I often find myself covered in cats without realizing that they’re there until I need to move
Photo by Wendy Smith Wilson
The Princess and her favorite furniture, Dr. Wilson
I often find myself covered in cats without even realizing that they’re there until I need to move. Then I get the one-eyed glare . . . the little groan of distress . . . the reproachful attitude . . .
As I sit here trying to type with one cat draped across both forearms, I've decided that being covered with cats is a concept worthy of consideration. Why do I put up with this? Why is it such an unpardonable crime to eject a comfortable, happy, purring cat so work can be done?
Cats have a longstanding reputation for being independent and standoffish; they are said to lack affection and care little for what others think of them. I don’t believe it for an instant. I have multiple examples to the contrary.
For your consideration, I offer The Princess. She doesn’t sit with me often. Granted, she is the ruler of our household, so when she deigns to grace my lap with her presence, I dare not move a muscle. Heaven forbid that anyone should sneeze and frighten her from deep sleep! She is a back leg amputee, and her explosive power takeoffs with one rear piston are pretty uncomfortable for the lap from which she is taking off.
My spouse is not immune to her power. In the evenings, he will bring popcorn to me rather than disturb The Princess. He will retire without me while I sit there on the couch, waiting for her to agree that it’s time for me to go to bed. I cannot explain why we accept her terms. I can only say that she is stinkin’ cute, so she gets away with a lot around here. (Others might say that we have allowed her to train us to anticipate her needs.)
The Boulder is another entity in our household. A standard ten-pound longhair, once he’s down, he gets heavier . . . and heavier . . . and heavier. He sort of just spreads out into an immovable glob. This guy has a particular knack for knowing when the human bladder is full and parks directly on top of it, then expresses marked displeasure if you try to eject him for any reason that isn’t his idea. Which, as it turns out, is EVERY reason. He will not jump down — you must remove him at your own peril. Houseguests are fair game, so be forewarned if you visit.
Then there’s the one who runs on a schedule. Food-induced naps are not species-specific, and cats are no exception. The Young Terrorist only stops harassing the other cats when his belly is full. After meals, he approaches and makes an appropriate effort at kneading biscuits on my leg; I think of it as a massage in exchange for a parking place. Depending upon the time of day, he then either bashes his head under my elbow and pushes into my lap or stretches out full length on my legs as I relax in the recliner.
All are prone, at various times of day, to practice the art of “pinning.” Unless computer work is done in a standing position (baleful stares ensue when that tactic is used, by the way), these guys work themselves into positions that would be admired by Greco-Roman wrestlers. The Boulder specializes in being innocuous, circling for a while, then inching forward little by little until he’s firmly wedged into place.
Ever try to get out of bed at night and find yourself unable to lift the covers or move your legs? This dilemma becomes worse in the winter. Cats are natural heat-seekers. The Boulder, in fact, is as effective as staples driven into the mattress. The Young Terrorist has been practicing all summer; I fear that between the two of them, some night this winter I’m going to need to get up and be completely unable to do so. Thank goodness The Princess chooses to pin my hand beside my pillow, where she has her own fleece blanket.
On the other hand, this heat-seeking behavior is not always a bad thing. I am cold-natured; perhaps that is why I often fail to notice the little warm bodies until I need to move. Unless, of course, they’re lying on my hands as I try to tell you about them.
Could it be that only these spoiled-rotten indoor cats break the “indifferent” stereotype? I say no. The Front Porch Cat, who came with the house when we bought it, has trained me to keep a thick towel on the outdoor rocking chair because of the enthusiasm with which he greets me. Seriously, now that he's an owned kitty, I think this guy could dig through cement. The previous homeowners were NOT cat people, so apparently this guy had been waiting for years for someone to stop by and provide a lap for him. Perhaps his enthusiastic treading is just a means of making up for lost time.
At least when I sit outside in "his" rocking chair, the Front Porch Cat will let me use one hand on the laptop as long as I use the other to scratch him continuously. He appears to exceed the others’ patience in regard to my personal needs, but I think that’s just because he’s got his own list of Outside Cat Stuff to do and is squeezing me into a busy day.
It’s all anecdotal, obviously, but I see this as evidence that cats are not antisocial aristocrats who feel that the rest of the world is beneath them. They’re certainly not dogs (oh, the horror — don’t even suggest that!), although some people have cats that are much more obnoxiously affectionate than the ones residing in our home. Cats seem to value us on their own terms and for their own purposes, but I do believe that they value us.
We know that a significantly smaller percentage of owned cats have regular veterinary visits as compared to owned dogs. I have to wonder if part of the reason is this perception of independence and indifference. What does a dog do when he’s sick? He grumbles, moans, sighs, and casts himself dramatically at your feet. Or he barfs right in front of you. Dogs are not big on subtlety.
Cats, on the other hand, subscribe to the bird’s theory of “never let ‘em see you sweat,” hiding symptoms of illness to those of us who are accustomed to looking for the obvious. Some sick cats might become less outgoing (yes, that is possible!) and may even hide from their owners. Other cats may have the opposite reaction and become more clingy and needy. Cats who do not feel well often don't groom themselves as well as usual, making for an unkempt appearance. To know that a cat is unwell, you have to watch for little things like changes in appetite or water consumption, and to make it even trickier, eating and drinking either more OR less is significant.
Because cats’ symptoms can be so subtle, I suggest that it is equally if not more important to have regular medical checkups for our feline friends. Yes, it’s often a tedious and frustrating process to get a cat in a carrier and listen to him yowl all the way to the vet clinic (The Boulder is a puker), but early detection of serious disease processes is just as important for them as it is for other pets and for humans.
Photo by Wendy Smith Wilson
Waiting until a cat is obviously ill may mean that your veterinarian will have a much tougher time helping your cat, whereas earlier intervention will provide a better chance of a successful outcome. In fact, drinking more water than usual may be the only sign of illness that you get, even when it involves a serious illness such as diabetes or kidney failure. If the skin of a cat that hasn’t eaten for over a week turns yellow, we’re in big trouble before you even show up at the clinic.
Obviously, those of us who live with cats love them and want what is best for them. It does mean tuning in a little more closely to their behaviors and to their overall appearance. While you are serving as a comfy cat cushion, try to take advantage of that time and get a closer look at your cat. Look at her skin, eyes, ears, and toenails. Feel her shoulders, spine, and hipbones. Watch for changes in body shape, for altered skin and hair texture. Smell your cat’s breath and look at her teeth if you can. Does your cat need dental care? That is often overlooked, yet addressing painful dental disease can make a grumpy cat happier!
You can learn a lot about your cat’s health while pretending to be nothing more than a simple warm lap in which to lounge. In addition to routine annual visits to the vet, increased familiarity with your cat will allow you to pick up on those subtle changes that indicate need for a “special” trip to the clinic. I was able to find two small mast cell tumors on The Young Terrorist because I make sure not just to pet him; I dig down and really feel his skin while he’s parked on top of me.
The next time you get a chance, take a break and sit down with an inquisitive feline companion. Of course, first go to the bathroom and make sure to have everything you need so you don’t have to get up for a while. Make a habit of really looking and evaluating your little pal while you serve as a common piece of cat furniture. Your cat will never thank you for it, but you’ll be happy that you made that extra effort.
October 7, 2013
September 30, 2013
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.