Saturday, 5 October 2013

Mouses Messes and Minging Meals (for Cats)


     Most mornings I get up to find Pusia snoozing contentedly on her cushion across the room. Her normal reaction when I rise from bed is to perk up, stare at me hopefully and chase me out of the room the moment I head for the door.

The usual state of affairs! Good morning!
     When she's a bit lacklustre I get alarmed. Where's her energy? Why is she off her food? Why is she disinterested? Do I have to take her to the vet?

     Then, more often than not, I'll tread in something warm, congealed and sticky! It's not a pleasant experience. Pusia will glance nonchalantly at me and contentedly smack her lips. Whatever this once was is now inside her!

     The animal remains are a reminder that she is, indeed, wild at heart. When I'm slumbering peacefully in bed and dreaming of sheep jumping gates, she's out and about catching things in the darkness and fulfilling her destiny as a natural born killer.

I Want to Be Alone

     Cat owners live in a delusional world believing that they can provide everything for their feline companions. It's simply not true. They're the only domesticated animal that retains their independence and wildness. A dog is a pack animal and a stray will always seek the company of other dogs or humans.

Life alone isn't a crisis.
     Turf a cat out, on the other hand, and they'll hardly turn a hair. To make their own way in the world is quite natural to them. They are the original Greta Garbos of the animal world. They want to be alone.

What's the Recipe Today Jim?

     Their penchant for wild food is why it's such an ordeal finding a dish of the day that meets their liking. I really try to get food that I think will be to Pusia's taste. She has flavours galore to choose from, including cat milk and treats. Every now and then I'll even buy her tinned sardines or mackerel to keep her interested. On top of that she has various toys and corks on string to keep her occupied.

Some of the distractions that don't work...
     You'd think that this endless variety would keep her satisfied. Each morning I get up and, when the mood takes her, Pusia will sit expectantly behind me as I carefully decant her food into her bowl.

     Sometimes the food actually smells pretty appetising and I think "Pusia's really going to enjoy this!" The cheaper varieties make my stomach turn. This is the stuff I buy for the feral cats. Its smell can be so strong that its foil wrapper will contaminate the bin and make it unusable within 24 hours! But, it seems, Pusia has a penchant for smellier food.

Smelling of Roses

     It's true that cats live in a world of smells. Because they're natural predators the smells with the greatest priority tend to be territorial markers or food. That's why a really smelly food can be one of the most exciting experiences for a cat.

     Yesterday Pusia caught me preparing a dish of the el cheapo food for the feral cat who was sitting under my car. Well, I should say that she caught a whiff of me preparing the food. As soon as she sniffed that foul smelling mushed up paté she went into a frenzy, sniffing the air and climbing up my leg!

Overpowering smells enticing Pusia!

     I don't know if it was because she hasn't had this herself for quite some time or if it's simply that the smell intoxicates her taste buds. Whatever the reason, she just simply had to have that food. I thought, "But you've got all that lovely gourmet stuff I just put out for you!" She wasn't having any of it. At that moment there was simply no substitute for the mushed up indiscriminate mess from the discount store.

Meals on Legs

     And now back to that gooey stuff on the floor of my bedroom. I decided to make an inventory of the stuff that Pusia actually likes to eat. It wasn't my intention to record the wild victims that she catches and kills. I wasn't aware that she was eating them at first. But when I went to the States for a week during the summer a neighbouring farmer agreed check on her every day.

     I returned to find him excitedly telling me that I had a good 'mouser'. The farmers around here like that kind of thing! On the first morning he visited he found a dead mouse lying forlornly on the kitchen floor. "A big fat one!" he told me. 

     He then proceeded to list the various kills that Pusia had left for him each day. The landmark occasion was, in his opinion, the day he found three and a half mouses lying around the downstairs rooms (you may be wondering why I use 'mouses' but if you are familiar with Nerissa the cat then you'll know that I use this term to avoid confusing any other cats who may be reading).

     It was the half a mouse that got me thinking. "Cripes!" I thought, "She's actually eating these things!" There was no other explanation unless the other three mouses had developed cannibalistic tendencies during their incarceration. It was an unlikely scenario.

Chamber of Horrors

     Once I was left alone with my sweet little Pusia I ventured upstairs. She led me into something resembling a gruesome Hammer Horror film. Scattered about the upstairs landing were various decaying specimens of wildlife (it was a very hot summer). Mostly just the head or rear legs remained. In some ways I am relieved that Pusia catches these things to eat them. Graphic image warning! Although nothing so gruesome as half a mouse, here is little of the scene of the crime after one week away!

Two unfortunate mouses.

     Her taste for wildlife was confirmed when the farmer told me that she had hardly eaten any of the food he put down for her. She was clearly supplementing her diet in the way that comes most naturally to a cat. Particularly to a cat living on a farm where there is an abundance of rodents.

     Some people will tell you that a cat kills purely for pleasure. It's true that a cat has an in built homing device that seeks and kills smaller things that move. They simply can't help it. But if a cat has grown up with a mother who has home schooled hunting then their natural instinct is to hunt, kill and eat prey that moves.


     Apart from the thrill of the chase, hunting and killing serves an important role in fulfilling the cat's intellectual needs. Cats are great problem solvers. They will stake out a mouse run for hours and work out ways to flush out their prey if it's cornered. Although they lose interest pretty quickly they will always retain the knowledge that something tasty is lurking, say, under the dishwasher. With this fact secreted in their mind they remain alert to the slightest noise in that area until they have had their way with the unfortunate mouse.

     This is something we've encouraged them to do too! Our relationship with cats developed a few thousand years ago when we encouraged them to take up residence so that our corn stores were rodent free. We can't really expect this instinct to disappear when it suits us.

A cat finds the thrill of the chase irresistible. We trained them that way!

     Eating mouses and other wild animals such as rabbits and baby rats also provides them with important vegetable nutrition they otherwise wouldn't get. Instead of being herbivores they eat the stomach of a herbivore - problem solved!

     Pusia will eat either from the head down to the small intestine or from the tail up to the heart and lungs. She seems to take great delight in eating the liver and kidneys but she always stops somewhere shortly after eating the stomach. That, it seems, is the true prize and she seems to know its value.

Special Dietary Requirements

     If you've read my blogs before then you'll know I like to look for the lessons in the things that cats do. This one, to me, seems to be pretty clear. We can force the issue or we can do what comes naturally to us.

     I keep trying to force all this packet stuff on to Pusia. She does take an interest in some of the flavours. She probably can't get tuna, shrimps or whitefish in the fields around here! But try as I may there are bigger 'fish' to fry in the natural surroundings. To me, her taste in the cheaper discount food, mouses, rats or rabbits is quite disgusting. For her, however, it's a delicacy that she hankers after.

In the end, the cheap and nasty cat food wins the day.

     We all have to make our own decisions about what's best for us. Instinctively we probably know. More importantly, there's no point in trying to force our tastes onto someone else. What seems quite ghastly to me is pure heaven for Pusia. I just have to try and appreciate that her tastes are very different to mine. It's a matter of respect. We need to meet another living being's choices with empathy and at least try to understand the choices they make.