This section is from the book "The Book Of Cats", by Charles Henry Ross. Also available from Amazon: The Book Of Cats: A Chit-Chat Chronicle Of Feline Facts And Fancies, Legendary, Lyrical, Medical, Mirthful And Miscellaneous.
The illumination of a Cat's eye in the dark arises from the external light collected on the eye and reflected from it. Although apparently dark, a room is penetrated by imperceptible rays of external light from lamps or other luminiferous bodies. When these rays reach the observer direct, he sees the lamps or luminiferous bodies themselves, but when he is out of their direct sight, the brightness of their illumination only becomes apparent, through the rays being collected and reflected by some appropriate substance.
The cornea of the eye of the Cat, and of many other animals, has a great power of concentrating the rays and reflecting them through the pupil. Professor Bohn, at Leipsic, made experiments proving that when the external light is wholly excluded, none can be seen in the Cat's eye. For the same reason, the animal, by a change of posture or other means, intercepting the rays, immediately deprives the observer of all light otherwise existing in, or permeating, the room. In this action, when the iris of the eye is completely open, the degree of brilliancy is the greatest; but when the iris is partly contracted, which it always is when the external light, or the light in the room, is increased, then the illumination is more obscure. The internal motions of the animals have also great influence over this luminous appearance, by the contraction and relaxation of the iris dependent upon them. When the animal is alarmed, or first disturbed, it naturally dilates the pupil, and the eye glares; when it is appeased or composed, the pupil contracts, and the light in the eye is no longer seen.
A German savant says, that at the end of each hair of a Cat's whiskers is a sort of bulb of nervous substance, which converts it into a most sensitive feeler. The whiskers are of the greatest use to her when hunting in the dark. The nervous bulbs at the ends of a lion's whiskers are as large as a small pea.
But an English writer differs from him; thus:-"Every one must have observed what are usually called the "whiskers" on a Cat's upper lip. The use of these, in a state of nature, is very important. They are organs of touch; they are attached to a bed of close glands under the skin; and each of these long and stiff hairs is connected with the nerves of the lip. The slightest contact of these whiskers with any surrounding object is thus felt most distinctly by the animal, although the hairs are of themselves insensible. They stand out on each side in the lion, as well as in the common Cat; so that, from point to point, they are equal in width to the animal's body. If we imagine, therefore, a lion stealing through a covert of wood in an imperfect light, we shall at once see the use of these long hairs. They indicate to him, through the nicest feeling, any obstacle which may present itself to the passage of the body: they prevent the rustle of boughs and leaves, which would give warning to his prey if he were to attempt to pass through too dense a bush, and this, in conjunction with the soft cushions of his feet, and the fur upon which he treads (the retractable claws never coming in contact with the ground), enable him to move towards his victim with a stillness even greater than that of the snake, who creeps along the grass, and is not perceived till he is coiled round his prey."
Black Cats especially are said to be highly charged with electricity, which, when the animal is irritated, is easily visible in the dark. Here are directions I have for producing the effect:- Lay one hand upon the Cat's throat, and slightly press its shoulder bones. If the other hand be drawn gently along its back, electric shocks will be felt in the hand upon the Cat's throat. If the tips of the ears be touched after the back has been rubbed, shocks of electricity may also be felt, or they may be obtained from the foot. Lay the animal upon your knees, and apply the right hand to the back, the left fore paw resting on the palm of your left hand, apply the thumb to the upper side of the paw, so as to extend the claws, and by this means bring your fore finger in contact with one of the bones of the leg, where it joins the paw; when from the knob or end of this bone, the finger slightly pressing on it, you may feel distinctly successive shocks similar to those obtained from the ears. The Reverend Mr. Wood expresses an opinion, that on account of the superabundance of electricity which is developed in the Cat, the animal is found very useful to paralysed persons, who instinctively encourage its approach, and from the touch derive some benefit. Those who suffer from rheumatism often find the presence of a Cat alleviate their sufferings. The same gentleman, writing of a favourite Cat, says, that if a hair of her mistress's head were laid upon the animal's back it would writhe as though in agony, and rolling on the floor, would strive to free herself from the object of her fears. The pointing of a finger at her side, at a distance of half a foot, would cause her fur to bristle up and throw her into a violent tremour.
