Cats and social taboos

Back in the old neighborhood, there was a stray male cat that got all our female cats pregnant. He was a large cat, black and white (we called him Blackie), and there were times when he would sneak inside the house. He got Sam’s old cat, Bebe (a stray kitten that we adopted), pregnant more than once then got one of Bebe’s — and his — female kittens (named Deedee) pregnant as well. Deedee died during pregnancy. It was from observing these cats that I learned that cats are incestuous. But it’s really more complicated than that. See, I always wondered if Blackie would have mated with Deedee had she grown up in his company. You know, like in a family setting. But Blackie never saw Deedee growing up on a day to day basis. He lived off the streets; Deedee lived in our house.

So, we live in a new neighborhood. No more Blackie. Unfortunately for Bebe, she was roaming somewhere when the moving truck arrived and she got left behind. Tough for Sam but we couldn’t wait for her cat all day. We have three cats right now and Speedy observed some goings on… But let me introduce the cats properly so that the story won’t be so confusing. Okay, the three cats: Persian cat

Pepper, above, our beloved Persian cat (she’s everyone’s darling); her kitten, a male whom we call Pssst; and Maki, Alex’s male cat who’s half Persian and half Himalayan but not related to Pepper. Maki, the kitten

That’s Maki above. The photo was taken last July and he was still very much a kitten at the time. Cross breed of Himalayan and Persian cats

And that’s Maki in a photo taken in October — not a kitten anymore but still not quite an adult cat. Today, over two months after that photo was taken, Maki is very much an adult. He roams and Speedy has jokingly said on more than one occasion that he’s probably the neighborhood stud — much like Blackie was in our old neighborhood — who will get every female cat within sight pregnant in due time. He’s a good-looking dude, pure white and blue-eyed. And very much virile. If stray cats wander into our garden, he fights with them until they run off.

Maki was two months old when we got him. A scrawny little thing. When Pepper gave birth to her second litter about two weeks after Maki’s arrival, Maki shared the new kittens’ milk. Pepper was actually breastfeeding him and he got big and strong and, now, he eats more than Pepper does. Male. Macho. Big. Strong.

But because Pepper breastfed him, Pepper is like a surrogate mother to him. He grew up in her company and she treated him as one of her own kittens. Now, here’s the weird thing. According to Speedy, Maki is making sexual overtures with Pepper and Pepper shoos him away. Which brings me to the question I had with Blackie and his incestuous relationship with the offspring who did now grow up by his side — a stranger for all intents and purposes despite the blood relation. Now we have two cats, unrelated by blood, but one raised and breastfed by the other. And the male cat wants to mate with the only mother he has ever known? And the even weirder thing is that the mating instinct does not seem to be shared equally between them because Pepper gets really, really angry when Maki tries to smell her under the tail (that’s what male cats do when making sexual overtures).

So, do male and female cats have different standards as to who can be their mates? Is Pepper rejecting Maki because she treats him as almost one of her offspring?

In Civil Law, marriage between step parents and step children are not allowed. Not because of anything connected with the belief that mating between blood relations weakens the strain. It’s not a question of incest because step parents and step children are not blood related. Yet, they are not allowed to marry anyway. I’ve always though that it’s a culture thing rather than a nature thing. And now we have this female cat who seems to be abiding by that standard. And that kinda makes the culture-nature issue blurry. So, I wonder.