In accordance with the “snatch or flight” reaction mechanism, cats prefer to run away when they see it as dangerous. From a cat perspective, humans (and what they do) are dangerous. So every day we come across scared and defensive cats around us. Cats try to avoid a physical fight by making scary noises and displaying deterrent body shapes. We should not display fear, as this tiny creature feels more threatened than we are. They usually choose to run.
When they can’t escape, they either fight (for self-defense) or freeze.
Trying to understand the cues and messages that cats use will help us scare them less. Also, that way we can react more respectfully to them. We can learn not to display gestures or messages that might be perceived by them as hostile (such as scratching, staring at their faces, making hissing sounds).
In nature, the number of feral cats living together varies depending on the wealth of resources (food, water, safety, toilet place, sexual partner). As a result, a competitive social structure emerges where concepts such as sharing or queue are not valid. If resources are adequate, stress is minimal. Offensive communication messages; It was developed in order to keep a distance between each other and to avoid contact with outsiders. Since a cat has to hunt and defend itself, they should avoid physical injury. If resources are sufficient, related female cats will colonize in a natural grouping and raise and protect their offspring together. Males, on the other hand, wander around the periphery of the group area and determine the most suitable breeding place; usually there is only one male cat together in the group.
Cats’ communication systems (signaling-messaging): Understanding their sensitive points
sense of touch
Touch is very important for cats. They rub against each other (homogeneous friction/allorubbing), us, and inanimate objects. Sometimes they do the rubbing with their whole body, sometimes with their sides, tail, cheeks or other body parts. This type of behavior is called affiliative behavior and is seen among those in the same social group (cat or human). Rubbing isn’t just about touching, it’s also helping to release odours. Cats often rub against us as well, and unfortunately we often misunderstand this and think they do it because they want to eat.
Homogeneous friction can be the introductory part of a player attack, it can be displayed after a stressful interaction, it can be of a conciliatory character, or it can be purely for cleansing. The behavior of kneading and moving the hind legs rhythmically in adults may be for the purpose of returning to childhood or sexual satisfaction.
Neck/neck biting/grabbing is applied for 3 purposes:
1-carrying baby cats,
2-dominating another cat in sex and fighting.
We are generally concerned with the third meaning, and in this context it can be said that it does not represent a conciliatory and respectful cooperation.
sense of smell
The place of smell and smell in the communication of cats has an importance that we humans do not understand enough. It is known that the size of the olfactory epithelium in cats can reach up to 20 cm2, while it is only 2-4 cm2 in humans. Although scent messages can be left in a variety of ways, the one that surprises people the most is urine marking. In fact, this is a communication method with a very high potential, but we are not aware of it. Other messaging by scent includes branding an object or individual on the cheek, displaying scratching to release scent from the diapers under their paws, and leaving their excrement uncovered in a strategic spot. All these methods have some advantages over visual messaging. Once the message lasts longer and the sender is not there, it can reach its destination; In this way, a conflict that may occur if there is direct contact is eliminated and remote communication is established. This is especially useful in areas that are not easily seen and at night. Thanks to the messages given in this way, while the cats disperse in the space, they also share this space depending on time. The disadvantage of this type of communication is that the sender cannot change the message after it has been sent, and the response cannot be changed according to the receiver’s reaction. Therefore, the cat’s urine marking at home is to keep the distance between them by sharing time in the same place, to give the message “I am here” to other cats and not to fight with other cats in the same place by establishing a routine. Every time we clean the cat’s urine, we unknowingly disrupt this communication.
Because our sense of smell is less developed, we may not be able to understand the messages the current patient sends us and we may not even be able to imagine the effects of the messages left by previous patients and the substances used on the cat in our clinic.
Visual messages: Body language (posture, face, tail)
Body language and facial expression are highly effective mechanisms in maintaining or increasing the distance between hostile individuals. In clinical conditions, monitoring and interpreting the animal’s facial expression is extremely important in terms of evaluating its mental/emotional state and preventing it from injuring us by unintentional provocation.
As a generally solitary species, survival of cats requires speed, concealment, self-confidence and staying one step ahead of others. As a result, cats “bluff”. When they act aggressively, they actually try to hide their fears: they cover up their weaknesses by appearing indifferent, Sudden changes in behavior may actually be an attempt to hide a serious illness, namely weakness. Body postures can show lack of confidence and physical courage because keeping a threat at bay can prevent conflict from breaking out. The classic hunchbacked cat pose is typical of this type of unsupported show of deterrent confidence. Conversely, they may try to minimize the risk of attracting the attention of the threat by trying to make themselves look smaller and by crouching back. In this posture, running or chasing actions are still possible as the weight is over 4 feet. A cat that is not overly frightened can take a position on all its feet, however, when extremely frightened, it can lie on one side on one side and belly up to the threat, using all four legs to defend itself. Such frightened cats display all their weapons (i.e. nails and teeth) and exhibit a screaming meow.
Cats’ ears are extremely mobile. He listens when the ears are bent forward and is generally relaxed or alert, but not emotionally nervous. When the cat tilts and flattens its ears, it’s clear that the cat feels scared or threatened. When the ears are leaning back and firmly attached to the head, the cat is too scared or too nervous. The mouth of the cat in this position is partially or completely open; exhibits hissing, meowing, or screaming meowing. If it cannot lower the level of threat it perceives, it will defend itself. Ears bent back but upright herald the most reactive and aggressive position . The mouth is closed and there is a low-pitched growling-like meow (swallowing may also be present). You should not get too close to the cat in this position.
