Is my cat abnormally stupid, or is she a little blind?
June 16, 2008 4:57 PM   Subscribe

Is my cat abnormally stupid, or is she a little blind? (note: I'm leaning towards that she is stupid)

I adopted my cat, Rhubarb, from my local SPCA in January. I love her so hard, I can hardly breathe, but her behaviour is weird. I have had cats before, but they have seemed fairly intelligent. Rhubarb, on the other hand, seems ridiculously stunned. For example:
- Every morning when I wake up I call for her and she comes into the bedroom for her morning cuddles. More often than not when she attempts to jump onto my bed she misses and ends up jumping head first into the side of the mattress. She'll do that once or twice until she gives up and just meows from the floor until I pick her up. (In her defense, it is an extra high bed, but still...)
- she has yet to figure out how to open a door that is already slightly ajar (ie. she hasn't figured out how to put her paw in the door and open it enough to fir through)
- I put a sock on her head once (it was loose, don't freak out) but rather than trying to get it off she just sat there and didn't move until I took it off....
- she sometimes falls off the bed during her morning cuddles. She likes to flop down on her side so I can rub her tummy and sometimes she kinda flops off the side of the mattress.

Someone suggested to me that much of this could be due to her maybe having problems with her vision. Could this be the case? Cats are supposed to be graceful and gymnastic. Should I get it checked out? I mean, she seems fine apart from being a bit stupid/clutzy.... And she isn't a clutz all the time (last week she managed to jump right into the freezer into the one tiny clear area in it), just often.

posted by gwenlister to Pets & Animals (44 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I vote stupid.

Also, even if she was blind/near-blind, I'm fairly certain that she would get used to the height of the bed.
posted by InsanePenguin at 5:03 PM on June 16, 2008

Well, how does she chase a laser pointer ?
posted by iamabot at 5:08 PM on June 16, 2008

Oh, the cuteness!

We have cats with full sight who sometimes fall off of stuff/can't make the jump the first time. I attribute this to their inability to accurately calculate how hard to push off the floor to make height [X]. But they're better at math than I am, so I shouldn't judge.

Does she like to play with balls or little bits of things on the end of a string? Does she like to chase laser pointer lights (NB: ours don't - they look at us like, Dude, it's a light. I can't catch a light. How dumb do you think I am?)? That is, can she track things that move? If you move her food bowl, can she find it easily?

As for the falling off the bed during morning, that could just be that all of her senses are so focused on the cuddling that she forgets to pay attention to where the edge of the bed is.

So, I'm voting for not the sharpest cat in the drawer. But so cute!
posted by rtha at 5:14 PM on June 16, 2008

My friend has a blind cat, and he gets around the apartment just fine. The only time he bumps into anything is if something is out of place. Cats adjust very quickly to handicaps, so I'm in agreement with what InsanePenguin said. So my vote for your cat is that she's just a little on the slow side. I have three cats, and one of them is a little slow just like yours, I find it quite endearing.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:17 PM on June 16, 2008

We call our cat the Biffer because he doesn't make it up onto the bed - oh, say 2 out of 10 times he tries. But he's a fat, older cat and we don't expect too much. Love 'im as he is.
posted by nkknkk at 5:17 PM on June 16, 2008

Ah, cats. My ever so graceful cat jumped off a table once and broke his paw. He also didn't figure out how to meow until he was almost six years old. But a great companion he was nevertheless. I doubt it's a vision problem. Great photo.
posted by meerkatty at 5:18 PM on June 16, 2008

My sister has a clumsy, goofy cat that does similar things - falls off things, misjudges jumps, seems generally not too bright. We figured it was just the way he was until we saw a video about cats with cerebellar hypoplasia. Of course, the cat in the video seems to have it much more severely, but there was a lot in there that made us think of her cat.

Not a veterinarian, but since he's happy and healthy, we chalked the clumsiness up to that.
posted by pocams at 5:23 PM on June 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

My cat, who LOVES the laser pointer, fails tests 1, 2, and 4 regularly.

Be aware that in the matter of the extra high bed, Rhubarb may eventually decide to bust out the claws and climb up, Spiderman style...
posted by gnomeloaf at 5:28 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Being that you got her from the SPCA, she may not have had the greatest of upbringings and just was never taught or encouraged to do these things, like knowing that you can use your paw to open the door, etc. I'm not sure how that accounts for everything, but it might be something else to consider?
posted by amethysts at 5:39 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

This question is so adorable. I love the sock thing. Anyway, I also think it just sounds like weirdo cat behavior. I used to have a cat who would run head-first into walls. Repeatedly. He never figured out that it would hurt him or else he just got off on the pain.
posted by Kloryne at 5:42 PM on June 16, 2008

another vote for stupid, but adorably awesome.

also, the whole "oh, i'm so caught up in cuddle time that i flopped off the bed, whoops!" sounds like a trick to get even MORE cuddles. so, maybe...genius?
posted by AlisonM at 5:43 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

She sounds like she's within the bounds of normalcy to me. I currently have 3 cats, and have had several others throughout my life, all of whom have had varying levels of agility. Not every cat is a gymnastic wonder.

