Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
17 Mar

The Tale of the Cat and the Crickets

huntingcatLet me tell you a story I recently heard from a friend of mine. My buddy has a pet that is one of nature’s most ferocious and stubbornly independent obligate predators, a creature that quite honestly has no business living among the gentle citizenry of refined society. A creature that frequently enjoys the luxurious trappings of civilization while periodically giving in to base desire. I refer, of course, to the common house cat. The house cat, unlike its larger canine counterpart, maintains close ties to its recent wild past. Feline domestication happened a scant few thousand years ago, and it’s only in the past half century that cats have moved into the house.

Yeah, they’re house cats now, but through most of their domesticated history, they were barn cats, farm cats, and alley cats – lurking, stalking denizens of the night who only came inside for a saucer of milk or a quick chin scratch. Fifty years is not nearly enough time to extinguish the urge to hunt small beasts, both furry and feathered. Cats will stalk insect intruders, attack toes wriggling underneath blankets, hunt reflected light dancing along the wall, fling themselves at dangling strings, shred shoelaces, and murder defenseless houseplants. Unless they’re sleeping (which is most of the time) they are on “hunt mode.” It’s an essential part of the cat’s identity.

In the past year, my friend learned firsthand just how essential; his cat began exhibiting signs of urethral blockage. He would strain when trying to urinate, drops of blood began to appear, and, eventually, the cat was unable to go at all. He was totally blocked and surgery was nearly inevitable. The vet’s diagnosis was stress-induced inflammation of the urethral sphincter. Something had been stressing the cat out, and the resultant systemic inflammation led to a compromised urethral passageway which could no longer handle the flow of urine. Urinary crystals, which normally pass through without problem, began to accumulate, worsening the situation. He eventually had (expensive) surgery to correct the situation (he would have died otherwise), but that didn’t take care of the stress. My friend had to figure out what was stressing his cat out and how to fix it to prevent any future incidents.

Living indoors, the cat’s catness had been stifled. Chasing feather toys and getting loaded on catnip only worked for so long. Eventually, the urge to kill became too much to ignore. This conflict between essential cat nature and artificial environment caused tons of stress. Now, my friend briefly considered making him an outside cat, which would give him access to wildlife and adventure, but that comes with its own set of risks, especially in high-traffic West Los Angeles. He didn’t want a dead cat. What if he brought the prey to him?

A quick trip to the pet store and three dollars later, my friend had several dozen large live crickets in a box. Crickets are agile, crunchy, inexpensive, not nearly as messy as rodents, and packed with protein and minerals, making them attractive prey for a bored house cat. He figured setting a couple loose and letting his cat have a go at them would make up for the hunting deficit and possibly reduce stress.

And it seemed to work. The cat was a master cricket hunter and began hunting and eating several a day (sometimes up to a dozen in a row). He’d play with them, bat them around, snap off a leg or wing, and take his sweet time. More importantly, he stopped showing outward signs of stress. He purred more often and more easily, he slept through the night without going crazy meowing and getting into trouble, he just seemed a lot happier and more content. All in all, he was a changed cat. And he was peeing without issue, largely due to the surgery, of course, but also, according to my friend, due to the reduction in stress. Why does he think it wasn’t just the surgery? He recently moved across the state. As a result, he noticed a recurrence of stress-related symptoms in his cat, including odd litterbox behavior; upping the daily cricket quota eliminated the symptoms.

As he told me this story, I could only think of how analogous this is to our own situation as what Erwan le Corre calls “zoo humans.” Sure, it’s far more complex with people, as our prime directive isn’t just to hunt and kill, but we are animals with certain inherent inclinations toward certain acts, or ways of being, that often directly conflict with certain aspects of our civilized surroundings. And then there’s my friend and trusted colleague, Richard Nikoley, whose blog, called “Free the Animal,” is largely about exploring how our animal natures conflict not just with modern foods/lifestyles, but with political systems and society itself.

What does this cat and cricket story mean for us? Is it just further evidence that animals should be aware of where and how their health might suffer in modern “zoo” life? Does it simply reinforce the refrain to avoid evolutionarily novel foods, habits, and stressors, so long as they are shown to be harmful?

It’s more than that. We’ve got to acknowledge, as Richard says, that we are animals. Moreover, we are animals that seek to be free – free to pursue health, happiness, and free to revel in our animal natures. Animal nature isn’t a negative thing. It doesn’t deserve the negative connotations (savagery, rape, war, hate, fear) cooked up by thousands of years of repression. Animal nature is not “good” or “bad”; it simply is. Empathy and love and compassion are innate and animalistic, and I think everyone would say those are good things.

