Cats are generally not of much use to us

THIS weekend, we’ve had the pleasure of my 18-month-old godson and his parents up from Hampshire to stay for a couple of days.

He’s considerably more mobile than he was the last time we saw him only a few weeks ago and since his mum and dad don’t have any pets, they were a little concerned about introducing him to our menagerie.

We weren’t all that worried about the reaction of our two dogs and three cats to Sebastian, being well used to young children belonging to various friends and family.

Little Seb however, didn’t have any experience of how to approach them or react to their approaching him.

Everything was fine after careful introductions and some expert coaching from mum and dad.

A couple of the cats are more than willing to put up with some patting and stroking before they’ve had enough and make for either under-bed hidey holes or outdoors, and Eric the scruffy mutt always seems to have had quite an affinity with toddlers.

The weekend did get us looking much more closely than normal at the way our cats and dogs behaved around the house, and at the differences between them.

In terms of hierarchy, the dogs are of course bottom of the pile while the cats seem to think they are very much at the top.

Cats are becoming more and more popular as pets and there seems to be a growing tendency to try to treat them like little dogs. They are of course nothing of the sort.

Cats are generally not of much use to us. Apart from their frequently overstated ability to keep our homes free of mice, cats have not followed the path of domestication based on training to task that has been followed by dogs.

Despite their popularity as pets, humans have achieved little success in altering the basic design of the cat.

The comparison with the way in which we have manipulated dog genes to produce animals as diverse as the chihuahua and Great Dane is quite amazing really.

The cat is a perfectly-evolved and highly-adapted territorial predator, and yet in many cases seems content in living indoors.

They are interesting because they are affectionate towards us and yet are self-determining in a way that dogs rarely are. With rare exceptions like William – one of my own cats – few will dutifully follow their owners around for an hour on a dog walk for example.

People seem either to love or hate the cat’s independence and desire to be fed, sheltered and loved on its own terms, while remaining completely aloof.

Unlike dogs, the cat has no need of us for actual survival and hence no need to accept a subordinate position in our family in exchange for the benefits of food and shelter.

The process of domestication never really touched that successful evolution as a hunter and all cats (maybe with the exception of the likes of Persians) remain extremely proficient and active predators given either the opportunity or necessity. Urban tigers one minute, babes in arms the next – a perfect contrast.

I’m afraid I sat down and started these musings without really thinking about what the point of them was.

Cats, however, represent around half of the patients in our consulting rooms and feline medicine has made major advances over the years as our demand to keep our cats healthy has risen.

There is a huge amount that we can do that would have been unthinkable only 20 years ago, and our dedicated cat ward means we can cater for their own very special ways. Sometimes they really do need us.

CHRIS GREEN, Director and

Senior Vet