This Is The Mews

All things cat

National cat survey to find out about the origin of the cat

The Irish Times has launched a national campaign to gather data to learn more about cats’ origins.

It is asking people to complete a survey about their cats, or cats they have seen, about which county they were seen in and what colour their coat is. It seems simple, but this can tell scientists a lot about a cat’s genetics. Unlike humans, whose hair colour is determined by many genes, cats’ fur colour is controlled by just one or two genes. If enough people respond to the survey, it could create a set of data of value to scientists researching the history of Ireland’s cats, and could be used in research projects around the country.

Collecting this data will tell researchers about the genotypes of the cats, and what genes they have. This is useful because it can inform you about the distribution of cats around the country. It will show if one genotype is more common or has a dominance. A previous smaller study has shown that the number of orange coloured cats was twice as high in Donegal than in Dublin. A similar study was done in the 1980s in Boston, Canada. Coat colour information was collected for more than 10,000 cats, for research about population genetics. The reason cats are so good to study is that the research about their fundamental genetics has already been done. As well, you do not need to collect blood samples. You can detect 10 different genes just by looking at cats: their fur colour; if they have long or short fur and if they are male or female. Scientists are interested in how cats have migrated with their owners and how this has affected the distribution of cats in Ireland today.

If you live in Ireland and want to take part in this survey, you can visit the Irish Times website here: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/science
Click on the cat genetics tile on this page, and you can fill in the simple eight question form.

The results of this survey will be published in several weeks, with an interactive map showing the mix of cats across Ireland.

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Cat comes back from the dead

In Florida, a cat who was buried after he was hit by a car seemed to come back from the dead after managing to escape his grave.

After being found apparently lifeless in a road, Bart was buried by his grieving owner, but five days later the two year old cat was spotted alive in a neighbour’s garden.
The cat had dug himself out of his grave and slowly made his way home, despite his serious injuries. He has had surgery and is expected to make a strong and quick recovery, and will return home soon.

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Stray cat finds $1000 feast

At an airport in Russia, a cat managed to climb inside the fish counter of a delicatessen and helped itself to a feast. The tabby cat was filmed as it ate food like squid and dried octopus. It was costly for the store’s owner; all the food in the counter had to be thrown away which cost nearly £700. The cat was a local stray who sometimes wanders into the airport, and has now become a celebrity, as people queue up at the store to ask about the cat. Some are concerned about the it, as it hasn’t made an appearance since its feast, and the airport has received letters offering the cat a home.

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Witty Kitties

Just back from a holiday in Greece, but it’s not the brilliant weather or beautiful beaches I’m going to talk about.

I have gone to Greece many times over the years, and on each visit I keep a look out for the stray cats which live there, especially in the towns. I call them witty kitties, because they have to rely on their wits to keep alive and find food. I always buy a box of cat food and feed all the cats I can find- this year I fed over 20! I am very pleased that the number of cats I see each year has been steadily decreasing; this year it wasn’t easy to use up my box of cat food, whereas in previous years I’ve bought several boxes.

This year, my brother became chief witty kitty photographer taking snaps of all the cats I fed. Here’s some of his photos:

Catching a cat nap

Catching a cat nap

Fast asleep in a petrol pump

Fast asleep in a petrol pump

Enjoying their meal

Enjoying their meal

This cat was looking after her 3 kittens; she got an extra big meal!

This cat was looking after her 3 kittens; she got an extra big meal!

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Would you like a cat with your mortgage?

A Russian bank is offering home buyers who buy their home with its mortgage an unusual gift- a cat.

Sberbank, one of Russia’s largest banks, is offering the moggies because many Russians consider cats to be good luck so are a great addition to a new home. However, the borrowers are only allowed to keep the cat for 2 hours, enough time to get a photo with the cat in their new home. There a 10 different cats to choose from, and the offer is accompanied by an advertising campaign which you can watch here:

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Cats on Screen No. 8- The Chesire Cat

The Cheshire cat features in Lewis Caroll’s 1865 book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as well as subsequent films such as Disney’s 1951 film Alice in Wonderland, where it amuses and perplexes Alice by vanishing and appearing at will. It, at one point, vanishes completely apart from its grin, causing Alice to remark she had often seen a cat without a grin, but never a grin without a cat.

The origin of the grinning Cheshire cat may have its origins in dairy farming. In Cheshire, the were many dairy farms, so cats were said to grin because of the abundance of milk and cream. As well, a cheese used to be sold in Cheshire that was shaped like a grinning cat. The tail end was eaten first, leaving the cat’s grin to be eaten last.

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Cat cafe

This month London’s first cat cafe has opened in Shoreditch, east London.

Following a crowd funding campaign which raised more than £100,000, Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium was opened for business. It has proved very popular and is now fully booked until May. The idea of a cat cafe is not new; over 100 are now open in Tokyo, and they exist in many countries. The idea is to stroke, watch and play with the cats while having a drink.

The Cats Protection League criticised the cafe, saying the cats would not be used to living in a group with each other and would be stressed by the unfamiliar people constantly coming and going. However, the cafe says the cats are very relaxed together, and entry into the cafe is staggered over 15 minutes so as to not overwhelm the cats. There are 12 cats at the cafe, all of which have been donated by people who were moving abroad and could not take their cat with them. 

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Are domestic cats dangerous?

This week in the US a man called the emergency services after his 10kg cat trapped a family in their bedroom. The cat, called Lux, scratched a baby, and after the man kicked it in retaliation it became aggressive. So, do domestic cats really pose a danger to humans?

In short, no. It is extremely rare for cats to behave in the way Lux did. It is estimated there are around 9 million domestic cats in the UK, and reports of cats attacking or being aggressive towards people are scarce. A feral cat, if it feels threatened, may bite or scratch, but does not want a fight, it would be only attack out of self defence. If a kitten does not experience human contact before 8 weeks of age, it is more liable to go feral, but this is uncommon. 

Cats are never aggressive for no reason. If we socialise cats with humans when they are young, they have no need to feel fearful of humans, and therefore be confrontational. Some breeds, such as Bengal cats, have a reputation of attacking cats in their neighbourhood, but others, such as Persian and Siamese cats, have forgotten how to be good hunters, and are very docile. 

A cat will usually only bite or scratch a person if it feels threatened or intimidated, for example if it thinks someone is being too persistent in stroking it and it feels held down. Paying attention to your cat’s body language is the best way of avoiding at scratch. 

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What cats can teach us about obesity

Calico cats, with their orange, black and white spotted fur, may be able to tell us more about obesity. The cats, which are nearly always female, have an orange fur colour gene on one X chromosone, and a black fur colour gene on the other chromosone. Unusually, these genes are turned on and off at random, creating the cats’ patchwork coats. 

Understanding how one gene is turned off in the cats can help scientists understand how human traits are passed down and expressed, one example is finding out if a trait like obesity can be inherited. Ultimately, it could lead to advances in exerting control over genes.

And it all started with patchwork cats…

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Cats on Screen No. 7- The Aristocats

This Disney film from 1970 follows the adventures of cat Duchess and her kittens Berlioz, Toulouse and Marie. The cats live a good life in a Paris villa until the house’s butler kidnaps them and abandons them in the countryside on realising they are set to inherit their owner’s fortune. Crafty stray cat Thomas O’ Malley befriends them and helps them get back to Paris.

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