Musing over mews

There is something about them... their antics... their cute li’l paws. Thanks to the unique, mysterious charm, popularity of cats is surging 

What goes on in the mind of a cat? Do cats love us? Answers to these questions have evaded humankind from time immemorial. These questions formed the crux of the recent Netflix documentary Inside The Mind of A Cat that has created a global purr. 

There are over 40 crore domesticated cats or Felis catus across the world. And there are a huge number of misconceptions, too, about them. Cats are not loyal, they are cunning, they act pricey, etc, are some of them.  

Yet, the cat remains a perennial internet celeb. Cat videos are always among the top picks in web search trends. Also, it is said that featuring a cat in a video or pic is likely to spike the number of ‘likes’ one gets in the web world.

Covid saw a surge in people opting for a pet. Though dogs remain the top favourite, cats are upping their game. The number of cat owners has increased at least by five times over the past four years, notes Dr T K Soorej of Cochin Pets Hospital. “Cats are cute, independent, and low-maintenance pets,” he adds. 

“In flats, it would be difficult to raise a dog. So many people go for cats. Also, if you’re a busy family, you can leave the cats at home and go anywhere, without much worry.” Cats and dogs are worlds apart and can never replace the other, says Soorej, who has both as pets. “In my opinion, not everyone can become a cat parent, especially someone who is used to having a dog. Cats have an independent nature, they don’t always come to you for petting, and won’t follow you all the time like a dog,” he says. 

“They have their own personality. Only if you can adjust to the fact that a cat now owns you, one should go for one.” When dog owners dominate in numbers, why are cats more popular on the internet? What are cats one of the most searched words on YouTube, far ahead of dogs? 

Dr Sheena G Soman, consultant psychiatrist, Mental Health Centre in Thiruvananthapuram, says the behaviour of cats has a lot to do with it. “It’s amusing to watch them, their actions are peculiar. Cats have their own parallel world, and we never know what is happening there,” says the dog-lover doc.

“They are smaller and untamed. As people had to be confined to their homes during the pandemic, for most the only connection with nature was these videos. Animal videos are a great stress buster and provide a serotonin boost.”

Dr Sheena says she has observed some traits of cat owners. “They don’t seek out human interactions,” she says. “They are more independent and need their own space.” 

Possessive Pinky
Automotive expert and cat lover Lekshmi C Pillai agrees on the ‘cat world’ part. “Cats are wonderful souls, with their own personalities. Independent and intelligent,” she adds. Lekshmi has four cats at home, all rescued from the streets. She has named them Kunjanee, Lallu, Makku and Pinky. “They have different personalities, except for their common love for fish,” she says.

“Pinky loves sleeping in my bed, and she is so possessive that she won’t let anyone else near it.”  Lekshmi has three rescue dogs, too. They all get along well, she adds. “Of course, cats will fight, but there have been no casualties,” says Lekshmi. “They have a special cry, and that means I have to rein in the dogs!”  

Dr Soorej says such behaviour is because cats “get stressed” more easily than dogs. “They always need a secure and protected place to be comfortable,” he adds. “Removing even a piece of furniture from their preferred space would trigger stress. A lot of guests, noise, etc, make them uneasy.”

Krishnan Mohanlal, a cat parent and IT employee in Thiruvananthapuram, says cats are “more intelligent” than most other pets. He, in fact, believes cat owners are more intelligent than dog owners. 
“Cats are more curious, explorative. They also have a streak of nonchalance, and can take care of themselves well,” he says. “No wonder it is said that a cat adopts its master. A cat allows us to pet them. It is its own master. But love them, and they turn affectionate. But it is hard to train them.”  Krishnan has four rescue cats. Two of them were adopted and the others he found abandoned on a street.

Cat & art
Writer Vaikom Muhammad Basheer used to be a proud cat parent. He even wrote a short novel, Manthrikappoocha, on the antics of his cat and how it helped promote harmony. Many writers, poets and artists have used cats as the subjects of their works. Artist Babitha Rajiv’s recent painting depicts a cat tied down by a few mice. “He can easily escape and attack. However, with one tooth out, he is smiling in the painting,” she says. “It is a fun take on how the people, especially common people, don’t use their real power in society.”   

Another painting depicts the different emotions of a chubby cat. He is curious, fighting, lazy, sleeping, sunbathing and playful. “I used to have several cats,” says Babitha. “But I still wonder whether they loved me, cared for me.”  The Netflix documentary, too, ends with the age-old question: Do cats love us? As of now, experts say one can “hope so”. The mystery mews on.

Cat call
During the pandemic lockdowns, there was an explosion in the number of pets in Kerala, especially cats. “Though dogs are more in number, the rate at which cats have grown is tremendous,” says a former distributor of a popular cat food brand. “The past two years saw 50-60 per cent increase in cat ownership. The volume of cat food buyers grew by 40 per cent.” Notably, the Indian pet food industry has been booming. A study by Mordor Intelligence says pet food constitutes half of India’s pet care market, which is valued at over Rs 8,000 crore per year. And in this zone, cats have put up an impressive show. Nestle India, which has forayed into the pet food sector, notes the Indian cat food market is growing by 35 per cent.

Perfect predator
Scientists across the world say cats are “perfect predators”. Domestic cats evolved directly from the African wild cats. And, so far, their DNA hasn’t gone through any significant changes, say experts. That means domestic cats are essentially ‘wild animals’ in one’s household.  

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