The Case for Cats
The other day, I went to PetSmart to buy some cat litter and a few cat toys. I am a bit of a nerd, so usually when I go to PetSmart or any other pet store I wander the aisles looking at products. I do this in the vain hope that when a client tells me they are giving their pet “that natural, holistic, neutroceutical all organic urine be gone formula” I will at least have a vague idea what they are talking about.
While we are on the subject….you know that Plaque attack spray they sell at pet stores? You supposedly spray it once a day in a dog or cat’s mouth and it cures the most rotten, abscessed, disgusting, decaying teeth. It supposedly saves you tons of money on greedy vets that only want to nickel and dime you. Guess what… IT DOESN’T WORK! EVER! YOU MAY AS WELL SPRINKLE FAIRY DUST IN YOUR DOG’S MOUTH! JUST PUT THE BOTTLE DOWN AND SCHEDULE A DENTAL CLEANING FOR YOUR POOR PET ALREADY.
Anyways, as I was wandering through the aisles of PetSmart I noticed a rather sad trend. There were dozens of aisles stuffed full of food, toys, treats, dishes, clothes, beds, shampoos and diapers for dogs. There were only two aisles total for cats. You find the same phenomenon if you look in the Pet section at a bookstore.
Sadly, unless you wandered into a feline only practice, you would see the same thing at veterinary clinics. Although more people own cats in the United States, far more money and time is spend on veterinary care for canine companions. This is even true in the veterinary pharmaceutical business. Millions of dollars and years of research are poured into developing FDA approved canine medications, while cats are left having most of their medications used off-label.
Shelters are often stuffed full of cats, and yet there are very few feline specific rescue groups. An unneutered, slightly aggressive pit bull has a better chance of having a rescue adopt them than a friendly, middle aged, neutered cat.
I can’t tell you how many times I have had clients bring me old, sick, decrepit, cats that are dying of end stage kidney disease, or intestinal lymphoma. They don’t want to spend any money on diagnostics or treatment because it is “just a cat.” While this certainly also happens with dogs, it is far more common with my feline patients. By that same token, cats just don’t get the same level of preventative care.
Why is this? I suppose there are a variety of factors, but in my opinion the main reason cats get shafted is because most human beings just don’t understand them. They use words like “aloof,” “snobby,” “bizarre” and “moody” to describe cats, while they use words like “loving,” “loyal” and “obedient” to describe dogs.
I think many people see more pay off in their relationship with a dog. After all, most dogs worship the ground that humans walk on. They want to be with us, and loved by us at all times. If we scold them, they hang their head in shame and seek our forgiveness. They are anxious when we leave and succumb to ecstatic fits of joy when we return, even if we were only gone for a few minutes. They are easy to leash train so they can join us on our daily errands and family vacations. They are mostly excited to wear whatever ridiculously cute costumes we put them in.
Cats, on the other hand, are not involved in utter human worship. It may be because they remember the time when ancient Egyptians worshiped them. If you scold a cat, odds are that it will look at you with stony eyes and dismiss your ridiculousness. Sometimes if you scold certain cats they will go and shred your pillow or pee on your jacket. Very few cats will tolerate a leash, and tend to have to get tricked/stuffed into a carrier to go anywhere. When they ride in the car with us it is often a very unpleasant experience for all involved. Most cats look absolutely disgusted when we put them in costumes.
Here’s the thing though…many, many cats actually make very affectionate, loving, dedicated, comforting, entertaining companions. They just express it in much different ways than dogs do. When a cat head bumps you, or wraps its tail around your legs, or grooms you, they are expressing deep affection and devotion to you. When they sit across the room staring at you and slowly blinking, it is similar to a dog jumping on your lap and frantically licking your face.
It is just that we humans are horrible at reading the subtle nuances of cat body language. It is pretty sad, if you think about it really. This whole time, cats are practically shouting their love and affection, and we describe them as being cold and odd.
There are some cats that will suddenly turn and bite their owners in the middle of being stroked. The owners will get angry, and call the cat moody. In reality, prior to the bite the cat dilated her pupils and flared her whiskers. This is direct feline language for “STOP RIGHT NOW I AM BEING OVERSTIMULATED!” We dumb humans just don’t pick up on this and continue petting the poor cat until she has no choice but to bite us.
In my line of work I see many students that are afraid of cats or that dislike cats. One day I was summoned by a group of students to help them with a “really mean, fractious cat.” She was just a tiny calico kitten that was scared to death. She was trying to compensate by fluffing up in the corner of the cage and hissing. I told her I wasn’t scared, and that I thought she was pretty cute, trying to act all tough. I then started gently petting her head. In a minute she was standing on my shoulder purring and head bumping me. The students thought I was some crazy cat whisperer, but the reality was that I just knew how to read her body language. She was terrified and just needed some reassurance.
I have four cats that are awesome companions. They great me when I arrive home, and they become anxious when they see me packing for a trip. They tend to gravitate to whatever room I am in. The other night, I was watching the news coverage about the horrific tragedy in Connecticut. They all could sense that I was upset, and reacted by licking my hands, and purring by my face.
I didn’t use to like cats at all. I held the typical stereotypes about them. To me, they were a pile of fur with sharp teeth and claws. It all changed when I adopted (somewhat unwillingly) my first cat, Pete. He was a former research cat that spent the first two weeks of life in my apartment cowering behind my toilet. I thought he was strange, and weird, and was not sure why on earth I adopted him.
Then, one night I was feeling kind of down. I was watching some depressing reality show on TV. I felt a warm, fuzzy cat body brushing up against my back. I looked down and saw Pete standing there. I scratched him behind his ears, and he responded by settling on my lap purring like a motor. That was all it took. We were buddies. He slept on my bed at night, greeted me when I arrived home, and never let me feel alone.
Now, thirteen years later I have also acquired Sally, Tommy and Roger. They all have been wonderful companions, and they have taught me an immense amount about the ways of cats. If you asked any of my coworkers or students they would probably tell you that I don’t disguise my favoritism for cats very well. In all honesty it is probably because somewhere along the way my brain was infected with Toxoplasmosis and it changed me into one of those crazy cat ladies.
At any rate, I wish more people gave cats a chance. I wish more people took care of their cats like they take care of their dogs. I wish there were more rescue groups that were feline specific, and drug companies that spent their time and energy on feline specific drugs. After all, as Albert Schweitzer’s famous quote states “There are two means of refuge from the misery of life – music and cats.”