And so I ask you: what are your crickets? Do you have any Primal, animal instincts that are being stifled? If so, how do you work around them? Or has civilization completely conquered and subdued the human animal inside?

I don’t know about you, but I need my crickets. That’s why I eat all the meat I want, lift what I want, wear the shoes (or don’t) I want. Here are a few others:

  • I need frequent “forest bathing” to feel normal. Hikes, paddle boarding excursions, snowboarding, even just sitting on a beach regarding the waves and sun dipping down below the horizon – immersing myself in nature, even using modern “technology” like books or boards, is a requisite stress fighter. The key is getting away from walled enclosures and into unpredictable surroundings.
  • Lifting heavy things and sprinting keep me sane, whereas endurance training never scratched that same itch (even when I did it for a living). There’s something about giving maximum effort and knowing that this is all you have to give because it’s so brief and impossible to maintain for more than a few seconds that it satisfies you deep down. Running long distance is also a kind of maximum effort, but more mentally trying than physically: is it really a test of physicality if you’re able to do it for hours at a time? I like being limited by objective physical energy, and pushing that limit.
  • Sex. Yeah, it’s the most notorious and frowned upon of all “animal instincts,” but boy does it make you feel alive (and glad to be so). You can stick romantic love in there, too.
  • A bloody steak. I need at least two or three a week. I’m even guilty of not letting the steak rest for five minutes before digging in. I dunno – I sometimes like the juices to get everywhere. I also lick the plate.
  • Companionship, camaraderie, friendship. Having dinner with friends and family. Sharing a laugh. Confiding in someone. Arguing with someone whom you respect, ideally courteously but not necessarily so.
  • Going shirtless. I know, I know. It sounds silly, but there’s just something about shedding clothes that feels right. It’s nothing to do with how I look; it’s all about how I feel.

What are yours?

Hunting? Meditation? Playing sports?

I reject the negative connotations accumulated from millennia of repressive thought that surround the idea of our animal natures. In fact, I think we owe it to ourselves and our health to revel in them. Don’t hurt anyone, but don’t hurt yourself by stifling yourself. My crickets don’t put me at odds with the law, nor do they put anyone else in harm’s way. They might get some weird looks from other people, but that’s fine. This is not necessarily about formally opposing formal political authority. This isn’t picketing or protests. This is merely about recognizing the (passive and nonpassive) ways in which civilization conflicts with human nature, and opposing the instances that become pathological, or harmful to our health. It is going barefoot at the office, or constructing a standup workstation, or eating a pound of steak in the lunchroom slathered in butter?

Tell me, what are your crickets?

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Awesome post, Mark!

    This one really hit a cord. My beloved cat died two years ago from this same stress related problem, and that was less than a week after the $1000.00 surgery to unblock him. He was heartbroken from my girlfriend moving out (her regular nurturing – petting, grooming, clipping, playing – I just couldn’t take her place) but this really makes me think. He might have lost those animal bonds (with the GF) but perhaps crickets and outdoors or other aspects of the wild cat’s life could have brought the stress down.

    I know that is true with me. When I was heartbroken and depressed, the high fat, low carb primal diet freed up energy quicker than any anti-depressant could and lifting heavy and running barefoot through the park could put me in touch with the bigger picture as well as a session with a good psychologist.

    One of my favorite ways to express my animal nature now are to run out of the corporate office on my lunch break shoeless and shirtless over to the park for tree pull ups, hand stands, sprints, etc, taking in the sun and the trees for 45 minutes. The contrast to the rest of the day in the office is INCREDIBLE. I don’t think people really know how much of their nature is stifled if they do not have a similar primal excursion in their day. I believe in a very strong daily primal reaction to the stifling nature of modern life. The more unnatural your working day is the more you ought to have various, strong primal outlets to balance yourself.

    Mike

    MikeyRap wrote on March 18th, 2011
  2. Wow Mark. This is a post for the ages. Well-freakin-done!

    Alex wrote on March 18th, 2011
  3. Just out, a study in the American Journal of Human Genetics using novel genetic analysis which may provide insight in determining whether the human race has been primarily monogamous:

    http://www.cell.com/AJHG/retrieve/pii/S0002929710000339

    “For the HapMap populations, we obtained β of 1.4 in the Yoruba from West Africa, 1.3 in Europeans, and 1.1 in East Asian samples. These values are consistent with a high prevalence of monogamy and limited polygyny in human populations.”

