Emo Critters

I’ve mentioned a few times here that my cat, Bazel is a vicious biter. I’ve tried everything I know or have heard or read about to break him of this habit, but to no avail.

Bazel is not into cuddling, but sometimes he pounces on me demanding some petting. He seems to like it, but after only a few seconds, he’ll start biting. So I stop petting him and tuck my vulnerable hands away.

Then he gives me one of those hey-why-did-you-quit-petting-me-bitch looks and rams his head into me.  After a while I might pet him again. Then he bites again. Then I stop. Then he head-butts me again. We repeat this pointless game over and over and over, with me hoping one day he’ll understand that he’ll only get petted if he doesn’t bite me.

It’s been almost 4 years, so I’ve pretty much given up hope of him ever cluing in.

So, since he obviously doesn’t have the intelligence to figure this out, I wonder why he won’t stop the biting because he can see it hurts me. I know he’s attached to me because he follows me around and seems happy to see me when I’ve been away and yowls real loud when he doesn’t know where I am and purrs when he finds me. So you’d think that if he likes me, he wouldn’t want to hurt me. Maybe I’m giving him too much credit for having some sort of emotions as well as giving him too much credit for intelligence.

Do you believe animals have emotions?

Olden days scientists believed the only type of emotion an animal could feel was fear. Except Darwin. Darwin said there was …

… continuity in evolution, so the differences between species are differences in degree rather than differences in kind. They’re shades of grey. If we feel jealousy, then dogs and wolves and elephants and chimpanzees feel jealousy. Animal emotions are not necessarily identical to ours but there’s no reason to think they should be. Their hearts and stomachs and brains also differ from ours, but this doesn’t stop us from saying they have hearts, stomachs and brains. There’s dog joy and chimpanzee joy and pig joy, and dog grief, chimpanzee grief and pig grief.

Jane Goodall, a non-scientist, believed she observed a whole range of emotions in her apes.

Scientists today, while they still are unable to exactly measure emotions in animals, have found that all mammals, including humans share certain neuroanatomical structures such as the “amygdala and neurochemical pathways in the limbic system that are important for feelings”.

They now believe that some sort of emotional life has evolved within animals to serve as a bonding mechanism among animals to help them behave adaptively and flexibly in a wide variety of situations.

Of course the existence of the emotional life of animals hasn’t really been clinically/empirically proven. But as Einstein said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts.”

If animals do have emotions they are not necessarily the same as human emotions. The analogy has been made that human emotions to animals’ may be like comparing colour vision to black-and-white – they’re the same concept, but the former is immensely more complex.

Jon Katz, author of The New Work of Dogs says:

Pets adore their owners, to be sure–but not in the way that we love our own families. They are scholars of the people they live with. What drives them to be affectionate is pretty primitive: food, shelter, attachment. They’re not thinking, ‘This guy’s an interesting fellow, I’m going to be his friend’.”

I don’t think there’s a pet owner alive who doesn’t believe that animals have some sort of emotional life. That they feel joy, love, loneliness, sadness, empathy, disappointment, loyalty — that they have a sense of fun.

So we get really upset if we hear about some puppy mill breeder who keeps dozens of dogs penned up in one cage to live with their own crap. And they just keep breeding and breeding them to churn out more puppies. And if one of them dies they just get pitched into an incincerator. And that they’re raised only as a money-making product to sell to anyone with cash to do with what they will.

We get upset because we know those animals are suffering. It’s odd though that we don’t get upset when the animal is a pig or a cow or sheep or a chicken in exactly the same circumstances. Strange, eh?

Did you know that for the longest time we also believed that human infants had no emotional life – that infants didn’t even feel pain. Until the mid-1980s (ya, you read that correctly 1980s) surgeries of all sorts were performed on infants and older babies without anesthesia.  There are still hospitals today who perform circumcisions on male infants without anesthesia although it’s been pretty clearly proven that infants do feel and remember pain just like us grown-up humans. D’uh!

