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Cats Adopt Owners' Habits (Bad and Good)

Cat starting to copy your habits? Don't be alarmed...

Cats really do become part of our families, to the point that they take on human habits -- good and bad -- and adapt their lifestyle with that of their owners, says new research.

The finding shows how profoundly captivity can affect certain animals. While genetics help to explain some aspects of personality and behavior, an individual's environment clearly is a factor too.

"Our findings underline the high influence of human presence and care on the amount of activity and daily rhythm in cats," concluded Giuseppe Piccione and colleagues of the University of Messina's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.

Dogs and Cats Help Prevent Infections in Kids

For the Journal of Veterinary Behavior study, the researchers studied two groups of cats. Each group received excellent care, in terms of food, medical attention and grooming. The owners of all the cats worked during the day and returned home in the evenings.

The first group of cats, however, lived in smaller homes and stayed closer to their owners. The second group lived more of an indoor/outdoor lifestyle on larger property. These cats were also kept outside at night.

Over time, the cats in the first group mirrored the lives of their owners. Their eating, activity and sleeping patterns were very similar. The cats left out at night became more nocturnal, matching the behaviors of semi-dependent farm cats with more feral ways.

"Cats are intelligent animals with a long memory," Jane Brunt, DVM, and the executive director of the CATalyst Council, told Discovery News. "They watch and learn from us, (noting) the patterns of our actions, as evidenced by knowing where their food is kept and what time to expect to be fed, how to open the cupboard door that's been improperly closed and where their feeding and toileting areas are."

Cats Do Roam, Tracking Shows

Piccione pointed out that cats' food intake is associated with that of owners, perhaps explaining why human and cat obesity rates seem to so often match. Cats may even match their elimination patterns with those of their owners.

"It's always interesting when I hear about people who have the litterbox in their bathroom and the cat uses it when the owner is on the toilet," Brunt, a past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, said.

Another recent study, published in Applied Animal Behavior Science, looked at personality in cats. Many of the primary traits -- arrogant, social, shy, trusting, aggressive, calm, timid, excitable, dominant and curious -- apply to humans as well.

Authors Marieke Cassia Gartner and Alexander Weiss of The University of Edinburgh believe that the environment in which a feline lives "is one possible explanation for the variance in results in the domestic cat, as personality may not be completely comprised of genetic makeup."

Humans even serve as role models for their cats.

"While it's commonly thought that cats are solitary and aloof and can take care of themselves, studies have shown that cats are social animals and when people are their main social group, it's important for owners to understand that they are the role model and we have to encourage their activities with proper play/prey techniques," Brunt explained, adding that when owners take time to play with their cats, the felines are more motivated to stay active.

While it's now known that owners greatly influence their cats, the reverse is true as well. Cats can influence that habits and lifestyle of their owners. Brunt said that we often adjust our schedules to fit theirs, such as getting up earlier and responding to their needs.

"I also think we can learn a lot from cats," she added. "When they sit on our lap softly purring with rhythmic breathing and half-closed eyes, the sense of serenity and calm that comes over us is like a private lesson in inner peace and meditation."

Cats take on human habits -- good and bad.

Among the

many

things

we

learned

this week, one story was of the amazing friendship formed between a

tiger named Amur and a goat named Timur

. Timur was supposed to be a meal for the big cat, but the friendly goat had other ideas. Now, so far, they are best buds. They're not the only unusual animal friendships, though. Let's look at a few more.

Tiger And Goat Forge Unlikely Friendship In Russian Zoo

Here's another pair of cute, fast friends. Meet Kumbali and Kago -- a puppy and a cheetah cub (Kumbali's the cheetah and the lab mix is Kago). They live at Virginia's Metro Richmond Zoo. It's not clear how long they will remain together, but they seem to love each other's company. (Check out this

video

, if you can handle all the cuteness.) Next we'll take a look at some unforgettable pictures from

Rocky Ridge Refuge

, which knows a thing or two about unlikely animal friendships, as you will see.

