When I dropped into the vet’s surgery this morning to buy my cat’s absurdly expensive “prescription diet” the young lady vet pressed a leaflet into my hand.
I didn’t take much notice as I was simultaneously paying for Hill’s Diet food (Multicare, Chicken flavoured if you want to know. No?), shaking a mangy-looking poodle pup off my foot and disentangling the vet’s cat’s head from the straps of my open handbag. (Whenever you go to the vet, in my experience, you may as well open your handbag and your wallet as soon as you get through the door.)
When I got home, I plonked the food and the bag and everything else on the kitchen worktop and glanced at the leaflet.
Cat owner! it said (in French). Is your cat stressed?
There was then a long discourse on the many potential causes of stress that can ruin your cat’s day, health, tranquillity, fur, claws, mood and appetite. Running a casual eye down the list I wondered how many causes of stress my cat, Coco, was victim to.
I walked into the sitting room to have a look at him. He was lying on the soft sofa cushions with his feet up, stretched out to his maximum length, paws dangling over the edge and eyes shut. Looking him over, from chocolate-tipped ears to sizeable stomach (rising and falling gently as he snoozed) to flopped-out paws, even the most zealous detector of stress would have had to conclude that he seemed relaxed. His stomach was full, of that morning’s absurdly expensive prescription diet food. He was protected from predators and irritants. He was availing himself of the most comfortable furniture in the house. The room temperature was neither hot nor cold. He had no work to do and no bills to pay.
True, he momentarily opened half an eye and gave a quarter of a meow. But that was just normal catspeak for “If you must come into the house can you at least be quiet – I’m trying to sleep.”
I don’t much like the term stress. It’s been devalued by chronic over-use. Everyone suffers ‘stress’ at the drop of a hat these days and everything, from cleaning the bathroom to going on holiday, ’causes’ stress. I prefer the term strain. Or tension. Or worry, or pressure. Whatever you choose to call it though, I don’t think Coco’s suffering from it.
Which doesn’t mean he hasn’t had difficult moments in his short life. A young cat, three years old to be precise, he’s had his eye practically knocked out by a feral cat, proved horribly prone to urinary infections (hence the expensive chicken-flavoured Hill’s diet food) and once got attacked by fleas after a neighbour’s sheep arrived to drink from the squirrels’ water bowl near the house.
The most trying of these was the eye injury. After an operation to save his eye, the poor little cat had a large metal staple of some sort fixed in his forehead and had to have his eye cleaned with antiseptic fluid every four hours for 2 weeks. He also had to wear one of those things like a bucket on his head to stop him pulling the staple out. And he wasn’t allowed outside. For a cat who likes to spend all night out in the dark forest closely investigating mice and snakes, staying inside was like Chinese water torture. He’d hurl himself at the doors and windows trying to make his escape. All in all, he was one sorry cat.
But as to which of us suffered the most ‘stress’ during those weeks, it was a pretty close contest. He seemed to miaow non-stop night and day. Getting hold of him to clean his eye was about as easy as taking food from a tiger’s mouth. And his humiliation at temporarily using a litter tray when he was used to finding a discreet spot somewhere in the 25,000 square miles of forest floor outside the back door, was evident.
After the first five days I cracked. “Coco” I told him “You’re a lovely animal and I love you dearly. But I’m going to get you some sedatives. You are driving me insane.”
The vet duly gave me some cat sedatives. “I thought he wouldn’t like staying indoors” she said darkly.
Arriving home I called Coco. “Sod off” he replied. “I’m not ever talking to you again.”
Appealing to his reason, I told him he’d feel much more relaxed if he’d just take one of the tablets. Crushed in his food perhaps? No chance. Like all cats, he’s well able to eat all the way round crushed tablets without touching an atom of powder. Dissolved in water then? Nope.
Final resort, as very often with cats, was to try and put the pill in his mouth and make him swallow. Everyone knows the comic essay on giving pills to cats (If you don’t it’s very funny and it’s here.) And Coco knew it too. He went through every contortion listed, twice. In the end, exhausted and desperate, I went to my laptop. “Give me Google, give me Google.” I can’t recall the name of the sedative now but I plugged its name in and hit Enter. Seconds later I had the information I wanted: a mild sedative often used for cats and other pets but effective and entirely harmless for humans. After carefully checking the (mild) dosage, I swallowed several with a glass of water and let the tension, pressure and stress of cat nursing float away.
Since the vet has reminded me of this experience with her Cat owner!Is your cat stressed? leaflet, I think I may suggest she writes another.
Cats! Is Your Owner Stressed? will list the various little ways cats may stress their owners – along with a few suggestions for anti-stress cat behaviour.
(Here’s that link again: http://www.top20fun.com/funny_jokes/5311.html )