    Paleo Man wrote on March 18th, 2011
  4. Why didn’t my comment post? … :(

    MikeyRap wrote on March 18th, 2011
  5. This is off on a tangent, but being a great cat lover I wanted to mention it because it may improve the health of other cats. Apparently many cats don’t like to drink standing water, they want only running water. Domestic cats are notorious for urinary tract and kidney problems, likely due to insufficient water consumption (and also too-early neutering, must mention that). So regardless of the crickets :) anyone with a cat might want to purchase or build a running water fountain. I’ve found it makes a huge difference in the amount of water my tiny tiger drinks.

    Gingersnapper wrote on March 18th, 2011
  6. Great post Mark!
    My stress relievers are “forest bathing” as you put it (great term BTW), hunting, and mixed martial arts. The MMA is very rough physically, but I’ve found that a relatively “safe” combative experience can really make you feel alive, especially if you give as good as you get. A friend of mine used to say “you have an animal inside you; you can either let it out to play, or it will come out on its own (possibly at a bad time”. Your post points out another option; you can repress it and make yourself sick. I’m taking mine out to play!

    Agatsu wrote on March 18th, 2011
  7. Mark,

    Great connection between the feline nature and our nature as humans. Living here in Portland,OR I need to make it out to the forest more often since it is so accessable.

    As humans, our worlds are so dynamic that there are so many unatural distractions, it makes it difficult to focus on our natural tendancies. Again, great post and very inspiring.

    walter wrote on March 18th, 2011
  8. Mark,

    I love the list at the end. Very, very similar to my list. The plate-licking made me laugh; my girlfriend makes fun of me when I do it! Haha. Keep up the great work!

    Best,

    Matt

    Matt wrote on March 18th, 2011
  9. Would someone please punch Nigel?

    Bryce wrote on March 18th, 2011
  10. And I thought I was the only one who licks the plate ;).

    Good post Mark.

    Anthony wrote on March 18th, 2011
  11. I have felt this way for a very long time, for me, my release is combat sports. Boxing, Muay Thai, BJJ. Also, I find Climbing things feels really primal to me.

    Josh wrote on March 18th, 2011
  12. Reminds me of this movie on YouTube.

    It’s called “Warlord,” if you haven’t seen it, worth a watch.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGxBizeiL3s

    chipin wrote on March 18th, 2011
  13. Dancing. Wild unbridled bopping and jumping about. Makes me feel truly alive.

    As far as cats, though, I would highly recommend a whole, raw fed diet (see RawFedCats.org). Meaty bones, raw flesh, eggs, organs – your cat will never be happier or healthier. I just domesticated a pair of feral cats to live in my barn. They get chicken, chicken eggs, beef, quail, frogs, lamb, whatever scraps come off before I cook my primal dinner of the night. It sounds scary, but it’s what is most natural for them.

    Anne wrote on March 18th, 2011
  14. Without lifting weights and running sprints I would probably be in jail. The stress relief I experience from these activities keep the edge off and make me feel like a man instead of just a work bee.

    Nathan wrote on March 18th, 2011
  15. I get the point of the article but another major reason for cats getting blocked is DIET. It is most likely the main cause and cats that get blocked have to be changed to a different diet or they will block again. Just shows that any creature eating the wrong thing will eventually have problems.

    Tina wrote on March 19th, 2011
  16. My crickets…

    Being at home in scenic NEPA, waking up before the sun’s does on a chilly morning…surrounded by bird/insect sounds, and taking the bicycle for a ride on the empty roads as the sun starts to show itself. Returning home for a hot, primal breakfast. NOTHING more cleansing than that!

    I’m going to school in urbanland, so it often feels like i’m living in a noisy concrete, exhaust tainted box. Nature keeps me sane when I have the opportunity to!

    Kate wrote on March 19th, 2011
  17. Crossfit = My Crickets. I work in the corporate cubicle world and during the day I dream about heavy lifting and being out-doors. I envy all of you that have moved away from this lifestyle. If it wasn’t for Crossfit I would go insane. I go everyday and sometimes stay for double WODs.

