The secret lives of cats
November 18, 2014 8:35 AM   Subscribe

Playful pets, fearsome fighters or deadly hunters? Millions of us have cats in our homes, yet we know very little about them. In this series, Liz Bonnin joins forces with some of the world's top cat experts to conduct a groundbreaking scientific study. With GPS trackers and cat cameras, we follow 100 cats in three very different environments to find out what they get up to when they leave the cat flap.
Last October, BBC's flagship science programme Horizon devoted a series of 3 episodes to tracking and analysing the secret lives of cats. These episodes are now available on Youtube.

In the first programme we discover how our cats see, hear and smell the world with the senses of their wild ancestors, and why this could be making life difficult for them in the modern world.

Episode 2: Liz Bonnin and some of the world's top cat experts put Ozzy and Smudge under surveillance to find out who is king of the street and reveal why, no matter how hard we try, we can't keep our cats' hunting instincts under control.

Episode 3 reveals the secret language of cats and why they meow to us but not each other.
posted by MartinWisse (54 comments total) 97 users marked this as a favorite
 
No mention I see of this shocking tell-all book (and upcoming documentary)!
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:39 AM on November 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


Awesome!

/very into the who spying on cats genre.
/be careful with Lost Cat, that one will make you sad.
posted by Artw at 8:41 AM on November 18, 2014


Sweet, I will bookmark this to watch later. Is the answer that cats are weird?
posted by Librarypt at 8:49 AM on November 18, 2014


I loved this when it was on. I especially liked the big Ginger Tom who owned the village in Scotland...
posted by billiebee at 8:57 AM on November 18, 2014


This summer series two delved into the psychology of cats. Probably the most pronounced ratio of "zero actual information that isn't total drivel" to "who gives a shit this thing is so very full of delightful slow-mo footage of cats" that will ever be seen in a tv show.
posted by ominous_paws at 9:00 AM on November 18, 2014


I know exactly what my cats are up to, because they are safely inside my apartment! No mysteries from those fuzzballs. I like animal surveillance though.
posted by agregoli at 9:02 AM on November 18, 2014


I don't know, agregoli. I suspect my indoor cats are up to all sorts of stuff I don't know about. Last night we heard this guy open the junk drawer in the next room, rummage around in there for about five minutes, shut it behind him and jump down, then wander into the living room and plop down ultra-casually as if he hadn't been doing who knows what in there.
posted by something something at 9:05 AM on November 18, 2014 [11 favorites]


I've had cats all my life so when I first read earlier this year (?) that cats only meow to us and not each other, it completely blew mind. Now I watch my three constantly to see if it's true (apparently it is!) and it makes me wonder what kind of discussions I've been having with my cats for the past 47 years.
posted by _Mona_ at 9:07 AM on November 18, 2014 [9 favorites]


If you want to be very up close and personal with very new kitties, Dorothy, the momma cat at Tiny Kittens, just has kittens last night. They are learning how to nurse right now. And Marge, the momma cat at The Critter Room, should go into labor very soon. Right now the Critter Room camera is showing greatest kitten hits, but it will switch over pretty soon.
posted by ChuraChura at 9:07 AM on November 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


My cats make trilling noises at each other - not full meows, but definitely mrrrts. And yeah they go exploring in my house but it wouldn't be particularly interesting to camera them up to find out exactly what. Poke, investigate, sometimes steal. That's about it.
posted by agregoli at 9:16 AM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


My cats make trilling noises at each other - not full meows, but definitely mrrrts.

One of my cats ONLY ever makes "mrrrts" (perfect way to describe it). I have not heard him meow once.
posted by Librarypt at 9:37 AM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


When my wife and I first got cats, almost fifteen years ago, we bought one of those "how to take care of your cat" books. It included a chapter on cat sociology, which had an interesting layout of the way a neighbourhood might be divided amongst different outdoor cats, their hierarchies, etc. It also claimed that outdoor cats sometimes have these "meetings" where a group of them sit around and...? NOBODY KNOWS. I have been a cat owner since childhood and have been living in cities for my entire life and I have never seen more than two cats just hanging out together in an alleyway or whatever, but ever since I've read that I've been kind of obsessed with seeing one of these alleged meetings go down.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:38 AM on November 18, 2014 [14 favorites]


KITTIES
posted by The Whelk at 9:40 AM on November 18, 2014 [9 favorites]


TIL somebody else named their cat Smudge. :)
posted by starbreaker at 9:44 AM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Probably the most pronounced ratio of "zero actual information that isn't total drivel" to "who gives a shit this thing is so very full of delightful slow-mo footage of cats" that will ever be seen in a tv show.