I’m using this to illustrate what incredible tunnel vision humans can have and how arrogant we are to persist in the belief that we are somehow amazingly unique creatures among all the other creatures in the universe including our own young.

I predict that one day, not too many generations from now, future humans are going to be looking back on us as ignorant barbarians for the way we thought of, and treated our fellow creatures.


27 responses to “Emo Critters

  1. My friend has a cat that does the exact same thing, but only to people he’s not VERY close to. He’s actually the SMARTER of his three cats, and he’ll intentionally draw you in by stretching out and purring, and as soon as you start petting him he’ll scratch/bite you and HARD.

    Crazy cats!

  2. I wonder what you feed your cat. Cecil Adams once cited a study in The Straight Dope that cats fed a purely vegetarian diet went blind. If you are not fully against animals being processed for food, but merely against the manner in which it is done, you should watch the HBO movie Temple Grandin. You say you hate television, but I think you would like this movie and would love to hear your opinion of it. She wanted the killing process of food animals to be as easy as possible and designed many things to that effect. I did once open a door of a barn and see a giant floor (the size of a high school gym) covered with baby chicks. It was the craziest thing I had ever seen and smelled, well, like crap. I have no idea what it was all about, it was a random stop on private property on a road trip, but I’m sure those little chicks were not having a good time. I love to eat meat, and was naturally given canine teeth for chewing it, but like Temple Grandin, I would like the process to be as humane as possible.

  3. A totally off the subject comment although you did mention Einstein. Did you know that the great niece of Einstein lives in Paris-in the Marais. It surprised me to learn this.

  4. My cat bites, too – but at least only when I touch parts where he doesn’t like to be touched. I’ve also tried a lot to teach him that biting shouldn’t be his first line of defense (hiss me a warning first, would you?) and that my hand won’t harm him, but to no avail. It’s especially vexing when you are asleep, cat on top, and you turn the wrong way and get woken by a painful, sharp bite.

    As for emotions: I am certain he can hold a grudge, too! He did once, for an entire day, for getting his food way too late.

    A hard lesson for your cat would be to maybe put hot chili sauce on your hand so that the bite itself leads to a rather painful experience. I have tried this on mice when they tried to bite their way out of their cage. I didn’t mistreat them – I just put chili powder where they would chew the plastic all night. It didn’t actually work – my mice were immune to hot chili powder and Sambal Olek sauce. They loved it. I had to use “Vicious Vampire” sauce, which is about as painfully spicy as it gets. The mice tried to bite, then frantically rubbed their noses and never bit the cage again, but stayed with the wood and other playthings I provided. No harm done – they lived a long, happy life.

  5. Ah…yes. Stupid cats. I never understood why they pull shit like that.

    Like when the come to you, purring and lying on your chest, asking to be petted. Which you do….until they decide they’ve had enough, and they start clawing and biting you.

    ..DUMB-ASS!!!! Who put a gun to your head, and demanded you climb up on me?

    But yes, of course, I do believe animals have emotions.

    When I visit my sister for the weekend, her Duck-Toller loves it. But when I leave, I swear, the dog GRIEVES.

    Long after I’m gone, I’m told she mopes for hours. Lying on the bed that I had slept in, and won’t play or accept treats or anything.

    (Okay, that’s a bit stupid too….but at least she doesn’t bite anyone.)

  6. Jmonkey – That’s exactly what my cat does- but he only does it to people he likes. Strangers he’ll be more wary around or disappear completely from.

    Geewits – My cat gets only meat don’t worry. I wouldn’t feed the only purely carnivorous critter in the animal kingdom on a vegetarian diet. He gets canned food – organic chicken, turkey, salmon, tuna and other fish and some dry stuff for his teeth. I’d give him beef and lamb too, but he doesn’t like those. I’m not going to try and tell any individual what to eat and what not to eat. My statement on the treatment of animals was a general philosophical one. And I really do believe that in the future we won’t be using animals for food anymore. But in the meantime, people have to do what they think is best and eat what they enjoy.