As far as the door situation, two of my cats can open almost any door, but the third one will sit and meow pathetically for doors to be opened for her even when they're obviously ajar (even ajar enough for her to look through the gap).

As long as your cat seems happy and healthy, I wouldn't worry about her lack of gracefulness.
posted by amyms at 5:47 PM on June 16, 2008

For the record, Rhubarb isn't quite 2 years old.

Does she like to chase laser pointer lights (NB: ours don't - they look at us like, Dude, it's a light. I can't catch a light. How dumb do you think I am?)? That is, can she track things that move?

She does seem to be able to track things that move. I don't have a laser pointer (yet) but she has followed the light from a flashlight and the reflection from a mirror.

Be aware that in the matter of the extra high bed, Rhubarb may eventually decide to bust out the claws and climb up, Spiderman style...

Yeah, she's done that a couple times. Grr.
posted by gwenlister at 5:53 PM on June 16, 2008

I have a cat who's within the realm of normal who does just this sort of thing. Especially the falling off the bed when being petted. She's just abnormally cuddly, not exquisitely coordinated, and not all that bright. But she's adorable.
posted by lleachie at 6:25 PM on June 16, 2008

I have a blind cat (well, he's completely blind in one eye and can see something, but no telling what exactly, out of the other one). He has a really good sense of where he is and where other things are. Jumping and landing isn't an issue for him, nor is opening doors and such. If you rearrange the furniture (which we rarely do, mostly because of him), it will take him a few days to readjust his cognitive map of the house. And, until he has it down, he will run into things.

So it seems more like an equilibrium problem than a vision problem. Ask your vet next time you're in. If he/she doesn't think it's a problem, I wouldn't worry.
posted by wheat at 6:28 PM on June 16, 2008

Could she be a ragdoll kitty? They are notably floppy and really kind of clumsy.
posted by jamjam at 6:29 PM on June 16, 2008

My dad has a blind cat - she gets around fine, including jumping up and down from beds, chairs, etc... She runs up and down stairs, trots around outside (under supervision), and knows where all her toys are.

So...I vote with the others who suggested your cat is a lovable goof. :)
posted by Liosliath at 6:37 PM on June 16, 2008

My first reaction is stupid and/or lazy.

My cat can be that way. She is kinda fat, so sometimes she will jump up on the couch, but underestimate the mass of her ass and go rolling back onto the floor. Or just jump into the front of the couch with her kitty-chest and bounce off. Once, when I was bird-sitting a friend's parakeets, I accidentally left the door open to the room where the birds were kept in a pretty low floor-standing cage. I came home after work to find her sitting on the floor, staring up at the cage. She seemed to be thinking: "If I was a few pounds lighter, you birds would be so my dinner."

Not trying to get the sock off her head may just be a sign of trust. She is not panicking, and trusts you enough that you are not going to hurt her.

Cats have all kinds of personalities and abilities, just like people. Rhubarb seems to be within the range of cat behavior. She is just a nerd.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 7:30 PM on June 16, 2008

There was a post on the Blue about a cat who has a disease that sounds like your cat. I have a cat that has the disease and boy is it cute. Jumps into things, shakes his head and falls over, tumbles down stairs, uses wall to stop. WHile I think my cat has a disease, he is also not the sharpest nail in the claw.

Watch the video!!
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:15 PM on June 16, 2008

My shelter kitty lived in a two-level cage for three or four months (from about 2 months to about six months) until we adopted him. He was skilled at jumping that interval--from lower to upper levels in his shelter cage--either up or down, but other distances flummoxed him and he'd overshoot, crash into things and land poorly. Eventually he figured it out.

He also enjoyed being next to people when he was at the two heights available to him at the shelter (about two and four feet off the ground) but was terrified of us when he was viewing us from any other altitude. This quirk ultimately disappeared as well.
posted by carmicha at 8:21 PM on June 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

I have one stupid cat and one smart cat. The smart one opens doors for the stupid one. Even the smart one misses the occasional jump. The stupid one has at least figured out that he's bad at it and doesn't try to jump too high anymore.
posted by desjardins at 8:24 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you've got an adorably stupid cat. I wouldn't worry about it. Maybe get a lower bed for teh cuddles.
posted by shownomercy at 8:31 PM on June 16, 2008

She sounds adorable.

