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Cats might fight or flee to avoid catastrophe
A larger creature which can potentially harm or kill a cat (like a dog or a person) approaches quickly and suddenly. So what's a cat to do? a) Remain still +/- crouch down without moving b) Run like mad c) Run for nearest cover/safety (up a tree, behind a washing machine) d) Hiss/swat spit, fight! The truth in the matter is that any cat can do any of these things. They are all viable alternatives. The best choice, however, depends primarily on context. Let's start with letter a). The strategy here is clearly if I don't move, I will go unnoticed and be passed over. Kids in school do this too when the class is asked a question for which they have no answer. That will often work for many a cat, but it can backfire with deadly results if the larger creature happens to be a predator which is in fact after that cat. Likewise, if the teacher is onto a particular student who is seldom prepared for class, remaining still and quiet is like holding up a flag that says "Pick Me." And many cats will not just stay there, cause the potential risks are too great. These kinds of choices are determined by a multiplicity of factors including the animals early experiences in similar situations, the highly specific circumstances of that individual moment, and hereditary predispositions towards particular behaviors. If the cat has seen the creature coming, it will often watch. If there is no indication that this creature has noticed or is after the cat, the cat may very well remain still. For there is also risk in fleeing. In trying to escape, the cat will almost surely be noticed. This will likely result in a chase from a potential predator. And so when a cat runs, it is not aimlessly. It will try to escape to a place it knows to be safe, like someplace up high and out of harm's way (tree, refrigerator, etc.), or someplace too small for the pursuer to follow (under a car or bed). There are times when a cat may just run like mad, particularly if it is in an unfamiliar environment and it's not sure where to go for safety. But as it runs, it will usually seek out the nearest source of safety it senses. If the creature in question is perceived to be an immediate threat and there is no time to flee, many cats will make themselves appear bigger by fluffing up their hair (piloerection) and arching their backs. This may be accompanied by hissing and swatting with its claws. A dangerous thing to pursue, can make a potential pursuer stay away. So this too can be a successful strategy for insuring a cat's safety. Some cats that are strongly territorial will chase and attack an intruder out of its domain. They often run forward standing on their hind feet growling and swatting. This is fairly rare, but it is the primary means of protecting one's personal safety and territory for some individual cats. It's interesting. There are a variety of different choices regarding strategy for insuring one's safety in a potentially threatening situation. All animals have instinctual reactions, like fight or flight, which take over in immediate high risk situations. But every situation, every interaction between an animal and another creature can result in any number of possible outcomes. It is for this reason that behavioral analysis plays a critical role in understanding the reasons behind the behaviors of a given animal. And it is then that one can begin to affect the encounter so as to produce behaviors that are desirable.