I don't think you've ever seen Cats 101.
posted by maryr at 9:45 AM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


When we first adopted her, our youngest cat, Moxie Parker (aka Pooper), was nicknamed Mousie because she didn't meow; she just emitted a series of tiny squeaks. Four years later, she can occasionally be bothered to meow, but it's still a series of squeaks, whimpers, and chirps.
posted by Kitteh at 9:51 AM on November 18, 2014


At the tiny kittens link the human just came into the room with the kitties to do something and mama kitty is not happy about this development.
posted by bowmaniac at 9:53 AM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you want to know what your "happy family" of cats is doing while you are asleep or away, have a look at the third episode. TL;DV: Despite what we may think, unrelated cats confined to a home or similarly restricted urban environment are in a constant state of territorial conflict, and to the extent that they appear to be peacefully coexisting it is likely due to strategies they have developed to avoid spending much time together when awake.
posted by slkinsey at 9:54 AM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


That's odd--I frequently find my two cats sleeping together when I get home from work. They have their territorial skirmishes now and then, but they're usually within two feet of each other when I find them. When they're awake, they're almost always in the same room together.
posted by TrialByMedia at 9:57 AM on November 18, 2014


Cool. At first I thought it was just another link to "The Secret Life of the Cat", Horizon 2013, but it appears to be all new.

Cats do seem to be into timesharing and poking about other yards and houses.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:01 AM on November 18, 2014


Conclusion: They're sneaky bastards.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 10:03 AM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


slkinsey, that made me laugh out loud! My two boys play rough and tumble, then cuddle up together, clean each others faces, and sleep. They do almost everything together, and they are not related. So despite what you might think, that's not always true.
posted by agregoli at 10:04 AM on November 18, 2014


ever since I've read that I've been kind of obsessed with seeing one of these alleged meetings go down.

Watch Reservoir Dogs but in you mind swap the people with cats and all the talking and movement with tail flips and the blood with hurt feelings and chagrin. It works best if all the cats are tuxedos.
posted by srboisvert at 10:11 AM on November 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


Ooh! Ooh! Is this where I get to self-link to the time-lapse video I made to observe the secret life of my cat when I was out of the apartment?
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 10:16 AM on November 18, 2014 [27 favorites]


Looking forward to watching these.

I've got a triller, a squeaker and a yowler. Pretty easy to tell which one is waking me up for the umpteenth time every damn night.
posted by wallabear at 10:17 AM on November 18, 2014


Cat the Cat NEVER meowed, we thought she was mute, only letting out a moaning sound when she really needed attention - like stuck outside in a thunderstorm.

ODDLY, she did meow at strangers to get their attention
posted by The Whelk at 10:22 AM on November 18, 2014


Lucy the obese semi-feral tailless cat that my aunt guilted me into adopting (well-known in chat) squeaks and hops instead of meowing or running. She looks like a bunny-cat hybrid.

Also the Tinykittens link is adorable, though one of the kittens (#4) was apparently a preemie and cannot latch properly and has creepy looking paws. I'm waiting for the vet visit.
posted by jeather at 10:41 AM on November 18, 2014


Amazing! I would have loved to know what my old, outdoor cat got up to all day. My current kitty, on the other hand is decidedly an indoor cat. Any attempts to spy on her throughout the day have led to the somewhat disturbing conclusion that she actually does sleep for 23.5 hours a day.
posted by fermezporte at 10:44 AM on November 18, 2014


That is an amazingly great video, BuddhaInABucket!
posted by jamjam at 10:53 AM on November 18, 2014