    Linda – Well, why didn’t you tell me sooner? We could have dropped in on her and had a chin-wag. I wonder if she’s a genius too?

    Puzzleponderer – Welcome to the blog. What an interesting name you have. Do you have a blog to go with it? Because that would be a pretty cool blog, I think. As for my cat, I really don’t think he bites me as a defensive thing. I think it’s all fun playtime to him. What he really needs is another cat to play with who will bite back. Also, I’m thinking rubbing my hands with Vicious Vampire hot sauce might hurt me more than it hurts him.

    Friar – If we follow Darwin’s thinking then the dog probably associates you with crazy fun times and that’s what he looks forward to and misses – not you necessarily. Or maybe he just loves you because you smell like bacon??

  7. Anyone who has ever loved a dog or cat that has been abused KNOWS they have all the same emotional issues that people who’ve been through abuse have.

    I think to understand pets we have to have REAL empathy. Empathy isn’t looking at others through our own experiences and relating our inner life to an animal. It’s the ability to see that other being as distinct and to use our experience as a jumping off point for getting to know them. We need to take in a lot more than we project.

    My son who is on the autism spectrum is much better at this than anyone else in our household. He has an innate understanding of babies, cats, dogs …and geese. In fact, we call him the goose whisperer. He has a hard time separating out and identifying his own emotions, or reading people’s faces or tones of voice, but he observes from such a place of …social anthropology…that he really “gets” the OTHER as long as they aren’t carrying a whole lotta human baggage.

  8. Hey, long time no comment, sorry. I still read your blog everyday. Unless you are in Paris but I’ll forgive you if you miss a few days.

    RadioLab did an excellent show on just this subject.


    If you have the time to listen to it it was fascinating. Basically they were saying that humans project our emotions onto animals.


  9. One of my cats used to do that. She’d get up on us, and it was as if she went crazy from the petting and bit us. Though actually she nipped rather than really bit. Same thing with a cat I was babysitting last month. It seems to be a pretty common behaviour in felines.

  10. Cats may think of them as love – or lust – bites. Watching cats maul each other during their version of sex can leave one wondering how the species survives.

    But hey. Us coyotes know how to fix that li’l biting problem for ya…

  11. Mudmama – That must be quite tough for your son sometimes, being able to absorb all that emotion from others. Interesting.

    Dave1949 – All rightee then. There are a lot of psychopathic scientists.

    LGS – No offence, but squirrels don’t inspire any emotion in me but creep-out. They’re like big nasty rats.

    Eyeteaguy – I still blogged while I was in Paris, so I expected you to be here reading and commenting!! LOL. I don’t think we are clever enough to understand animal emotions without projecting our own emotions on to them. On the other hand, I’m not sure we could live with ourselves if we really believed that animals felt in exactly the same way that we do. How could any feeling human being reconcile that while enjoying a bucket of fried chicken?

    Jazz – If it was only nipping, I wouldn’t even mind so much. Sometimes Bazel gets really intense about it. His ears go back and his eyes get big and black and he’s out for blood. I actually have to grab him by the scruff of the neck and forcibly drag him off me.(Don’t worry, he won’t hurt you when you visit. He only does that to me and XUP Jr.)

    Coyotes – First, let me congratulate you on becoming pluralized. Can we expect a formal announcement soon? And yes, I think you’re right. It’s some sort of play. I’m sure he considers me his littermate who just happens to be cleverer at finding food than he is. We had his mother with him when we first got him and they used to play pretty rough together – lots of biting and kicking. I guess that was imprinted early on and that’s just the way he rolls now.

  12. Of course animals have emotions and I agree with your last two points in particular. As you said with regards to babies, you can strip emotion away from ALL beings who are unable to talk, but that is out-dated and dangerous to do.

