bunn (bunn) wrote,

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Culture and cats

Earlier this year we added the two Bengals to our household of cats. Their integration has been....

The Bengals were in many ways quite different to the rest of our cats. They growl a lot, even if they aren't particularly angry. They have NO concept of personal space (this is a big one: normally personal space is a really important cat concept). And they are very confident (some would say overconfident) and don't take a hint. Teaching them things like 'you don't climb up people's trousers to get at the plate they are holding' took more effort than I am used to!

What I don't know is how far this is a real 'culture', due to how they were raised, and how far it's inbuilt in them genetically, and how far it is down to them just being quite young still. It probably fits with 'culture' in that elements of it appear to be transmissable, at least.

Anyway I think it would be reasonable to say that they had a very different culture (for want of another word) to the more subtle and 'political' existing cat culture. I shall call this the Moggies. A Moggy cat could make a statement just by his exact choice of where to sit within a room. That sort of statement would be totally ignored by the Bengals, who probably wouldn't even notice it. Most manoevering went on at quite a distance, and it was very clearly hierarchical, with poor Footie as bottom cat coming in for quite a lot of chasing and terrorising.

To start with, the existing cats were quite terrified of the Bengals, who clearly came across to them as extremely aggressive and territorial. They invaded their space, they didn't accept reprimands the first time they were given, and they *growled* all the time! Of our two existing 'top cats' Henning became a sad terrified cat who sat outside a lot looking miserable: Perl kept her distance and was unusually quiet, though the effect on her personal confidence was not as severe as Henning's. Kjetil kept away from the Bengal invasion of his space, with huge athletic leaps that they could not match. Footie was the only one who seemed pleased - the disruption of the normal hierarchy took the pressure off him.

But this state of affairs did not last. Now, I believe that the two cat cultures have merged.

The Moggies have become more Bengalish. They growl more, and have become much more tolerant of their personal space. They will tolerate a nose applied too close, for too long, to the bottom with reasonable grace, and if they cannot put up with it any longer, will reprove the offender by growling or bopping with a paw rather than running away or staging a fullscale attack.

The Bengals on their part have learned a little Moggy. They are not quick learners as cats go, but they have learned that they cannot simply charge up to a Moggy without regretting it. I think they are getting some of the Moggy signals. And they have learned to jump out of the way of other cats as the Moggies do, although given that they are still rather clumsy, this is not always a successful manoever.

They have also learned which of the Moggies will tolerate a certain amount of Bengalling about (Footie and Kjetil) and which are likely to punish encroachment with a fierce attack (Perl, but Henning has started doing it too now he has got his confidence back).

The end result seems to be that we are ending up with a 'flatter' structure than before and a more flexible social structure. Instead of one 'bottom' cat who is kept firmly in his place, we have a number of cats who may be reproved by other cats in particular situations. For example, yesterday Footie got possession of a bowl with some milk from cereal left in the bottom of it. Despite 2 Bengals and a Henning being in the room, he fiercely defended his prize by growling, and the other cats respected his control over the resource.

This is a big step for the Bengals, who previously considered all foods to be theirs for the taking, and a big step for Footie, who is definitely getting more respect now that he is more vocal.

Unfortunately, on that occasion he was in a position where he couldn't retreat without showing his tail, and was clearly becoming uncomfortable. I cut short the experiment by picking him up and moving him to somewhere where he could retreat safely. Otherwise I think once he started to move, both Yama and Henning would have gone after him.
Tags: bungles, cats

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