What Cats Want: How to understand your feline friend’s inner desires

I am softening up my interviewee, as he peers at me from the laptop screen. “Beautiful,” I say. “Enigmatic. Mysterious. Elegant. Sophisticated. Intelligent. But that’s enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think about me?” I am talking to the renowned Japanese vet and author Dr Yuki Hattori via a Zoom link in my sitting room and, I must say, it’s a nice change to be talking to someone who’s almost as much of a cool cat as I am. Dr Yuki is founder and director of the Tokyo Feline Medical Centre and author of the new book What Cats Want: An Illustrated Guide For Truly Understanding Your Cat. I have ordered a copy for my housemate Virginia, or VeeBee, my pet name (ha!) for her.

Although she doesn’t really deserve such generosity. Her reaction to my last gift left a lot to be desired. I even kept the mouse alive, so she could learn how to play with it before chasing it, but instead she went haring off in the opposite direction, using the kind of language I last heard from an old tom who spent years in the Navy as a ship’s mascot.

“So!” I begin with Dr Yuki. “Let’s see what you’re made of. I want to ask about Boo, a cat I know, a very beautiful (though not as beautiful as me) Burmese.

“Boo brings her human clothes pegs on a regular basis. Why does she do this?”

“You see,” explains Dr Yuki, Japan’s leading cat doctor, “you cats think of we humans as giant kittens. You’re all like mother cats teaching their kittens to hunt.

“I don’t know why she chooses a clothes peg but she will be thinking it’s some kind of small animal. She is reverting to the ways of nature and catching game.”

But VeeBee has had enough of me talking about my friends. She seems to think Dr Yuki is here to analyse MY behaviour.

How dare she! She gives me a nasty look and says: “Ask him why you make a big fat fuss to get me to open the door and then just sit there looking at it instead of going out. Go on then – if you’re so intelligent, ask him that.”

Dr Yuki has overheard. “Perhaps you just don’t like the door being shut?” he asks me. “Or perhaps you want to go out of the door with VeeBee and she just stands there looking like a lump instead of moving?”

Actually, Dr Yuki doesn’t call VeeBee a lump as he is Japanese and extremely polite, but I can tell that’s what he’s thinking. A big, pink lump.

“So, tell me (as if I didn’t know), what do cats really want?”, I ask him.

“It’s very important to prepare a space for a cat to move freely,” says Dr Yuki. “In Japan 80 percent of cats are indoor cats so they need their room.”

Well yes, sort of, but I was thinking less about a room of my own and more along the lines of world domination. I suppose that’s one way of describing a cat’s need for space. I decide to negotiate. “Can’t we banish all dogs from our territory? “There’s a big difference between dogs and cats,” says Dr Yuki (I’ll say).

“Humans look after both in the same manner, as they are both fed and looked after, but that makes dogs think humans are gods, whereas it makes cats think they themselves are god.”

Well this is all very confusing. Is Dr Yuki in some way implying we are not divine?

There’s a yowl from VeeBee. She had been tickling my stomach, which I was quite enjoying until I wasn’t, so obviously I bit her.

“Why do you do that?” she cries, rudely interrupting my Zoom interview again.

“Why,” she appeals to Dr Yuki, “do cats like being stroked and then suddenly turn on you?”

“There are two patterns,” he says, and I’m beginning to feel sorry for him, having to deal with dumb animals like VeeBee all day.

“In the first, cats do not know they are being tickled and actually think they are wrestling, so getting vicious is part of the game. In the second, the cat doesn’t actually like it very much and so suddenly fights back.”

Now VeeBee has muscled into Zoom and there’s no stopping her.

“Why do cats eat the same food for years and then suddenly refuse to touch it?”

“They can smell very well and can tell if there’s even a tiny change in the ingredients,” Dr Yuki tells her. “Or maybe they are getting sick.”

Or maybe we are just being bloody- minded, I growl, but she’s on a roll.

“Why did the ancient Egyptians worship cats as gods?”

“Cats are very mysterious and have their own talents,” he replies.

Well yes, I hiss, and there’s the small fact that we are, in fact, deities. Just Google Bastet!

“Why are cats so enigmatic?”

“It is very difficult to read cats’ feelings for human beings and they are not always logical,” says Dr Yuki. “Does my cat love me?” asks VeeBee, sounding, frankly, embarrassingly needy.

What is she, some sort of a dog?

But Dr Yuki is clearly taking her seriously.

“Cats are social animals, so if they grow up with their owner, they should like their owner a lot.”

“Owner.” What a curious word. I’ve never come across that one before, but now it’s my turn to get back in the picture, so I give VeeBee a friendly headbutt (it works every time, and I warrant there will be tuna on the table tonight) and resume my rightful place, centre stage.

“Why are some people afraid of us?” I demand. “It’s because you’re mysterious,” Dr Yuki says. “In Europe cats became associated with witches. In Japan, we have a cat monster, Bakeneko.”

I’ve heard about this one: people are afraid of cats because our irises change shape and our fur causes sparks.

Personally, though, I think it’s because we can sneak up on people unawares and then sit there looking like statues.

When my late ­boyfriend Steed lived here, we used to position ourselves in a line in the hall. VeeBee would come out of her bedroom and soar upwards in shock.

As soon as she wasn’t looking we would change position again and then sit stock still to give her yet another mini-heart attack.

I read somewhere that a race of Dr Who villains did something similar. The Weeping Angels, I think they were called.

Anyway, it’s time for a nap. I’ve only slept 23 out of the last 24 hours and I’m bushed.

Dr Yuki is telling us about his own cats, a pair of Maine Coons, Queen and Knight. Queen had a husband called Puma, but when he died, Knight was brought in to protect her.

Dr Yuki, whose book reveals what things like the direction of our whiskers, and the way our tail is pointing, mean, has had cats since he was 19.

But VeeBee is at it again. Home working is SO difficult with all these interruptions.

“May a cat look at a king?” she is asking; doesn’t she know they have emperors in Japan and not kings? Dr Yuki is looking a little perplexed.

“A cat may look at anyone,” he says eventually, sounding puzzled. “Here’s looking at you, kid,” I say to VeeBee and give her another head butt. Soppy old human. She’s ­actually about to purr.

What Cats Want: An Illustrated Guide For Truly Understanding Your Cat by Yuki Hattori (Bloomsbury, £12.99) is published on Thursday. For free UK delivery, call 01872 562310 or order via www.expressbookshop.co.uk

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