Stephanie Bramhall, DVM
As the author Terry Pratchett once wrote, “In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” Stories of felines and humans are interwoven throughout our history, from hunting rodents and protecting our food sources to being persecuted and accused of witchcraft. Thankfully, we live comfortably with these house panthers today, treating them once again as royalty. But throughout this time, these creatures of the night have always had an air of great mystery. They’re fierce predators who can take care of themselves, and yet they have a vulnerable side and will happily curl up on our laps by a roasting fire.
Although cat behaviorists and feline specialist veterinarians have made great strides in understanding how kitty brains work, we’re just at the beginning of the Great Feline Enlightenment! Let’s take a look at three key discoveries we can put to use right away:
Cats are always the boss and you can’t tell them what to do. You can ask nicely, but they’ll decide if and when they want to participate in your request. Because of this, our feline friends require special low-stress handling with calm voices (never shushing, they interpret this as hissing!), lots of face rubs, and enough time to feel comfortable in the exam room. We treat cats on their terms because gentle persuasion is far more effective than trying to show strength or authority.
Cats communicate mostly with body language. In feral colonies, they only meow to their kittens or wail at their enemies. All other communication is through body language, especially their ears and tails. You may have noticed this with your own cats. When you come home and they’re happy to see you, their ears are forward and their tail stands up straight. When they’re mad, you might see their ears pinned back and their tail swishing to and fro!
Cats hide everything. They are both predators and prey. If they show any weakness in the wild, they might get picked off by a larger predator. This protective mechanism makes it a real challenge for cat parents and vets alike. Often, kitties don’t tell us they’re sick or painful until symptoms are more severe. With arthritis, sometimes the only symptoms are subtle changes like not jumping up on their favorite windowsill or avoiding some areas of your home. Of course, cats own all they see so your home is really theirs.
But there’s hope for cats yet. Taking the time to read their non-audible signals and subtle changes in behavior gives us clues about their overall health and wellbeing. This helps us catch things early to keep our furry friends as healthy and happy as possible. At Sleepy Dog, we have a range of treatment options for cats with arthritis and other common chronic illnesses, including acupuncture, herbal supplements, cold laser, and reiki. Changing a few little things in your cat’s kingdom like adding steps up to their bed or moving the litter box to the main floor can also make a huge difference to their quality of life. Their wishes are our commands!