My cat has what my roommate calls "a sad, broken meow" - she just kind of suggests a meow at times. I look forward to watching this when not at work.
posted by maryr at 10:56 AM on November 18, 2014


Any time you have more than one animal in your home they create their own little mini-society separate from yours, complete with rituals, habits, pecking orders, etc. We currently have two cats, but for a long while we had three (and for a month or two, four), and watching them go about their Cat Business has always been interesting.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:05 AM on November 18, 2014


Does the BBC series explain how cats get wedged into scanners, and why? WORTHLESS OTHERWISE
posted by scratch at 11:06 AM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


What does it mean that my (lone) cat mostly squawks at us like an angry goat?

(She will also mrrrrt three times in response to "peekaboo." But only three.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:27 AM on November 18, 2014


I saw these shortly after they first aired, and was really intrigued by one aspect they discuss of hunting; that cats born and raised in the city or suburbs don't really have the same efficiency when it comes to mousing, but one that had been brought to the suburbs from a farm as a kitten was an absolute killer.

The conclusion was that the time spent with the mother was critical to teaching the kitten how to take out bigger prey (as evidenced by the clip where they have a full sized rat toy that most of the cats ignore, but the farm kitten immediately attacks.)

We've been trying to figure out why one of our cats who loves catching things rarely if ever actually kills them - our original thought being that once they were dead, they weren't as much fun to torment. But not having been trained in the art of the kill, it's possible she just might not know how.

Another thing I really liked was the communal (as opposed to territorial) aspect that the farm cats shared. When they were in a shared space, all their tails went up like flagpoles, probably signifying that they were one of the group. Ever since then, we've noticed our cats doing the same thing when they all walk into the bedroom or kitchen.

Good stuff.
posted by quin at 11:34 AM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


oh my God why would anyone ever post a kitten cam when i have work to do

WHY
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:38 AM on November 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


but ever since I've read that I've been kind of obsessed with seeing one of these alleged meetings go down.

I've seen my Fry and two other cats doing this, I suppose, but it was sort of like a so-called Mexican standoff in that they were at a distance from each other and testing how close they each would get. The distances each would apparently tolerate from each of the others were noticeably different (as in a Pythagorean triangle).
posted by dhartung at 12:04 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is presented as though the BBC itself uploaded these to YouTube.
posted by OwlBoy at 12:51 PM on November 18, 2014


It was over a year after Chairman Mao chose us as his staff before he audibly purred but he has been a "talker" since day one. He varies the pitch, intensity, duration and range of his meows almost as if he was trying to imitate animated human speech. That one evening I failed to properly control the weather and he was caught outside in a gale he read me the Riot Act for several minutes as he stomped around dripping and looking indignant. Yeah, cats communicate...
posted by jim in austin at 1:05 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


It was over a year after Chairman Mao chose us...

Why would you come so close to naming your cat "Chairman MEOW" only to stop short of the finish line?
posted by Edgewise at 3:05 PM on November 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


Last night Creamsicle was doing his occasional trilling/baby-cry thing, which sometimes means he wants food, sometimes wants outside, sometimes is just way too high on catnip because someone left out his toys....

Last night apparently it was because Boingo wanted outside. The hell?

(We have four cats, and FWIW, the boys are not especially territorial, but the girls are very much so. Did a bunch of furniture moving over the weekend, and the girls basically switched zones in the house to stay with "their" furniture.)
posted by epersonae at 3:15 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


"MAO" is a valid cat noise.
posted by Artw at 3:30 PM on November 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


I took in a stray, had him fixed, but he was around 3 years when he showed up and preferred to be outdoors - suburbs here, but damn, that cat was a killer. No matter what I tried to do (collars with bells) he'd leave all sorts of "gifts" for me. He ate an entire chipmunk nearly in front of me (I couldn't stay to watch, lol). One day he brought me a dead squirrel..it took him nearly all day, but he ate. all. of. it. He only left one back leg and the tail. Ick. Sadly, he was poisoned by something and we lost him. He was a one-of-a-kind cat.
posted by annieb at 4:12 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh, and two of my other other cats don't "meow" either. Teddy, 16 and who was supposed to "visit" for four months (15 years ago) is the Joe Cool of cats, and very, very rarely makes noise. When he does, everyone stops. And Jersey, found as a sickly kitten, only makes high pitched squeaks - and some sort of spitting noise when she's playing. Of course, my 17 year old Charlie is beginning to have kitty dementia and spends much of the night yowling, so he more than makes up for the silence of the other two.
posted by annieb at 4:16 PM on November 18, 2014


Why would you come so close to naming your cat "Chairman MEOW" only to stop short of the finish line?

