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Crazy Cats - 'The Mad Half Hour'
Dr David Sands PhD - animal behaviourist of Animal Behavioural Clinic, Chorley discusses why cats have flashes of madness.

Most cat keepers cannot help but notice the 'mad half hour' when it first occurs. A cat will suddenly seemingly fly down stairs without touching treads. If there's another cat in the home, another frenzied feline will be following in hot pursuit. Vases can fall. Phantom shadows can be chased. Settees can be vaulted, curtains can be climbed. Hanging threads and table cloths can be teased to the floor. Collisions will undoubtedly occur. Sometimes humans get in the way. Too bad. There can be rough and tumble. There can also be vocalisation of this feline madness. Wahhhrrrrsssss and meows. Sometimes flight can come to a dead stop. Claws out, retro on. The 'mad half hour' can have several stops and starts. The common pattern is the daily half hour.
So, what's it all about? Well, the 'mad half hour syndrome' appears to affect most cats. House cats are thought to experience them the most. They are about expending energy in one concentrated burst. Cats that are content to stay indoors are not expending the same energy as outdoor cats. Wandering outside the home for a cat probably takes up a great deal of energy especially when wall and tree climbing skills are brought into play. Cat personalties can also play a big part.
When your cat suddenly dashes behind the sofa and looks at you with that little "look at me!" face?
This part of cat behaviour is all about 'stalking and hunting'. All play behaviour is a prelude for the real thing'. The cat is looking' for interaction from another cat' (that can be the keeper in the cat's perception) and instinct takes over during an adrenalin?driven game. You, as the keeper, simply become part of it.
There are many forms of play behaviour that can be seen to be an adaptation. Cats crash through newspaper or paper bags so enthusiastically because bursting through materials is no different to bursting through undergrowth or leaves.
Cats wiggle their back legs as they get ready to pounce on a bit of fluff on
the carpet because this prepares them for a 'leap' ? a kind of balance check' before 'the pounce'. These play behaviours in domestication are modes of behaviour linked to prey stalking, attacking and predation in nature.

The shape of behaviour

There are two major forces that help shape the character of domesticated cats. The first force is genetic and, despite the many generations between the pet cat and the wild African or Eurasian animals, the same instincts have been carried faithfully gene by gene along the DNA trail. This dictates all physiological and most behavioural developments including skeletal development, reproduction, parental care, feeding, agility, coat, eyes etc
The second force is behavioural and this aspect is continually effected by domestication and, in the life of a kitten to cat, what is learned from the litter mother from birth and the environmental circumstances surrounding the initial development. There could be arguments about the exact percentages of influence between genetic and learned forces in behaviour (the old Nature over Nurture debate) but it might be estimated around 75% instinctive and 25% learned.
Following what a cat has inherited directly from its parent's genes, it is the learned behaviour and environmental conditions that will shape its developing character. A kitten born to feral parents beneath the ruins of a old barn will certainly have all its instincts sharpened at a fast rate. It will quickly learn prey types, how to hunt for food and how to avoid potential predators. Such a kitten would be aware and could appear to be 'crazy' or 'permanently anxious or nervous' (hyper-alert) once it had been brought into a home. In contrast, a kitten born in the comfort of the washroom tucked into a warm blanket with a litter mother that is fat and content is hardly likely to care from which side of the jug its cream is poured. Life for a kitten is only about milk and sleep and play.
The classification of a cat's personality depends entirely on the DNA passed on by its mother and father and the environmental circumstances of its birth. How seriously the litter mother takes parenting is then the next critical step and another story.

The 'Woody Allen' Cat

The mad half hour cat is usually a neurotic. It doesn't simply have to live on the streets of New York to need a therapist. Maybe some feral cat influence has created hyper-alertness and an extrovert personality. Many's a sneaky mating been made by a feral cat taking on a pet tabby 'new to the tiles'. On the other hand, a cat's influence towards daftness can have its roots in a lively litter - fraternity members of which would always be on the mischief hunt. Nonetheless, introverted neurotic cats can be just as prone to the 'mad half hour syndrome'. A nervous cat may hide for most of its time underneath the sideboard, under the kitchen units or in the back bedroom but it too, can suddenly burst into life and chase ghosts and shadows.

In nature, a wild or feral cat may spend as much as 50% of its time looking for food. In domestication this is usually modified because most keepers kindly do the bulk of 'hunting and foraging' for their pets. The 'kill' may start out as lines of cans or in bags on a supermarket shelf and will end up in a carrier bag that has 'Sainsbury, Asda or Tesco' printed on it but that is what your shopping represents to a pet. You've been hunting and foraging and what have you brought back -' Whiskas' or 'Sheba'!
In kittens, play and interaction with litter siblings, is closely related to learning hunting techniques. Development of some play behaviours in young cats is about sharpening predator skills.

There has to be some adaptation between nature and a tamed life. Perhaps in domestication, the house cat - without the life-necessity to 'hunt, stalk and forage' - has to somehow make up for such a major loss of lifestyle. A play cat's pupils dilate (due to the sympathetic nervous system) when they're in "mad" phase because the 'fight or flight' syndrome. This adrenalin-driven reaction which also increases heart rate and blood flow and generally heightens the senses of an animal relates to a need in nature to be watchful ie improving vision, speed and mobility.

Unless we can see the world from a cat's perspective and get inside its mind - we can only guess what's truly going on during the wonderful 'mad half hour'. My two pedigree cats have made me laugh a time or two during madness spells. Especially when they collide. Perhaps my reaction to a cat's 'mad half hour condition' is related to the 'Laurel and Hardy syndrome'. Their antics made me laugh and run around the house when I was a just a 'kitten'.

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