Cheetah Cub, Puppy Make Fast Friends At Va. Zoo

It's not every day you see a baby skunk and a kitten getting to know each other on your couch. But it was a typical day for Janice Wolf, her menagerie of dogs, sheep, donkeys, horses, emus, and countless cats, ducks, rabbits, turtles -- and whatever animal may need a home that day. Wolf runs

Rocky Ridge Refuge

in Gassville, Ark. The refuge is her personal labor of love for abandoned, abused and injured animals of every shape, size, species and ailment. Wolf's rescues generally enter the refuge with horrific tales of neglect and abuse. But through Wolf's perseverance many of the animals go on to live long, happy lives -- filled with some of the most amazing interspecies friendships. "The only rule we have here is 'we gotta get along,'" said Wolf. "And they do." Above, we see an abandoned kitten (part of a litter left for dead when the kittens were just a day old) that engaged Josh, the resident skunk. Josh was raised by humans and then abandoned and didn't have the necessary skills to survive in the wild.

Cop Saves Baby Skunk From Yogurt Cup In Viral Video Gem

Shown is one of Rocky Ridge's great success stories, Tristan, a three-legged dog (top left), who came from a horribly abusive home and went on to make frequent visits to nursing homes, as a therapy dog. His friendship with Fiesta, an orphaned deer, was also legendary. "He just assigned himself the protector," recalls Wolf. "He came from such a terrible place but he was so loving and forgiving. That’s the great thing about animals -- they pay it forward." Meanwhile, Duncan, the dog at right, also came to Rocky Ridge Refuge "from a bad situation." But he never seemed to hold it against any person or animal. Here, he uses Nabisco the fawn as a pillow.

You'd never know it from Parfait's belly-up smile and her gentle demeanor with Mark, the emu chick, that she was once so abused her collar had become embedded in her neck. Parfait came to Rocky Ridge Refuge after living on the streets of St. Louis. Rescuers found her with a litter of puppies that had frozen to death. Parfait, too, was close to death, according to Wolf, who spent time nursing the pitbull back to health. Parfait broke the boundaries of pit bull prejudice, enjoying all things cute and fluffy, from chicks to bunnies.

Famous Animals Of The Big And Small Screen: Photos

Here Rocky Ridge's capybara Cheesecake befriends dogs. Cornbread, a deaf bull terrier (bottom right) and Cheesecake were instant friends, according to Wolf.

10 Oldest Dog Breeds: Photos

Ivan, the Catahoula mix, started going blind at about a year old, but it never stopped him from "nannying" Rocky Ridge's orphans, like Raoul the raccoon.

Hibernators Stretch After Long Winter's Nap: Photos

Blade, the Irish wolfhound, came to Rocky Ridge Refuge as a puppy and then spent the next year of his life recovering from paralysis of all four limbs. With lots of physical therapy and love, Wolf was able to help Blade learn to walk on his own. Before he could walk, however, he was a favorite of the other baby refugees, who often kept him company inside while the other dogs were able to roam outside. Look closely and you can see that Blade is cuddling with a duckling.

Funky Ducks Thrive At NYC's Central Park: Photos

This photo may be the true image of brotherly love. The orphaned lamb was adopted by the mother of the puppy he's sleeping atop. The mother dog gave birth to 10 puppies on Wolf's bed just a week after being brought to Rocky Ridge Refuge. She "insisted," on caring for the lamb as though it were one of her puppies, according to Wolf. The lamb nursed (and cuddled) along with the rest of the pups. The final (and largest) piece of this snuggle puzzle is Krispin, a St. Bernard puppy who came to the refuge with a broken leg.

VIDEO: Why Do Puppies Yawn?

Lurch may have been Rocky Ridge Refuge's most famous resident of all time. The African Watusi steer holds the record for the largest circumference of horns -- ever. He was even recognized by Guinness World Records. Lurch was also the leader of Rocky Ridge's motley pack until his death in 2010, according to Wolf. His size never prevented him from befriending other refugees, including Isaiah the cat. Here, a young Lurch (with his horns yet to reach their 8-foot span) grazes while little Isaiah enjoys the ride.

Cats Don't Actually Ignore Us

Finally, meet Janice Wolf herself. Here she is posing in 2012 for a photo with two of Rocky Ridge's refugees. The animal rescue organization was a life-long dream of hers. "I was born to do it," says Wolf, recalling that her first "rescue" was a pelican when she was just a toddler growing up in Florida. For more than 20 years she's used her experience as a veterinary technician and holistic medicine practitioner to help animals. You can follow the stories of her animals on the

Rocky Ridge Refuge website

and

Facebook page

.

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