I read and I can’t recommend them enough. First, The Cat Whisperer, which I expected to be as gimmicky as Cat Speak, really pleasantly surprised me. The author does an incredible job of describing a cat’s senses and how cats physically perceive the world. She also shares a lot of fun facts about cats. For instance, cats can stand much warmer temperatures than humans. Humans start avoiding heat at 115F while cats aren’t bothered until 126F. Apparently, the only parts of a cats body which are sensitive to heat are it’s nose and upperlip, which it uses as a kitten to locate it’s mother before it’s eyes are open. She also talks a lot about why cats behave the way the do and gives some very good advice for dealing with nearly any behavior problem you might encounter.
The other great book I read was The Character of Cats: The Origins, Intelligence, Behavior, and Stratagems of Felis silvestris catus. As the subtitle suggests, this book took the most scientific approach of any of the books. This might indicate how geeky I am, but I loved learning about cats’ behavior this way. The author starts by talking a little about how cats evolved and how interesting it is that (unlike dogs, horses, and many other domesticated animals) cats can still breed with their wild counterpart. It is also true that wild cats can survive without us, much better than wolves or the nearly extinct ancestors of today’s horses. You can really feel the author’s admiration and love of cats he discusses the implication of these facts: first, that cats choose to live with us even though they could survive without us and second that they have done so without changing to please us. He also presents a lot of really cool behavioral studies, showing that cats learn by observing other cats; that cats are intelligent, but are most intelligent at tests which make sense with their natural behavior; and showing that cats build mental maps with themselves at the center (not landmark based) – among other interesting tidbits. Together with The Cat Whisperer‘s description of a cat’s sensory input, this description of the way cats think gave me a much better appreciation of my cat. I would highly recommend these books together to anyone who wants a really thorough understanding of how how their cat senses and thinks about the world around them.
Books I would recommend for a new cat owner or prospective cat owner:
The Complete Guide to Understanding and Caring for Your Cat – 4 stars – contains all the information you need, well written and entertaining
The Complete Cat’s Meow – 3 stars – also contains all the information you need, but in a less interesting format
Books I would recommend to someone who wants to understand their cat better:
The Cat Whisperer – 4 stars – a great introduction to the way cats sense the world, include good explanations of cat behavior and helpful advice for dealing with nearly any behavior problem you can imagine
The Character of Cats – 5 stars – really interesting, scientific approach to understanding the way cats think and why the behave the way they do
Books I would recommend avoiding:
Totally Fun Things to Do With Your Cat – 1 star – cartoon guide giving bad advice in a book intended for children who won’t know any better
Cat Speak –1 star – gimmicky, common sense dressed up in pseudo-science and incorrect advice that sounds just good enough it might fool you