Whiskers are my co-pilots

GA_ Cat Senses InfographicThe last installment in our “Cat Senses Study” is the one that covers more ground: touch. Our bodies are covered in shiny hair coats that serve as natural warm jackets in the cold weather and as sun deterrents during the summer months. Some humans assume that because we seem to handle the weather perfectly that we’re immune to the dangers of it. That is simply not true. Just because we keep our cool at all times doesn’t mean we don’t get heat stroked or hypothermia in extreme conditions.

To help in these situations, we have specific sensitive spots that react to temperature changes and touch receptors (located mostly in our paw pads and tongue) that acquire information about our surroundings.

The masters of our sense of touch are, without a doubt, the whiskers. These clever hairs are thicker, stronger, go deeper inside our body than any other hair and can move in different directions; this gives them a direct connection to nerves and blood vessels that travel thru our brain, sending instructions like “avoid that chair” or “road ends ahead”.

The whiskers instruct us where to go, how big is the obstacle and tell you how we're feeling. Pic Wanda de la Vega

The whiskers instruct us where to go, how big is the obstacle and tell you how we’re feeling. Pic Wanda de la Vega

How do they do it? The whiskers scientific name is vibrissae, and as the name suggests, they pick up any sudden changes in airflow, any vibration around us, sending that message straight to the brain, showing us the right path to take. You don’t think there are air currents between the chairs and the dining room table? Oh yes there are and we feel them. Whiskers help us keep our graceful strut, gives us confidence to glide around furniture, rooftops and people’s legs.

They allow us to “see” up close. Our big eyes can capture peripheral and long distance vision, but it’s hard to decipher what’s right in front of us. Whiskers send info about the prey’s size and location so we can go for the kill in the dark (take that catnip mouse!). A useful attribute to have as we grow older or turn blind, we may walk slower but we know where we’re going.

Whiskers are also mood indicators:

  • Relaxed looking down? Sign of a chill cat
  • Straight back? Kitty’s not happy, ready to pounce
  • Up front and very straight? In hunting mode

Newsletter CTA New. Gato CommentsAll these characteristics make them a big part of our feline je ne sais quoi factor. Some humans think it’s funny to cut a cat’s whiskers, but let me tell you, losing them disrupts our sense of direction, kitty feels lost, stumbling around trying to find the way to the litterbox or even worse, our way home. Not a fun game at all. Respect the vibrissae.


Los bigotes son mis co-pilotos
El último artículo en la serie “Los sentidos del gato” es el que cubre más terreno: el tacto. Nuestros cuerpos están cubiertos de pelo sedoso que sirve como abrigo natural en los meses fríos y nos protege del sol durante el verano. Algunos humanos asumen que como parecemos estar a gusto en cualquier clima que las temperaturas no nos afectan. Pero esto no es verdad. El que nos veamos siempre cool no significa que no padezcamos de golpes de calor o hipotermia en temperaturas extremas.

Para ayudar en estas situaciones tenemos receptores específicos en el cuerpo (colocados en nuestras patas y lengua, entre otros) que reaccionan a los cambios climáticos y nos informan sobre lo que pasa en nuestros alrededores.

Pero los maestros del sentido del tacto son sin duda los bigotes. Más gruesos, fuertes, viajan más adentro que cualquier otro pelo además de poderse mover en distintas direcciones; todo esto les da la capacidad de conectarse con nervios y vasos sanguíneos que llegan directamente al cerebro enviando información importante como “cuidado con esa silla” o “el camino termina adelante”.

¿Cómo lo logran? El nombre científico de los bigotes es vibrissae, y como sugiere la palabra, ellos captan cualquier cambio en las corrientes de aire, la más mínima vibración a nuestro alrededor y la envía al cerebro el cual transmite el mensaje indicando el camino correcto a seguir. ¿Piensas que no hay corrientes de aire entre la silla y la mesa del comedor? Pues sí que las hay y nosotros las sentimos. Los bigotes nos ayudan a caminar con gracia y confianza alrededor de los muebles, azoteas y tus piernas.

