Long before I started Cat Care of Vinings, I realized my biggest challenge as a veterinarian was learning to speak “cat.” Each day is a unique challenge interpreting the meows, grumbling, hissing, ear positions, and “tail-talk” in my efforts to help. I often fall short, I admit it.
Cat “speak,” as I like to call it, is a language wrought with paradox. Cats learn to communicate early; how we respond shapes their language and their sense of well-being immensely. Just like toddlers learning boundaries in my home, it is a constant, two-way conversation in search of a “purrfect” (I could not resist!) and harmonious balance. I believe cats use their entire body in the moment to communicate with us and each other.
A hungry cat? Circling, rubbing (nearly tripping me), meowing, near the bowl, tail up, ears forward, and just a little higher “pitch” or length to the meow for emphasis. I am delighted when a cat realizes I am “chief door opener, litter box excavator and keeper of the groceries.” Lamenting meows, body and tail “hugs,” traumatic “head-butts”—all in hopeful anticipation I will fill the bowl, open the door, or just sit quietly and invite them onto my lap. Perhaps these examples are too easy.
And the sick cat in need? Showing vulnerability seems truly against their nature—and our biggest challenge at Cat Care of Vinings. Sick cats may eat excessively or stop eating all together, “talk” less or “talk” more; they may avoid us or stay uncharacteristically close, purring incessantly. Paradox and more paradox—nearly impossible to know what is significant! It is easy to wait for things to pass, downplay the signs, and hope the excessive purring is a good sign if they are fussy for veterinary visits. As a point of assistance, cats rarely vomit without reason, skip meals, lose significant weight from excessive activity, sleep more just because they are old, or go outside the litter box for spite. Watch your cat closely for their unique language.
If you are not fortunate to live with a cat, visit your local shelter, rescue, or adoption event—these organizations are desperate with many adult cats in need of safe, loving homes. Avoid putting your hands on or into the cages—these gestures can be threatening. Walk by and let them “speak” to you. Notice those who are friendly, open and interactive—they know humans are loving, kind and okay, yes, keep the groceries too! Notice the withdrawn hissing or “aggressive” cats—those cats rarely get adopted. They may know starvation or worse yet, have found us to be unkind, disappointing and unworthy of their love and kindness. With a little time and trust, they can be amazing cuddle-buds and the best friend and confidant you will ever have!
Open your eyes and heart and take it all in as you pass them. Who would welcome a blind-fold (carrier), a bumpy, noisy car ride to a strange place, and motion sickness? I would be neither cute nor endearing under those circumstances—and yet, these noble efforts may be their only chance for a new home. Cats—especially the orphaned adults—remind me life is precious and patience and compassion often in short measure among us. These lovely creatures teach me to rid my mind of assumptions, open my heart, and find them somewhere inside their pain, distress, and most-assuredly, despite their fear and trepidation. It is my privilege to try day after day. Do you speak “cat?”
Michael D. Friedlander, DVM
Cat Care of Vinings