At a month
the teeth begin to grow -- a baby set which will be shed and
replaced, as in humans.
And at five weeks the kitten enters the stage at
which its charm is quite irresistible. It stands, staunch and
rubber-legged, peering at the gigantic world with round, blue,
button eyes. The inexperienced senses seek to translate the
incredible events of each new day. The ears are up, the whiskers
a-twitch, the ratty little tail held high.
The innocent face is humorous, the more so for its
intense unawareness of the fact. The erect, exclamatory eyebrows
and, often, the random accents of color create an expression of
perpetual surprise. Altogether the kitten looks like a ferocious
A litter of these small clowns is great sport to
watch at this time. They are alert, lively, and however aimless
their play may seem, seriously in training for the business of being
cats. They wrestle mightily with each other, always seeking the
underneath position and the opportunity of raking the enemy's
unprotected belly with their powerful hind claws. They pounce on
anything that moves intriguingly, including the mother cat's tail.
They tussle, tumble and dance. They dine ecstatically and sleep in a
Perhaps most delightful are the infant
approximations of big cat behavior. Each tiny back
arches at the threat of danger. A dreadful grimace twists the baby
face and from the pink mouth issues a soft warning hiss, sounding
very much like the exhalations of a steam iron. Otherwise, for
normal use, the voice of the kitten is high and squeaky-sounding
like "eeee" or "eee-you."
Each day, each week, is one of achievement. At six
weeks the teeth are in. By seven or eight the unsteady legs are
firm. By eight or nine, the kittens are big enough to be weaned,
although it may take a frightening, unexpected snarl from mother, or
a cuff from her paw to convince them of it.
By now, too, they will have become distinct
personalities. Or, at least, one will have asserted itself as boss
of the litter, stronger, rougher, first at the dinner table, always
at the center of the bed. Very likely, too, this is the one which
will learn the most, and learn it most quickly.
The kitten, of course, inevitably becomes cat and in
the transition unfortunately loses its charm for many people. This
is short-sighted in the extreme. For the young cat, sound of wind
and limb, is about ready to enter a lifetime of service in the war
on rodents. Whether in the city or the country, the cat is a
valuable ally to have. (Not all cats -- there are some shirkers. For
reasons never satisfactorily explained, some cats, like some humans,
never do a lick of work, although they dress well and are otherwise
pleasant company. It's not necessarily a matter of home training, for other cats in the
family may be excellent hunters. It may be that the gold bricks just
don't like mice.)
months the kitten coat is shed and the coarser permanent fur comes
in. The baby teeth usually go now, too (although maybe not until
seven months), and the business-like adult set, numbering 28,
appears. This includes 12 incisors (six each in the upper and lower
jaws), four canines, eight premolars and four molars. The incisors
bite food into manageable pieces for chewing by the molars. The
canines, long and slightly curved, are available to deliver piercing
bites to mouse or rat.
By eight months the female cat is physically mature,
and in nine to 12, the male. The kitten cuteness will have
disappeared, but in its place will be the sleek efficiency of the
young, wonderfully functional adult cat. From the tip of the
sensitive stub nose to the tip of the flickering tail, she -- or he
-- is a marvel of construction.
The skeleton is engineered to bear the stresses and
strains of all movements, whether they involve a powerful,
spring-legged leap or a swivel of the head to wash a spot in the
middle of the back. The muscles are strung to allow great
flexibility and agility. They are keenly responsive to the brain's
command -- as anyone knows who has watched a cat's broken-field
running in pursuit of quarry or in flight from a dog. The curved,
retractable claws, sheathed in repose, are
capable of supporting the cat's weight in climbing or of dealing a
raking slash to the face or body of an enemy. The skin is
loose-fitting, making it difficult for a foe to seize more than a
mouthful of fur and giving the cat maneuverability to twist and
turn, even when held.
The senses are acute, particularly those of sight
and hearing. While cats cannot see in complete darkness, they can
see better than humans in dim light because their pupils dilate more
and thus make better use of the available illumination. They are
also aided in seeing by their whiskers, which are not a measure of
the cat's width, as is often thought, but serve as feelers in
shape and location of objects.
As far as hearing goes, the cat is far superior to
man. In fact, it's very likely that the cat's intent concentration
on high-frequency sounds inaudible to man gave rise to the belief
that cats could see ghosts and hear spirit voices. Unless, of
course, cats do in fact see ghosts and hear spirit voices but are
too unimpressed to mention it.
The virtues of the young cat are many, her wants
simple, her faults few. She is clean, tidy and odorless. She is
quiet, graceful and well-mannered, courteous to adults and kind to
children. She appreciates good food, but is very adaptable and has
been known to subsist on quite bizarre diets. She welcomes a place to sleep that is her own
but is also content to make a nightly choice of chair, couch, or her
owner's bed if this is all the household offers.
The flaws in her character and behavior are actually
inherent in being cat and annoy only man. These are her -- or his --
urgent and unabashed sexual performances and the howling attendant
on them; the tormenting of captive rodents; and the inability to
distinguish between the songbirds that inscrutable man cherishes
(good birds) and the others (unimportant birds).
Go to: Chapter
3 Part 2: The Adult Years