What colour is she? - Sounds like a silly question, but I've heard that white cats are often (genetically) deaf - and I wonder whether (if she's white) she has a genetic problem (possibly it affects balance as well, for example).
I think it may be worth getting her checked out by a vet, just to be sure.
posted by Dub at 8:55 PM on June 16, 2008

Had to take my kitty to the vet after she crashed into a window (tried to attack a raccoon). Vet said to be careful because cats are farsighted and have absolutely no depth perception, they are bad for jumping out of windows several floors up.
posted by idiotfactory at 9:30 PM on June 16, 2008

I've seen my cat make some epically ungraceful jumps....full speed onto the front porch, face first and kart-wheeling into the door. Some cats just have it...obviously ours don't. But it is adorable.
posted by pilibeen at 9:47 PM on June 16, 2008

Is it a purebred - or chinchilla type?

Our cat's stupid. Its a pure bred chinchilla. Birds steal food out of his cat bowl we we feed him.
posted by mattoxic at 9:48 PM on June 16, 2008

I don't know, but the sock on the head thing made me laugh.
posted by Mr_Zero at 9:54 PM on June 16, 2008

Well, clearly Rhubarb's problem is she's got a brown paper sack for a body.

No really, she's fine. Cats vary in athletic ability, one of mine is capable of stunningly huge jumps--regularly leaping to the top of a 6' bookshelf from a sitting position while his sister can barely get her front legs off the ground and has thus spurred many comments around the house about how white cats can't jump.
posted by jamaro at 11:04 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

She just sounds like a spaz :) Meh, you get that :) Mine are littermates and sometimes I wonder if maybe one of them was adopted or something?
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 11:07 PM on June 16, 2008

I think amethysts nails it, Rhubarb's background may have been grim without great opportunities for adventurous play and she's not got the hang of some things yet. Rhubarb may have spent quite a while at the RSPCA in a cage with only a smallish exercise area and also may have been perturbed by the proximity of other cats. It's the same with all mammals, use the skill or lose it. If she was with the RSPCA a long time, then her muscles won't be so strong either from lack of exercise.

As for the sock, she might just be a placid, tolerant type of cat.

You could spend some time teaching her to open ajar doors and also how to leap onto the bed accurately using play. Spend some time on the bed, wiggling or scratching your hand or a toy on the bed about a foot away from the edge, sometimes moving your hand/toy to the edge of the bed so she can see it, every time she leaps up, let her have a play with your hand/toy and praise her. Gradually you can move it further away from the edge and she should get the hang of the right kind of leap to make it onto the bed and toy in one go. If it bothers you that she keeps missing the bed and sits miaowing or she breaks out the claws to climb up, provide a step up for her, a couple of hefty, thick books would do. All this will improve her confidence in her leaping ability. Yes, cats lose confidence doing physical things, just like humans do when they fall off of a horse or a bike.

It's notoriously hard to tell if a cat has a vision problem as they are adept at adapting to their surroundings and become self limiting in the areas they explore. Their hearing is great and their facial and leg whiskers pick up air movement very accurately. So throwing things to see if she tracks them is fairly useless. If you really do have any doubts about her vision, then she does need a vet to have a look deeply into her lovely eyes.
posted by Arqa at 2:53 AM on June 17, 2008

I just wanted to say that "I love her so hard, I can hardly breathe" is my new favorite quote.
posted by captnkurt at 6:08 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

My cats couldn't figure out how to open doors that were ajar, either. They would meow at me and when they did, I took them by the elbows and used their paws to open the door. Even the dumb one got it in two or three repetitions. Yay Butter! :D

Poor Butter falls off things all the time and gets distracted and forgets where she's going. If we're playing with her and a toy gets out of her line of vision, she sits there confused instead of looking for it, like it just disappeared. She also loves to cuddle and sometimes rolls over to get tummy rubs.... and falls right off the bed.

Cats are wonderful!
posted by GardenGal at 6:25 AM on June 17, 2008

Toots, (the best cat, ever) was stupid. Very atheletic, beautiful, and incapable of thinking around a corner. Literally. We lived in a place where she had a window for her coming and going. She could come to another window to see me, and announce her wish to come in. She could not figure out that she had to then walk around the house to the side, for her window. I had to go there and make noises to attract her, to get her to stop whining at the other window.

One time (another home) she was missing, and I went out to find her. I found her quickly. She was wandering back and forth, very confused, by the next building in the complex. It did not have stairs where her building did, and she did not understand it wasn't the same place! But when I took her around the wrong building, as soon as she saw her stairs, she jumped from my arms and ran for the door.