Newsletter CTA New Español. Gato CommentsNos permiten “ver” lo que está muy cerca. Estos ojos enormes que tenemos pueden captar todo en nuestra visión periférica y de larga distancia, pero no es tan sencillo mirar lo que tenemos de frente. Los bigotes nos informan sobre el tamaño y localización de la presa para que podamos atacar en la oscuridad (¡qué te parece ratón de catnip!). Un atributo muy útil de tener para cuando vamos entrando en años o nos quedamos ciegos, caminamos un poco lento, pero sabemos bien hacia dónde vamos.

Los bigotes también indican nuestro estado de ánimo:

  • ¿Relajados y hacia abajo? El gato está pasándola bien
  • ¿Estirados hacia atrás? Minino no está content, vaya con cuidado
  • ¿Estirados hacia el frente? Listo para cazar

Todas estas características los hacen parte integral de nuestro je ne sais quoi felino. Algunos humanos piensan que es gracioso el cortarle los bigotes al gato, pero te digo que no tiene nada de chistoso. El minino pierde su sentido de dirección, nos deprime el no encontrar el camino correcto hacia el arenero o de vuelta a casa. No es un juego. Respeten al vibrissae.

Are cats social animals?

Does this look like an antisocial behavior? Seems like love to me. Pic by Glorimar Anibarro

Does this look like an antisocial behavior? Seems like love to me.

This week we will answer a few common questions regarding one of the most common feline misconceptions: cats are loners and prefer to live on their own.

Who came up with this idea? Dog-loving people? Sure, dogs live by a hierarchy code where they follow the alpha male everywhere while cats (sorry) don’t do that. But this doesn’t mean that we are antisocial. It means we won’t follow just ’cause you say so.

Dr. Avocado logoWe are socializing since birth. Kitties don’t appear out of the blue; they are born from a loving mama cat and from that moment on we are constantly fighting for food and territory: as kittens for mother’s milk, as adults aggressively conquering territories and mates. But when the fighting is done, we hang out with our pals in the colony.

Maybe the confusion comes from the fact that felines give each other space. There are moments of cute cuddling and play, but also hours of keeping out of each other’s way in order to enjoy some privacy. If you have ever visited the “cat room” in a shelter or adoption center, you have seen this behavior in action. The cats are all there, each in their own private space just chillin’.

FACT: Do you know that cats in the wild don’t meow? They learn to do that to communicate with, drumroll please, YOU. How’s that for antisocial.

Time for our first question: “That’s all fine and dandy Dr. Avocado, but I got a cat at home that never cuddles next to me, preferring to stare at us all day from the top of her cat tree. What is up with that?” Continue reading

Peeing outside the box

Where is it“My cat is peeing outside the litterbox” is a common concern amongst feline guardians – usually new ones. Sometimes it’s a sign of a medical issue, but the majority of the cases are completely human created. They want a cat but hate the idea of a litterbox in the home, disguising them in ways that are so outrageous, even our highly trained noses can’t find.

Felines are majestic creatures that sadly share some un-godly characteristics with every other living beings on the planet; we pee and poop and need a spot to do it in. If it’s not the litterbox, watch out ’cause anything goes! plants, couches, antique rugs, your precious boots…

Sometimes the problem gets so out of hand that the poor kitty ends up at the shelter when a simple solution would’ve solved the case: Get a litterbox. Maybe 2. It is part of the “Living with a Cat” kit.

Continue reading

Get ready for more Wall O’ Cats!

Ending the month of May with these cool felines. Our latest members of the Wall O’ Cats community. ¡Bienvenidos!


Got a feline that wants to be part of our community? Find the details here.

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Urinary Tract Infections and Cats: pain and misery surround the litterbox

Stress is a big factor in FLUTD. Cat's litterbox area should be a relaxing one. Pic: Glorimar Anibarro

Stress is a big factor in FLUTD. Cat’s litterbox area should be a relaxing one. Pic: Glorimar Anibarro

There are many ailments that can ruin the mood for any cat (fleas, allergies, a bath); but none are as effective in achieving its goal as the pesty Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD).