    I hope we’re evolving.

  13. My cat is a biter too…usually pretty gentle unless she’s really pissed off. When we “play” she never uses her claws, but will bite.

    My theory on the biting (with my cat) is that she was separated from her mother too young and never properly weaned. When she bites while being petted, she goes after my hand and and tends to hold on gently, like she’s trying to suckle. Maybe she’s a vampire cat?

  14. I had a cat that liked to bite hard when things weren’t going exactly as she wanted – like not being petted far enough down the forehead or something similar. I was told that she likely was taken away from her sibs too soon, or just didn’t interact with them long enough to learn how to ‘nip’ instead of ‘bite’.
    However, when my current cat does bite, I can see anger or fear in her eyes.
    When I looked after my SIL’s dog for a week, the poor thing wandered from room to room looking for her and I swear looked disappointed every time he realized it was only me. He had no interest in eating or playing. I have never seen such a change as when my SIL returned from sad and despondent to insanely happy.
    At least he never bit me.

  15. A little note on cats: They love to give “affectionate” bites. I don’t know if this is what Bazel is doing, but my cats do it to me all the time.

    Anyways, animals absolutely feel emotions as well as pain and I agree, it shows just how arrogant and stupid people can be. Dolphins and whales, in particular, have complex moods and emotions, as well as great intelligence. Its too bad that certain people don’t see this and just want to kill them off!

  16. It always amazes me when people say animals have no emotions (or thoughts, or they don’t dream). You just have to observe one for a little while to see that is patently not true.

    I am a little afraid of cats because they seem to claw you for no reason, although, I guess they might have a reason but it’s just not apparent to me. On the other hand, I lived with two different cats on separate occasions and they never bit or clawed me. But the hamsters would bite, unprovoked. I was always a little afraid of them too. And I used to be afraid of horses but that was because they could squash me like a bug. But I got used to horses that one year that I rode them every week and I haven’t been afraid of them since. But I’ve never been afraid of dogs, even though I have been bitten and clawed. Maybe it’s a cultural thing.

  17. Parasol – I’m really amazed that you’re the only one who commented on the baby thing. I found that absolutely horrible. It’s taking us an awfully long time to evolve. It wasn’t too long ago that we thought people of other colours or women were lesser human beings.

    Paul – Mine never uses his claws on me either, but he bites really hard – no gentle nipping. I think it probably has something to do with him not having enough time to bond with his mother or siblings. Though I believe he was 6-8 weeks old when we got him and then we had the mother with him for another 2 weeks, so…

    Violetsky – Ya, Bazel gets that evil angry look sometimes too. He’ll sometimes stalk us around the house – especially XUP Jr. – and jump her leg and dig his teeth in and grab hold of her, trying to bring her down like a gazelle. It’s frightening and yet hilariously funny to watch.

    Pauline – No, it’s not affectionate little bites. He takes chunks of my flesh away with him. And I don’t care what the animal is, they should all be treated with the same amount of respect. That’s the problem with the “save the whales” and “anti-sealing” campaigns. Why is it any worse to slaughter a seal than it is to slaughter a pig or a cow?

    Julia – Cats are pretty scary. I’m scared of mine sometimes, too. He’s really strong and determined to kill and eat us sometimes and it takes a great deal of effort to get away from him. I make sure he’s really well fed before I go to sleep at night because he knows how to open my bedroom door.
    I had my face bitten quite seriously by a dog when I was about 4. I have a healthy respect for all critters. I think they have a lot more going on in their little noggins than we give them credit for and I reckon they could take us down any time they wanted to — most of them — maybe not the hamsters.