But stick a feather on the end of a string, and she would happily leap through the air to catch it. And she knew me, and clearly understood my emotions better than you might expect. (I've written about her on AskMe many times). Most notable, when my partner died, she determined I was not to be allowed to spend time sitting on the edge of the bed (dark spells). She knew to sneak up behind me and nip me in the tender parts on my side (tickles!). Truth is, we mothered each other. (now excuse me, there's something in my eye).
posted by Goofyy at 6:56 AM on June 17, 2008 [4 favorites]

My old man cat (who's 14) has always had a difficult time jumping on high things. Counters, tall beds, etc. all confound him and he seems to take an extraordinary long time to make the jump. In my mind, he's doing the math and calculating the physical force need to make the jump taking into account air resistance and so forth. That's far better than he's just not that bright. Of course, when he misses, I just think he's forgotten to carry the one.

Then again, this a cat that goes into the bathroom and yells at the toilet when he's out of fresh water in his dish. He doesn't drink out of the toilet, just yells at it.

They're wacky critters them felines.
posted by teleri025 at 8:03 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

My mom had a cat who was notoriously dumb. Or as my mother said, "All her brains went into making her tail so pretty." She'd hop up on the coffee table, walk the length of it (4' or so) and forget she was on a table by the time she got to the other side. Kerplop! Whoever said cats always land on their feet never spent a day with Tiberius.
posted by notashroom at 8:26 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would reiterate the question of what color the cat is and what color eyes. White cats, especially those with blue eyes commonly have a genetic predisposition towards deafness and associatedly, really bad balance. I knew cat like that named Earl, who couldnt leap onto a chair without over jumping it and crashing into the wall. Pretty sweet cat actually except that he couldnt hear himself yowling which annoyed the hell out of all of us.
posted by elendil71 at 9:27 AM on June 17, 2008

I would reiterate the question of what color the cat is and what color eyes.

From the photo linked in the original question, the cat appears to be a calico with yellow eyes.
posted by jamaro at 10:16 AM on June 17, 2008

Sounds like my mom's cat. She runs into walls, bonks her head, falls off chairs...and when she falls doesn't land on her feet, just sort of kerflops to the ground. Concurring with all those who have suggested a shelter connection: Tinka spent most of her kittenhood at the SPCA (we got her at 4 or 5 months, I think), and I've always figured she just didn't get enough early experience exploring the physical environment and it stunted her spatial abilities and coordination. She's two now and has gotten a bit less clumsy, so maybe there's hope for Rhubarb yet.
posted by hippugeek at 12:27 PM on June 17, 2008

shownomercy : Maybe get a lower bed for teh cuddles.

Another option would be to set something next to the bed at half it's hight so that the cat can use it like a stair.

As to the can't figure out the door thing, I've got a Siamese with this exact problem. The other three cats can move with ease, but she will lock her self in the room as often as not. And I got tired of worrying that she would imprison herself in the bedroom the whole day with no access to water or litter-boxes. So I now throw a dish-towel over the top of the door. It's just thick enough that the door won't close easily and it leave a slightly larger gap for her to fit her paw into.
posted by quin at 3:12 PM on June 17, 2008

White cats are notorious for going blind. My white/tabby patch cat has the most beautiful big eyes but they hardly work at all any more. She's about 9 and her sight has been getting worse and worse over the 4 years I've had her. Your cat is still young, but be aware that if she is predominantly white (which it looks like she is) she may start losing her sight if she hasn't already. I was expecting Molly's hearing to make up for her poor sight but apparently white cats have poor hearing too! However she adapts very well considering - I moved house with her 2 months ago and she settled in extremely quickly. She's forever walking into doors etc but she has a head of steel and just continues on her way, to protect her ego! She leads a very normal life, except she doesn't really play any more - I think she gets bored as she can't see the toy.

Hopefully Rhubarb will gradually learn the skills to jump higher and open doors (some good training tips above). I call Molly my Special Needs cat and love her for exactly how she is, as I'm sure you do with Rhubarb.
posted by Happycat79 at 3:39 PM on June 17, 2008

Rhubarb is a tortie with yellow eyes.

I've been watching her extra closely for the past couple days and i really think that it is just that she is super dumb and doesn't learn quickly. Like when I was having a bath and she stuck one paw elbow deep to see what the water was, freaked out a bit, and then stuck the OTHER paw in, elbow deep and was genuinely surprised to find the water was still wet. Dumb as a bag of hammers, this cat. God I love her.
posted by gwenlister at 6:01 AM on June 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

And installing a stair type thing up to the bed is a good idea. Thanks!
posted by gwenlister at 6:01 AM on June 18, 2008

She sounds gorgeous! - Please let us know if she works the stairs out!
posted by Dub at 6:12 PM on June 18, 2008

my cat falls off things too, and also misses when he tries to jump on things sometimes. i think he's nearsighted- i've seen him unable to locate a live mouse that was hiding between his front paws.
posted by twistofrhyme at 12:28 PM on September 7, 2008

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