Yes, it is the “hurts when I pee” disease and it is a serious condition.

You’ve probably met a cat dealing with it:
• goes regularly to the box but nothing comes out
• crying when peeing
• constantly licking the eliminating zone
• will leave a trace before arriving to the litterbox

and the even worse cases where:
• there is blood in the urine
• the feline simply avoids the box – Allow me to defend my peeps here. We really don’t understand what’s happening in our body, we just know it hurts like hell when we visit the box. So naturally we assume the box has something to do with the pain, therefore, it is way better to stay far away from it! 

None of these symptoms are to be taken lightly. Continue reading

A feral cat answers to the call of the wild, in your neighborhood

Sometimes a feral cat decides to change her life and be adopted. Photo: Glorivette Anibarro

Sometimes a feral cat decides to change her life and be adopted. Photo: Glorivette Anibarro


Dr. Avocado: I have tried without success to adopt a couple of kitties that live outdoors in my neighborhood. They have been neutered and vaccinated, are kind of friendly (meaning they know me – I feed them) but refuse to come inside the house. Do feral cats live a healthy life? Thanks for your input, Determined Human.

My dear Determined Human: First of all, thank you for caring so much about my feral feline friends (say that 3 times), we need more people like you!

Now to answer your question: A feral feline lives the life of every wild animal on the planet: one of everyday struggle to survive. She has to find food and water, a decent shelter to protect her from the elements and last but not least, multiply. The fact that you see her doing this around your city instead of a wildlife documentary may confuse you, but doesn’t make it less real. It doesn’t sound very magical, but feral cats adapt to any circumstance and make the best of it. Sure their life is cut shorter -average life span is 5 years – but for many is still way better than living 20 indoors. As good as adapting as we are, not every cat wants to live inside a home.

You see, when cats started mingling with humans, they were outdoor creatures that helped keep the farm rodent free. Humans in turn, will allow them to live in their farms. As cities started developing, cats and their colonies learned to live in concrete jungles instead of country farms, for them it was the same deal with different buildings. But now here some people see this as a problem. Thankfully, a lot are finally accepting them as part of your society. This is where it gets interesting.

The TNR movement (as in Trap, Neuter, Return) is catching on, spaying, neutering and vaccinating the colony cats thus eliminating our lovely mating ritual sounds, the smelly scents around the homes and giving them a good healthy shot to a longer life.

Dr. Avocado logoHumans and cats can coexist happily. A feral colony that has been spayed and neutered will keep your surroundings free of any pesty visitors like rats while giving the neighborhood the cool factor. Many of these felines make friends with the humans (like your backyard visitors), allowing for some contact and acknowledgment, but still keeping their distance.

Making new friends: If you like having the kitties hanging around the homes, maybe other neighbors feel the same way. Start a club! Get them involved. Talk to the shelter about how to TNR.

Once neutered and vaccinated the cats will not present any problems, but an even better way to keep the peace is by providing them with food and water so they don’t have to visit your trashcans every night. Setting up a couple of feeding stations where humans go at a specific time every day to place food and fresh water is a great idea. Trust me, we are very good at keeping time. You are no longer just “looking” at the cats, you start a relationship with them; giving them names, getting to know their personalities and yes, maybe even convincing one of them to live at home (hey, it happens).

Best of all, you are sure that your cool outdoor friends are now safe and leading a healthy, longer life.

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Dr. Avocado: He tratado por todos los medios de adoptar un par de gatos que viven alrededor de mi vecindario. Están esterilizados y vacunados y son un poco amistosos (o mejor dicho me conocen – yo les doy comida) pero se rehusan a entrar a mi casa. ¿Los gatos callejeros tienen una vida saludable? Gracias por la información, La Humana Determinada.

Querida Humana Determinada : Primero que nada, gracias por cuidar a mis amigos felinos salvajes, ¡necesitamos más gente como tú!