  18. Coffee The Prettiest Cat Ever absolutely does feel emotion.
    She’s happy when Daddy gets home after being away for more than a couple days, to the point that she does her “Daddy’s Home” dance.
    She’s pissed off when I’m away for more than a couple days, and when I get home, she shows her displeasure at her abandonment by crapping at the bottom of the basement stairs — after having done the “Daddy’s Home” dance, of course.
    She’s playful a lot, hiding in front of the couch so she can cut me off when I come out of the kitchen; and when she races me up the stairs, hides inside the bedroom door, and cuts me off when I walk by. I swear she’s actually laughing and smiling in both those instances.
    And she’s mischievous and ill-behaved at times. I can tell by the look in her eyes that she’s turning into Bitey McBiterson, right before she chomps into my arm. These are deliberate bites, not the usual nips when during playtime. When she does bite maliciously, I chase her off my lap and ignore her for a while. It doesn’t as often as it used to. Maybe she did learn.

  19. We have a cat in the family that is exactly like that. As a matter of fact, the first time I ever met Donna’s mother, I went to pet him (it’s her cat) and after purring for about 5 seconds he bit the sit out of me. He does the same thing to everyone, too. Such an independent bastard, he is. He grew up with dogs that weren’t very nice, so they thought that was why, but who knows?? He is crazy about his owner (sleeps with her, follows her around, sits on her, demands attention, the whole thing) but he still bites her – she constantly has a scab here or there to prove it.

    No one will ever convince me that my dog doesn’t have a billion different emotions – not even if they have proof. She does and I know it 😉 She’ll probably tell you, too! Oh yeah. Big time.

    And my god I do think about the pig and the cow and the chicken and whatever else, all of it, and it just kills me. I have to stop myself because if I think about it too much I’ll go insane, no joke. I cannot handle it. There is a live export trade of animals here in Australia that I can’t even hear about without bursting into tears because it’s so awful. Ugh, I can’t. And the worst part is that I’m not a vegetarian (Donna calls me a closet vegetarian). Which, my god, is a whole new discussion. Ranting again.

  20. Bob – Do you think maybe all that “cutting” you off stuff Coffee is doing is her attempt to trip you and kill you? Does she ever do it at the top of the stairs?

    Monica -Good grief! If you’re that distressed over the plight of farmed animals how on earth can you bring yourself to eat them? Do you know there’s a theory that when animals live in misery and suffering and die a horrifying death, all those emotions are absorbed in their cells (in the same way human theory says that a lot of anger, stress, etc. can mutate cells into cancer). Anyway, when you eat these animals you are consuming all that misery, suffering and fear and absorbing it into your own cellular structure. (Just a little something to help push you over the edge… into vegetarianism, of course…you’re welcome) Donna’s mother’s cat, btw, sounds exactly like Bazel.

  21. I caught Max (aka Evil Ninja Assassin Cat) near the phone yesterday, looking guilty. I think he calls Bazel while you and I are at work and they plan their reigns of terror together.

  22. the difference between human emotion and animal emotion is that animals don’t think that their emotions mean something.

    You might have a point there, XUP.
    The cats are conspiring to wipe out all humans.
    Will a tinfoil hat protect me?

  24. Alison – I think we’d better start making some counter-attack plans.

    Gokalie – You don’t think they sit around saying “Now what do you think she meant by “bad kitty”??? Do you think she hates me? What if she doesn’t come home until late? OMG!! I hate that. She might be out petting other kitties….”

    Bob – A suit of armour maybe. You should go get one right now and wear it all the time.

  25. The cat probably just wants to play. I play with my cats, though always with safety equipment.

    Playing is very important for cats to use their instincts; if they don’t get to run out this energy, then they’ll use whatever is near them as an outlet.

    Cats are very much still wild animals on the inside, it’s just that they’re smaller and less deadly than a tiger trying to do the same thing and it being called “turning on their owner.”

    First, just try dragging something around (a shoelace with a knot on the end or something) and see if he’ll chase it. Or wave it in the air. Some cats prefer ground prey, others air, some will do both. Maybe see if he’ll chase little jingle-balls around if you roll them. Go at it until he’s tired or loses interest. You’ll learn tricks to keep it interesting the more you do it.