The Chairman appeared on my front porch one day, nothing but skin and bones. He readily hopped up in my lap and fixed me with his gaze. I asked, "Who the hell are you?" He replied, "Mao!" At first we thought he would be Madame Mao but then we discovered he was a neutered male. Shortly thereafter he requisitioned my computer chair as his own so he could only be Chairman Mao. He is is a firm believer in the Great Leap Forward. He abjures all Running Yellow Dogs and refuses to even consider swimming in the Yangtze. He is solid black with olive/gold eyes and his only distinguishing physical characteristic is as his vet says, "That's one damn long cat!"
posted by jim in austin at 5:26 PM on November 18, 2014 [17 favorites]


Chairman Mao

We have a Balinese (he's the white fluffy one), which is basically a long-haired Siamese, and as such he's extremely vocal. Every single morning we're woken up by his "Feed me now, damn it" meowing.

I mention this because the "Chairman Mao" thing reminded me that Mrs. Example and I have decided that his Chinese name would be "Yao Ling".
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:37 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: Despite what we may think, unrelated mefites confined to a home or similarly restricted environment are in a constant state of territorial conflict, and to the extent that they appear to be peacefully coexisting it is likely due to strategies they have developed to avoid spending much time together when awake.
posted by chortly at 6:10 PM on November 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


My cat has what my roommate calls "a sad, broken meow"

It’s not a cry you can hear at night
It’s not somebody who has seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken meow
Meeeoooowww, meeeeeooowwww, meeeoooowww, meeeeeeeooooowwww
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:20 PM on November 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


I have an indoor cat who has discovered a supply of voles in the basement, so he's been leaving us some nice presents. He was a stray kitten, but somebody definitely taught him how to hunt.

(I want to be clear, I don't know whose voles they are, or why they are in my basement. I've never seen them, but they must be there, because they keep turning up dead in my living room, while Milo wriggles around and chirps with pride.)
posted by Biblio at 7:08 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Four years later, she can occasionally be bothered to meow, but it's still a series of squeaks, whimpers, and chirps.

You may have a cat-shaped R2 unit.
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:25 PM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


He is solid black with olive/gold eyes and his only distinguishing physical characteristic is as his vet says, "That's one damn long cat!"

And yet, no pictures.

(Mine.)
posted by MartinWisse at 1:55 AM on November 19, 2014


And yet, no pictures.

Not really a pictures kind of guy but I do know how to use a tape measure: from the tip of his black nose to the tip of his equally black tail he measures 36.5 inches (92.71 cm) of solid blackness. To make up for the insult and indignity I'm letting him bat the offending tape around on the floor...
posted by jim in austin at 5:26 AM on November 19, 2014


Mr. Fantastic (not his real name) started as a all-paw fluffball. Now when he stretches, he's almost the width of a queen bed. Champion purrer; he occasionally chirps when he's wandering around the house looking for me. Yes, please rub my belly will meow occasionally, usually when she finds a great toy in the middle of the night.
posted by mogget at 10:51 AM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


Yes, please rub my belly will meow occasionally

I'm going to pretend this is your cat's official name.
posted by jeather at 12:02 PM on November 19, 2014


Just came across this: "Why You Shouldn't Trust Your Cat: Unlike dogs, cats are at best semi-domesticated—and we love them for that."

We've been loving watching the BBC programme — episode 3 will probably be dinner entertainment tonight. Thanks for posting this!
posted by Lexica at 5:43 PM on November 30, 2014


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