Contestando tu pregunta: El gato callejero vive su vida como cualquier animal salvaje en el planeta: una batalla diaria para sobrevivir. Necesita conseguir comida, agua y un albergue seguro además de trabajar en multiplicarse. El que los veas viviendo así en la ciudad y no en la tele en un dcumental no quiere decir que no están haciendo lo mismo. No parece una situación ideal, pero los gatos nos adaptamos a cualquier circunstancia y hacemos de eso nuestra vida. Aunque su existencia es corta – duran aproximadamente 5 años – muchos todavía lo prefieren a vivir 20 encerrados en un hogar.

Según la historia nos cuenta, cuando los gatos comenzaron a interactuar con los humanos lo hacían desde los alrededores de la granja, manteniendo el área libre de roedores. Los humanos como premio, les permitían vivir en sus propiedades. Según fueron desarrollándose las ciudades, los gatos y sus colonias intercambiaron tierra por cemento siguiendo la vida que conocían. Lo único que ahora muchos humanos los ven como un problema, olvidándose de que los gatos los ayudaron por años. Pero muchos lo ven como parte de la sociedad moderna y los aceptan como tal. Aquí viene la parte interesante.

El movimiento TNR (en inglés Trap, Neuter, Return – Atrapar, Esterilizar, Devolver) está tomando auge, esterilizando y vacunando a las colonias gatunas eliminando así nuestros rituales amorosos que los mantenían despiertos en la noche al igual que esas fragancias a orín en sus paredes; todo esto para darnos la oportunidad a disfrutar una vida más larga y saludable.

GA_CTA Español

Humanos y gatos pueden coexistir felizmente. Una vez la colonia de mininos ha sido esterilizada, mantendrán tu vecindario libre de visitantes como ratas y otros gatos que todavía no han pasado por el proceso tnr. Sin contar que le dan al lugar ese toque “cool” que tanto buscan. Todos llegarán a reconocer a los humanos y algunos inclusive mostrarán señales de amistad (como los que viven en tu patio), permitiendo algún tipo de contacto, pero siempre a la distancia.

Nuevos amigos: Si disfrutas teniendo a los gatos viviendo en tu vecindario, de seguro tendrás vecinos que piensan igual. ¡Comienza un club! Involúcralos en el movimiento. Comunícate con el refugio o albergue y aprende sobre TNR.

Una vez estén todos los mininos vacunados y esterilizados no presentarán problemas. Pero sí necesitan comer y tomar agua fresca. En algunas comunidades los vecinos les proveen estas necesidades básicas pues es más efectivo que tenerlos rebuscando en los botes de basura. Designando un lugar específico dónde darles comida y agua, todos los días a la misma hora es la mejor manera de crear una nueva rutina felina. Así no solamente te diviertes mirándolos pasar sino que vas creando una amistad con ellos: les das nombres, conoces sus personalidades y quién sabe, quizás alguno decide ser adoptado oficialmente y vivir tranquilo dentro de tu hogar.

Lo mejor de todo es saber que tus vecinos más fabulosos gozan su vida de manera saludable y por muchos años.

Got a question for Dr. Avocado? Send him an email, add your name to our newsletter list or find me on Twitter or Facebook
¿Tienes una pregunta para el Dr. Avocado? Inscríbete a mi newsletter o escríbeme un email: iamgatoavocado@gmail.com

*ATTENTION: I am not a veterinarian. I am a proud member of the Felis Silvestris Catus family, (translates to “domestic cat” –  an inside joke in the cat community) that kindly shares his knowledge of our species to you. I can’t provide specific treatments for your feline friend. Please refer to your veterinarian. Meow!   /   *ATENCION: No soy veterinario. Soy un orgulloso miembro de la familia Felis Silvestris Catus (que se traduce en “gato domesticado” – chiste interno entre la comunidad gatuna), que con amor comparte su conocimiento de la especie con ustedes. No puedo proveer detalles específicos para tratar a tu amigo felino. Por favor, llévalo al veterinario. ¡Miau!

Catch that ball!

GA_Drop that ball
Now you tell me it’s coming down?!
¡¿Ahora me dices que va bajando?!


Starting next week: More comments! Advice! BiPetualism!… stay tuned.
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