What Do Cats Want?

That’d be Freud, asking:  What do women want?

As if, whatever it is, it wouldn’t make any sense.

As if being blamed, for five thousand years, for getting us booted out of the Garden isn’t enough to make anyone nuts.

I want to ask this question – really ask it – of everything, of everybody, in the natural world:  What do you want?  What makes you smile?  What makes you nuts?  What do you need?

Who are you?

It’s not all that easy to know.  After five thousand years of being told.

Cats’ nose-pads are supposed to be like human fingerprints:  The ridge on each nose is unique.  No two the same.

So what I want to know is:  Bugs, what’s your nosepad say about you?

I heard this, from a cognitive scientist on my favorite brain-science podcast:  “All cats care about is food.”

I want to ask this guy:  If I told you that when Bugs first showed up, he was a wild street-baby thug – demanding what he wanted by tooth and bloody claw –

And now he’s asking, more and more, with pawpad-taps and gentle mouthings –

And he learned how to modulate his conduct like that – how?  To get food?

He got food regardless.  So how?

I myself wouldn’t presume to say.

But much of what I want to do, with Bugs, is to ask that question:  Who, Bugs, are you?
How much of what I think I know about you is really about you? and not about me?

That’s what Teresa and I are asking Bugs, with Tellington Touch-work:  Bugs, can you feel yourself?  When you move, are you aware of yourself?

When we first began, the answer was more like five thousand years of frenzy.

Is he growing up now?  Mellowing with age?  Sure.  He’s also learning.

But why should he learn, if all he cares about is food?

You want to know what makes me nuts?  That kind of reductionism.  The kind that says more about the cognitive scientist’s lack of insight into his own preconceptions than it does about cats.

Who is Bugs?

He is a ferocious predator.  At times he’s so like his big-cat cousins.  Or he’s peaceful.  Drowsy.


He is content, minding himself.

And then he’s not that.  Not that, a lot.

You want to know what makes me happy?

The infinite variation of the unique.  That we are always ourselves.  And yet, we can always grow, become bigger.  More expansive, tolerant, inclusive.

This is what the FELDENKRAIS® work is about.  Let me paraphrase one of my favorite teachers, Yvan Joly of Montreal:

We are like fractals.

Fractals are shapes that have the same structure regardless of scale.  You see them in satellite pictures of coastlines.  In vein-structures of leaves.  In cauliflower and broccoli.

Yvan says, “Every part is similar to the whole, and the whole contains the structure of all its parts.”

So, in answer to the question “who are you?,” Yvan says:

“You are identical to yourself.  You’re generating your behavior with more or less the same strategies.  So there are little variations.  But you’re never lost, because it’s always the same pattern.  But you’re never bored, because the pattern never presents itself in the same way.”

And by introducing small variations of movement with FELDENKRAIS, for example, with awareness of breath, Yvan again:  “The first thing you know, you’re playing tennis differently.  Or you start interpreting your Prokofiev piano piece differently.  And you wonder why?  Because you’ve expanded the way you breathe in a certain way, and the way you breathe is the way you breathe the music.  And it’s the way you breathe your relationships.”

So that’s what this blog is about, too.  It’s about the same structure, with variations.  It’s about what we say to each other, in our own little corner of this great Internet Sandbox.  It’s about speaking our own variations into the fractal pattern of what we all go through, living with our animal companions.  And then it’s about listening to what our friends contribute back, in response.

Here we get to fool with aristocratic craziness like balsamic reductions for our little feline infantes.  We get to connect with each other across vast distances.  A Northern European transplanted to Brazil.  The “anipal” community writing about, fundraising for, earthquakes on the other side of the world.  What it’s like to celebrate and to grieve, together, gains and losses large and small.  Thanking a blog-friend for being a reassuring presence – when that’s not how she experiences herself.  And when seeing herself like that brings her a feeling of awe.

These may be modest examples of care and communion with each other –

But, to me, they are movement.  They are variations.  They are manageable moments of welcoming-in the wide scary world out there.  Ways in which to connect with the feeling of life, feeling for each other, and with that, to grow –

That’s what I want.

About nadbugs

Anita loves cats. This must be because she, too, has had nine lives. She’s been dancing since she could walk, she was a commercial artist and advertising producer, she earned a third-degree black belt in Aikido, she is a drummer with the Afrique Aya Dance Company, she is an attorney, and she’s a meditator and a devoted student of Nonviolent Communication. She also spent one lifetime sidelined with a devastating back injury in 1992. Since then – FELDENKRAIS METHOD® to the rescue. The FELDENKRAIS METHOD is all about dreaming concretely – thinking intelligently and independently by way of a gracious and kind physicality. The work affords all who study it a process by which to reach, with movement, into the mind and the heart, to make nine lives into one whole being.
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15 Responses to What Do Cats Want?

  1. Lotta's ullisar says:

    I’ve heard that too, cats interrest in us is because they see us as feedin-machines. And I don’t agree. Yes, they do want food too, but they also like to interact with us after beeing fed.
    I’ve also been told cats don’t have any knowledge about time. I don’t agree to that either. Once I had a cat who got a bit moody because I had left her alone too many hours. She pissed just indide the door when she heard my foot stpes outside. I know, it was fresh. And she had never done that before. And she never did again as she had toght me never to leave her for too long. And she did not do it because any lack of food. She also woke me up a few times when I had overslept but never during weekends. Soo it could not be because she was hungry.

    I also like what you say about fractals 🙂
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and pics on lovely Bugs.

    • nadbugs says:

      Dear Lotta, how neat to meet you — from all the physical distance that separates us (including language; how glad I am that on your lovely blog, you offer yours plus English).

