Sunday, 15 September 2013

Cat Sense: The Feline Enigma Revealed by John Bradshaw

As much as I love cats, I'm not normally a fan of books about cats.  They tend to be way too cosy for my taste, and too full of home-spun wisdom, which I am not a fan of at all.  But I was excited to read Cat Sense as it promised to be a scientific portrayal of cats, written by author who works in feline science and based on proper research.  Divided into three parts, Cat Sense covers the history of cats and their domestication, scientific explanations for their behaviour and challenges faced by cats as they live in great numbers alongside humans.

I have always been a cat lover.  Growing up, we always had a pet cat, first Stumpy (black and white) and then Phoebe (tortoise shell), who still lives with my parents and is now the grand old age of seventeen.  Currently, my husband and I share our house with Joseph, a tabby who is almost three years old, who we have had from a kitten.   He is spoiled rotten and basically does what he likes, whenever he feels like it!  Every cat I have ever owned has been completely different, so I was interested to pick up Cat Sense and learn more about what scientists have discovered about cat behaviour and emotion.

The first part of the book, which was a history of cats and their relationship with humans, was completely fascinating.  There was quite a lot of information on genetics, the ancestors of modern day pet cats and the genetic relationship between domestic and wild cats (not as far apart as you would think!).  I genuinely found this interesting, especially when Bradshaw discussed the genes responsible for cat colouring and markings.  I had no idea that blotched tabbies (like Joseph, but you can't see his blotches in the picture above), which are so common in the UK, are rare in other parts of the world.  It's also interesting how some features, such as white paws, have survived because we like them, even though they are counter-productive to the cat's role as a hunter.

After the history, Bradshaw moved on to the science behind cat behaviour, which took up the bulk of the book.  A lot of the information won't be new to anyone who has owned a cat or even observed one, but it was interesting to read about the studies that scientists have carried out.  The section I most enjoyed dealt with the way cats think, their emotions and their personalities.  The idea that animals have distinct personalities and can experience emotion in a similar way to humans is a modern one in science, so I was glad to see Bradshaw outlining the research in this area so far.  As much as this section on cat behaviour was interesting, I felt like it was overly long and too heavily skewed towards the author's own work.

Finally, Bradshaw covers several issues facing cats and their owners, such as what the rising numbers of neutered cats will mean for future kittens.  My cat was neutered at six months and I have always assumed this was the right and responsible thing to do, but Bradshaw argues that this narrows the choice of available males to part feral ones, meaning that the most domesticated, docile cats do not breed, and this could have consequences for the future.  He also discusses the way wildlife campaigners have targeted cats and campaigned for things like cat curfews, and whether this actually has any impact on the population of wild animals in the area.

On the whole, Cat Sense was an enjoyable book if not a mind-blowing one.  It was full of interesting information but tended to be over-long and wasn't always written in the most engaging style.   However, if you like cats and want to find out more about them, Cat Sense won't disappoint.

Source: From the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
First Published: August 2013
Score: 3 out of 5


  1. I love my cats and books that tell me more about these great creatures are usually good fun. Thanks for the tip!

    Kind regards,

  2. I need to get my name on the waiting list for this at the library. I am new to cats as I only got my two girls, Mabel and Flora, three years ago and hadn't been around cats very much before that. This would be helpful in understanding their crazy behavior!
    Joseph is adorable :-)

  3. This sounds really interesting, although I always approach these kinds of books with some skepticism, because there is SO MUCH conflicting research out there about animal behaviors. But being a new cat owner (We've had Gabby for a little over a year, and she's my first), I think at least the history aspect would be really, really cool. I'm going to scope the library for this one.

    1. Yes, understanding animal behaviour is certainly a minefield. The history was fascinating and is much more straight forward than the science!

  4. I'm a huuge cat person and it's sad to say I haven't really read any books about cats, except the one I once bought that talks about how to raise them and common sicknesses etc. I think it would be quite eye-opening to read such a book!

  5. That's an interesting point about the neutering of cats, although considering the high volume of cats in shelters, many of whom still have great personalities, it's hard to think of a future where neutering has reached such a point where it's messed with the gene pool.