It is difficult to account for the fondness of Cats for fish, as nature seems to have given them an appetite, which, with their great antipathy to water, they can rarely gratify unassisted. Many instances have, however, been recorded of Cats catching fish. A Mr. Moody, of Sesmond, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, had a Cat in 1829 which had been in his possession for some years, and caught fish with great assiduity, and frequently brought them home alive. Besides minnows and eels, she occasionally carried home pilchards, one of which, about six inches long, was once found in her possession; she also contrived to teach a neighbour's Cat to fish, and the two were sometimes seen together watching by a river side for their prey. At other times they were seen at opposite sides of the river, not far from each other, on the look out for game.
A writer in the Plymouth Journal, June 1828, says:- "There is now at the battery, on the Devil's Point, a Cat which is an expert catcher of the finny tribe, being in the constant habit of diving into the sea and bringing up the fish alive in her mouth, and depositing them in the guard room for the use of the sailors. She is now seven years old, and has long been a useful caterer. It is supposed that her pursuit of the water-rats first taught her to venture into the water, to which it is well known Puss has a natural aversion. She is now as fond of the water as a Newfoundland dog, and takes her regular peregrinations along the rocks at its edge, looking out for her game ready to dive for it at a moment's notice."
Talking of the Cat's fondness for fish, I should, however, mention, that if a plate of meat and a plate of fish, either raw or cooked, be placed before the generality of Cats, they will be found almost always to choose the meat.
It is usually supposed that a tortoiseshell Tom is an impossibility. The animal is certainly rare, as is also a Queen Anne's farthing; but it is not such a rarity as we are led to believe. On the contrary, specimens are frequently offered for sale at the Zoological Gardens.
It is another great mistake to think that Cats have fleas: the insect infesting a half-grown Cat does not leap like a flea.
The she Cat goes with young from fifty-five to fifty-eight days, and generally has four or five kittens at a litter. When born, they are blind and deaf, like puppies. They get their sight in about nine days, and are about eighteen months before reaching full growth.
Those who wish their Cats to catch mice, I should advise not to neglect the Cat's food. A starved Cat makes a very bad mouser; being too eager and hungry for the work, it tries to pounce upon its prey before the proper time comes. A good mouser does not eat the mouse. I have a black Cat, which is very fat, but a wonderful huntsman, and surprisingly nimble at the chase. He is also as proud of his achievements as a human sportsman, and brings me every head of game he catches. Sometimes, if I have been out when he has caught his mouse, he has gone all over the house in search of me, and at last has taken his seat by the fireside, or out in the garden, and nursed the trophy of his prowess until I returned, mewing piteously if anyone attempted to take it away; but once having laid it at my feet, and had his head scratched in return, his interest in the matter seemed to cease, and he went away without again attempting to touch it. It was clear that he had made me a present of the game; and, as we sometimes think, when we make anyone a present of something to eat, it would be more delicate for us to go away immediately, lest it might be supposed we desired to be asked to stop and partake of it, Tom thus departed, no doubt with a similar idea.
"No experiment," says an intelligent writer, "can be more beautiful than that of setting a kitten for the first time before a looking-glass. The animal appears surprised and pleased with the reflection, and makes several attempts to touch its new acquaintance; and at length, finding its efforts fruitless, it looks behind the glass, and appears highly astonished at the absence of the figure. It again views itself, and tries to touch the image with its foot, suddenly looking at intervals behind the glass. It then becomes more accurate in its observations, and begins, as it were, to make experiments by stretching out its paw in different directions; and when it finds that these motions are answered in every respect by the figure in the glass, it seems at length to be convinced of the real nature of the image."