    If that works, then he can associate the toy with playing, instead of your hand. Then hopefully eventually just associate your hand with petting, since he has a different outlet for play.

    However, if that doesn’t work out after a few months of trying, then perhaps a conditional hand-play ritual might have to happen. I do this with my sis’s cat, and all the cats I grew up with at home. If they’re clearly playful (wide eyes, twitching tail, or they go for biting me), then I get out my “safety equipment.”

    They have play-gloves in some pet sections of stores (reinforced gloves with danglies for them to play with, so it can be used for toy play AND hand play), or usually I put three thick socks or a pillow-case over my arm, wrapping it tightly and gripping the loose part in my fist… and proceed to wrestle the heck outta the cat. You’d be surprised how rough they can get, or let YOU get, if they really get into it. Some will just play rather gently and gnaw on the wrapping, others will scream and hiss and rabbit-kick and try to pull out pieces!

    My mom’s 14 year old cat Muffin still ADORES when I come for a visit, and initiates play so I wrap up my arm with sheets and we go wild. She likes to bite and growl for a while, clawing and kicking while I rapidly rub her belly or try to ‘pounce’ at her flanks or ruffle her back, then she likes to be chased and cornered under furniture where she fights extra hard. To her, it’s exciting. She’s an adrenaline junkie.

    Don’t worry, I designate “safe zones” where she can retreat to and rest between rounds (such as the un-carpeted kitchen, where food/water is and so she doesn’t slip… litter-box room, etc), she’s learned which ones I won’t attack her in, and which ones she can “hide” at but still get attacked. To her, it’s all part of the real-fight simulation, which she absolutely loves. It’s what has kept her so young. :3 (She also loves to just randomly gallop loudly around the whole house like a little horse!)

    Some cats would rather do the chasing, or just wrestle till they’re done, you’ll find out through experience which type yours is. This method seems more fulfilling to most cats, who would rather play with an equal instead of just hunting small prey. But on the possible downside, they’ll associate you with the play more directly and will still attack you (to play) when you might not be ready. Though some will just hint at wanting to play, then wait until you don your wrapping before they really go for you. Depends on the individual and how ritualized you make the activity. So if you do this hand-play method, it will become a commitment, especially in the evenings/nights before bed.

    The most ideal would indeed be to get him another cat to play with. He’ll learn boundaries in a more direct way, from a fellow animal who won’t be afraid to hurt him back and teach him, or if they both want to play, their skin is tough enough to handle it without restraint. Then you can just toy-play with them to keep your bond going. If you pet them when they’re exhausted and done play-fighting, you might finally get away without getting mauled since it’ll be out of their systems.

    Though again, I’ll warn you: Muffin was such a rough player, both with me, AND with other cats. We were fortunate to have Smokey, an ex-feral cat, who was equally into super-rough play. If ANYONE were witnessing, they’d swear they were fighting for real. Fur and sometimes blood would fly, and they’d scream and hiss and roar! Bang each other’s heads against the walls! I mean holy crap! But then afterward, they’d snuggle into each other, purring up a storm and falling asleep. Any other times, they’d eat together and lounge with each other.

    So, you gotta get REALLY good at reading body language to know if cats are fighting or playing. If they’re angry or just trying to initiate play. It can be very subtle, and you just gotta get to know them. Most of the key is in their behavior/vocalizations BEFORE the play. Usually cats will “argue” in high-pitched voices, having a stare-off, before an actual fight. But with play, they might just stare for a sec, tails twitching, then leap right into it.

    Aaaah, wrote way too much, but I just had to share this from having constantly been surrounded by cats for 28 years ongoing. Best of luck to you.

    (I wanna also share how Muffin, without a doubt, understands at least 15-20% of the English vocabulary I use around the house, but I guess that’s another story)