    Maggie wrote on March 19th, 2011
  18. I love this post, and I’ve been thinking about my “crickets” quite a lot lately – since I recently left a super-intense law firm job to start my own practice. I called the process “de-institutionalizing” myself – I think a lot of the stress that causes illness in humans comes from institutional environments like corporate jobs, schools, or other similar environments where a human being is nothing but a number.

    I noticed that when I was terribly stressed at my job, what I craved was sleep, music, exercise, healthier food, and free time. So I guess those are my crickets – to get adequate sleep (and for me it’s 9 hours), to make music on a regular basis, to move my body and exert my muscles, to eat things that don’t hurt me, and to have free time.

    That last one – free time – is an important need that I think most people cannot meet. I think it’s important to just have an uninterrupted block of time that’s dedicated to nothing at all – an aimless walk, a few hours of mooching around the house with no goal in mind, a few hours of relaxation/peoplewatching at your favorite cafe (while eating Primal things, of course) – that sort of thing. I felt “time-starved” when I was in my corporate job. I am no longer time-starved. It feels delicious.

    LM wrote on March 20th, 2011
  19. I live in a ground floor apartment. Every day my cat goes outside and hunts insects. His favourite treat? Moths. He doesn’t go far from my patio, but there are blowing leaves out there, birds in the bushes nearby and visiting cats from the neighbourhood, so he gets plenty of entertainment. I also play with him every evening. His antics are hilarious, so I get to laugh a lot every day! I had considered buying him crickets, but after reading the post about their possible toxicity, I’m glad I didn’t do that!

    Andrea wrote on July 21st, 2011
  20. Mark,

    Thank you so much for this post. We often leave our (house) cat alone for longer weekends, and I feel bad that it took us this long to give the crickets a try. Over Thanksgiving, since the dog was at a kennel and the kitten would be all by her lonesome for four days, we left her with a dozen crickets. In retrospect, we should have left more because she got them all. It’s not the same as being able to let her roam wild and free through the woods, but we had a VERY happy little kitty.

    http://tgipaleo.blogspot.com/2011/11/primal-kitty.html

    Thank you again!

    Camilla wrote on November 27th, 2011
  21. My cricket is getting sweaty and dirty. Living in Texas sure helps… that feeling of being sticky from sweat… nothing beats it. Yard work, lifting, running, working out, ….whatever it takes.

    Mel wrote on March 18th, 2012
  22. As I read this post, one of my cats is at the base of my pecan tree watching for squirrels. So far, he’s brought in clumps of dead leaves, dead palmetto bugs, and a live cricket he put in the bathtub (for later perusal, I assume). As long as he stays in the yard, he can do what he likes. It helps that my neighbors feed birds, and occasionally some stray over into our yard.

    My last cat used to cross the street (more fertile squirrel hunting over there), and got run over one night, so we no longer let fur-babies cross the street. It’s our yard and the yard immediately next door, but no further.

    Wenchypoo wrote on March 18th, 2012
  23. weight lifting and sprinting
    forest bathing
    movies
    fatty food
    sex
    sport
    tv shows

    Srinivas Kari wrote on October 1st, 2012
  24. My crickets: I wiil be spending 3 months on an island in the gulf. No electric, no roads/cars. Fishing. Snorkelling. Exploring my inner Gilligan, Maryann, amd professor.

    Sources of crickets for humans: California land management company (get paid to live and care for our parks). Florida fish and wildlife: volunteer to care for any number of state parks both primitive and some with facilities.

    Animal crickets: avoid mega stores as the plague. Order from Great Lakes (or warrens cricket ranch, dunn nc, tell Robin, Andrea sent you- and she will point you where to go. Warrens is cricket disease free and bio secure. For roaches that wont infest your house, look for dubia roaches on craigslist or order them online.

    Fwiw.

    ana dunkerra wrote on April 14th, 2013
  25. I think my sister’s cat could use some crickets. She doesn’t get outside much and when she does it’s in an aparment/townhouse complex courtyard where she seems at a loss of what to do. A year ago she was one of the cuddliest little kitties I ever knew and now she keeps attacking me (even stalking first from behind) or approaching me for attention apparently, then attacking when I try to pet her. I was just bugging her in her little cushioned cathouse where she can’t escape from and after giving up and starting to walk away she sprinted out and attacked my feet. I’ve recommended the family gets crickets. I think mice would be better minus the mess and potential for them getting away from her. Maybe a mouse on a leash for the little psycho to torture would do her some good.

    Animanarchy wrote on March 11th, 2014

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