      I value greatly the evidence you offer, in your “pissy”-cat story. Brilliant! Honestly. It’s so clear that cat is thinking!

      Actually in the podcast I write about here, the interviewer posited that animals have Mind (why I’m a fan of hers!). The cognitive scientist, on the other hand, even spoke of studies suggesting that — but he was still all about food. Sigh.

      Well — we have our evidence. . . . and I love hearing yours! Thank you!

  2. Eleanor says:

    Anita! You’re back. I was beginning to worry.
    This is one of your posts that makes me wish my brain worked better (I got a bit lost in the middle), but I have to agree with your comment on the scientist’s ‘lack of insight’. We people who see cats as more than just food-demanding-poop-generators can’t all be completely deluded, can we? The way Spock likes to be cradled like a baby, the way Zé only considers a cuddle is ‘real’ if he has his face squashed into mine (laps don’t count in his book!), the joyous greeting when we return home (and there is food out so they’re not necessarily asking for more), the way Bugs looked after you when you were unwell. All these things are just ploys to get food? I don’t think so.

    Anyway, it’s great to see you here again.

    • nadbugs says:

      Eleanor, I’m so happy to be “back” (and then back to work — honestly, it never rains but pours). And thank you so much for contributing your dear guys to the mix — baby Spockie, and so cute about Ze’s not counting lap-cuddles. . . . And the joyous greetings. Brings joy just thinking about it.

  3. Wazeau says:

    Wonderful post, thanks! Sass isn’t snuggled into my lap for food. Warmth, maybe. But if it was just warmth, she would bonk me with her paw everytime I stop scratching her ear. They want what we want, in addition to getting our need for food, water, sleep, and warmth met. Dare I say it? Love…

  4. kimmo says:


  5. Melanie says:

    I really can’t stand it when people say that all a cat (or any animal, really) wants is food, as if implying that they aren’t capable of emotion. And it rankles me even further when they turn around and say that we, the ones that can see into the soul of an animal, are merely anthromorphizing, projecting our own thoughts onto the animal.

    I choose to believe what my senses, along with my heart, tell me about our animals. That Bugs is gentling because he is bonding with you, that Charlotte greets me at the door because she wants to see me and not because I am some giant, ambulatory treat-dispenser. To believe anything else is foolishness.

    And as Eleanor said, it’s good to see you back, Anita!

    • nadbugs says:

      Friends, if you’re reading this after April 9th, this writer wrote a rich and interesting post in response to what’s written here. So in this comment, here’s what I wrote to her first, followed by a link to her post. If you follow that link, please read my comment there. I end this comment right here with the address for the interview with the cognitive scientist himself — if any of you want to pursue things that far. Thank you!

      Love your tart tone, my gal. Music to my ears.

      Can it be that the humans who aren’t alive to emotion in other species, aren’t alive to their own emotions, either? Food — FOOD — for thought. Another post? Let’s see . . . .

      Now here’s the address for my blogmate’s excellent post:


      And now here’s the address for the interview:


  6. Darla says:

    This “reductionism” of experts leads me to wonder about why our culture relies on experts so much, when what they say is contrary to our experience. My experience always carries more weight than expert pronouncements, which of course results in conflicts at time with the experts. (Impossible, you can’t possibly detect that in your own body!)

    Ebony wants warmth, companionship, and routine. Sometimes she’s come on walks or hang out near John while he’s digging in the dirt, for companionship. She’s having a hard time coping with a disruption in her routine — she’s wanting to come inside and it’s no longer allowed.

    I think the purpose of experts is to give us something to check our experience against, not take their pronouncements as fact.

  7. nadbugs says:

    Boy, Darla, I hear the wisdom of experience in what you say here. “You can’t possibly detect that”! Tsk!

    Your last sentence reminds me that both Feldenkrais and Marshall Rosenberg emphasize: ASK, ASK ASK! Both of these “authorities” — both who are so important in guiding my own decisions in life — warn against credulously swallowing any answer on credit of authority alone. . . .

  8. lifewith4cats says:

    I am glad you posted! I had been worried for you dissapearing as long as you did. That science guy has my pity. He is so unenlightened and does not even realize his own inability to connect with or emphasize with others. Yes, some in this world do project humanity onto animals in ways perhaps mistakenly misplaced or imature, but as a scientist he should know better than to lump all of cat kind and all of human kind into one broad sameness. But thats just me trying to understand both sides of the coin.

  9. Lila says:

    We have one little cat who was underweight the first 6 years of his life. When we first brought him home, it was a struggle to get him to eat. He would take three bites, get distracted by something shiny, and run off to investigate. So eventually we began feeding him up on the counter and standing there to try and keep him interested. When he would start eating, we would pet him and coo “Good boy, Spotty, that’s a good boy.” After a while of this I noticed something: he wasn’t actually eating that much more. So I watched him more closely and realized that he would put his little nose down to the dish like he was going to eat, we would pet him and coo to encourage him, and he would just close his eyes and enjoy the petting. He was willing to eat to get affection, not willing to give affection in order to eat. If he picked his head up from the dish we would say “Spotty what’s wrong? You don’t want to eat?” and just as a reflex stop petting and look at him. And he would immediately put his little face back to the dish again, giving us the side-eye the whole time like “Look, look I’m doing it, I’m eating, pet me again!”

    Now you tell me that cat was all about food.

    • nadbugs says:

      Ah HA. Proof positive.

      (You know what “they” would say. . . . “anecdotal.” Or. . . . “subjective.”)

      Don’t care. I call it proof. And very adorable proof at that.

      Will eat for love. Bless you little Spotty.

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