Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Another day, another syndrome...

This time, it's 'Psychogenic Abnormal Feeding Behaviour' complicated by 'excessive solicitation of interspecific interactions'.

But we won't be hearing counsel for the defence producing it in mitigation for juvenile misdemeanours or parental neglect any time soon; this affliction is, so far at least, confined to the feline species.
Cats that pester for food could be suffering from psychological condition.
 Cat owners see it as a sign of hunger and affection — their pet miaowing and rubbing against their ankles as dinner time approaches. But according to a group of vets, it is a sign of a creature whose obsession with food has driven it to the edge of insanity. 
Well I never! To think that all this time, advertisers have been shamelessly exploiting cats suffering from mental illness, from the tabbies 'making haste' for a well-known brand of biscuits to the immaculately-groomed Burmese shamelessly trading overt displays of affection in exchange for a small but perfectly-formed terrine.
According to the researchers, who set out their findings in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, other symptoms can include “food-related aggressiveness” — taking food from other cats’ bowls — and “context-specific excessive appetite” — jumping on the table to eat from the owner’s plate.
Now, I'm no expert - and I'd certainly welcome comments from cat-owners on this - but isn't that what you'd expect from what is, after all, a predatory mammal, unless it had been trained otherwise? Small wonder, then, that researchers found no physical reason for the behaviour and concluded the cause must be psychological.
They improved the cat’s behaviour by feeding and stroking it only at certain times of day, and ignoring it at other times.
Well that should have thoroughly confused the poor thing! But the whole thing really boils down to a bit of common sense: if you occasionally feed your cat from your plate, it will come to expect that pestering will bring a reward. It's not exactly rocket science but it's a principle some pet-owners presumably fail to grasp - and parents, for that matter.

Now, I can't claim to be an expert - the only cats I know well are nice-but-dim twins whose parents were brother and sister (owned by kindly but innocent God-fearing folk who were more than a little surprised and shocked to find a litter on their hands) and are possibly not the best examples of feline normality - but all this looks alarmingly like something we've seen at work with humans.

So will the traffic run the other way too, I wonder? Will some child psychologist pick this study up and run with it, slap on a snappy collection of initials and rush it into the armoury of the apologists for inadequate human parenting? Given the industry that has sprung up around ADHD and the way childhood obesity dominates the news, I'd say it's a dead cert.

Any bets on how long it is before Ambush Predator is quoting a mother's belligerent protest: "It's not my fault he weighs fourteen stone; he's got PAFB"?


  1. "I'd certainly welcome comments from cat-owners on this"

    Especially hungry ones (:

  2. Seems like normal cat behaviour to me. If you feed them at set time with the odd treat inbetween they kind of get used to it and only pester if you forget feeding time.

    My cat has two things that do send it nuts though. If you get out a bottle of fresh milk it runs up your leg trying to get a bit. Won't touch UHT though.
    It likes chocolate too. If you get some choccy out it will fight you for it

  3. Yup, totally normal cat behaviour. Except from our new lilac point kitten, who disdains any human food save for cream, ice cream, Chinese pork and the fat from the edge of prosciutto ...

  4. AKH, the inbred pair I know have only two settings; 'hungry' and 'asleep'.

    Bucko, your cat is not 'nuts'; it clearly has a substance abuse problem resulting in a serious chocolate addiction, while Julia's is evidently having some kind of identity crisis.

    I recommend counselling at a very reasonable £50 an hour pending my substantial research grant to further investigate the astonishing discovery that cats have a preference for certain foods.

  5. And men who pester women for sex are also suffering from a psychological condition - called libido. And my liking for this glass of red is as a result of a condition called Aftereleven.

  6. It really IS 'another day, another syndrome'! Today's one:


  7. JH, I'm sure there are 'scientists' somewhere busily working on a cure for both.

    Well spotted, Julia; at least they are unlikely to suggest that disruptive children are suffering from that particular variant.

    Mind you, there's something interestingly Freudian about the suggestion it is a result of early separation from the mother; perhaps the canine therapists fancy getting in on the act:

    "Sit! Good boy! Now, tell me about your muzzer...?"

  8. Yup, normal behaviour. Who is paying for this research?

  9. Good point, LR; my money's on manufacturers of animal tranquilizers - or a particularly far-sighted firm marketing drugs for use in children a few years down the line.

    After all, if anyone had announced forty years ago that a large number of children were to be put on permanent medication such as Ritalin, most people would have been shocked, particularly as accepted wisdom then was that hyperactivity could be treated by diet - cutting out orange juice was particularly effective*.

    That knowledge seems to have vanished with the advent of drug treatments; I've spoken to parents who were never asked about their child's diet before the prescription was written - or afterwards, for that matter.

    *(It was for me, at least - and for my son - which might provide grounds for research, given that orange juice is, for me, now a sure-fire migraine trigger.)