In this contact form, the recipient must also be in the same environment; The advantage is that it can be easily adjusted at any time. As with other forms of messaging, cats have built up a wide repertoire representing various needs or desires. Their voice calling for socialization may be a soft purr. Cats displaying an open-mouthed screaming meow are extremely nervous, but probably not as aggressive as the harsh meows with their mouths closed.
Cats display different messages in all the events they encounter. We must recognize all of them and learn to evaluate them together.
A cat’s point of view:
Reducing threats in our clinic
They should be provided with fewer encounters with creatures that may pose a threat (dogs, humans, other cats) and other threat perceptions.
When we look at our clinical/hospital environment, how can we reduce the perceptions of stress and threat in physical and social environments? What or what events disturb the five senses of cats? How can we change them in a positive way?
Animal approach (examination, hospital admission, diagnostic procedures and treatments)
The aim is to treat our patients with respect and to establish long-term relationships of positive character by providing them with a comfortable environment. The desired positive relationship can be established by excluding the elements that may be perceived as a threat and thus preventing the cat from feeling compelled to defend itself. Cat-like threatening expressions or gestures should be avoided.
The aggressive cat is planted, it looks bigger than it is; Examine such cats by sitting down. Never look into the eyes of a frightened cat, examine it from behind, and try not to look in the face except for ophthalmic evaluations. Try examining the face with a side view. A slow blink creates the comforting effect of smiling in humans.
Aggressive cat growls and uses low tones; use a relaxed, higher-pitched, murmuring tone, similar to what they do when they’re happy. Trying to calm a cat by saying “shhh” is like hissing at her. Avoid using short and repetitive sounds.Try to imitate the sounds that pleasant cats make.
Cats allow many procedures when they feel safe. Try to keep all of their paws on the ground and be careful not to change their body position as much as possible. A detailed examination can be performed without changing the cat’s position, including procedures such as blood and urine sampling and measurement of temperature and blood pressure. If the top part of the basket it was brought in is coming off, it will be useful to examine it on its own basket. Do not let the cat’s front legs hang over the edge of the table when drawing blood from the jugular vein.
Because you are blocking the light as you bend down and a patient is taken out of the cage, the cat perceives you as a large and terrifying alien approaching towards it. Therefore, approach the cage from the side so that you do not completely block the light. Do not block all the cat’s escape routes; he will cooperate more if you make him feel that he is in control of the situation and environment. Because cats use the run-or-snatch principle to survive and rely only on themselves, being less restrained when being restrained will actually allow them to be more controlled. So don’t over tighten. It is in the nature of cats to have a reaction to being restricted in their movements and being too snuggled. When we contain them, we reset their sense of control, which causes them to react.
Masks, gloves and other materials carry the smell of cats who have experienced the same fears, as well as other odors (such as anal gland secretion, inflammation, blood, halitosis).. All you need to protect yourself from the cat is a towel to wrap it in.. Remember, cats would rather run away than attack. Similarly, trying to hold the cat’s body still by stretching is an unnecessary form of restraint.
Improving the cat’s habitat also has positive effects on its health.
It has recently been recognized that the emotional well-being of cats is largely related to meeting their environmental needs. Both internal and external environments are included in these environments, and the animals with which the cat socially interacts contribute to this. 5 basic needs of a healthy cat habitat.
1. A safe space
2. Multiple and separate need stations (food, water, toilet area, scratching apparatus, playgrounds, resting and sleeping places)
3. Allowing them to play and display their hunting nature
4. Positive, ongoing and predictable interaction with people
5. An environment that respects a cat’s sense of smell
When these conditions are not met, cats exhibit varying degrees of stress. While some may be sick (inflammatory bowel disease, lower urinary tract inflammation), others may manifest their discomfort by exhibiting inappropriate defecation behaviors.
Other important considerations
As cats get older, they want to stay at the clinic less. Siamese cats are particularly sensitive to this and become depressed.
Since cats “see” the world as mingling clouds of scent, we must minimize the presence of foreign and medicinal odors. Putting toys from their homes in cages or placing clothes worn by their owners will also help. Facial cromones that cats secrete can also help reduce stress. Since cats’ sense of hearing is superior to ours, it is beneficial to create a quiet and reassuring environment. Cats should be kept away from threatening sounds, especially dog barking. Minimizing ambient noises is even more important when given drugs that further sensitize the sense of hearing, such as ketamine.
Try to give the cat familiar meals during the hospital stay, otherwise they may lose their appetite and become cranky. If a change in nutritional habits is required for medicinal reasons, it is beneficial to make this change gradually and in the home environment.
Because cats have a tendency to hide the disease, it is of great importance to take a detailed anamnesis. Pet owners need to be listened to carefully and their concerns learned. Pet owners often notice signs that indicate serious problems. A more detailed anamnesis can be obtained by asking open-ended questions rather than specific questions. For example, “Did you see anything different inside the toilet bowl?” The answer to the question will generate one-word answers such as yes or no. Whereas, “What did his stool look like?” and then “Is it in small grains, wet large pieces or watery?” or “When did you first notice this situation?” You will get more useful answers when you move on to the complementary questions. “Is there anything else you can say?” The question must be added at the end.
Set the date of the follow-up appointment to see if the medication or nutritional therapy given is helpful. Looking again at important parameters (such as body weight, body condition score, previously normal laboratory results) and updating the patient’s history allows us to provide better care and treatment to our feline friends. In order to fully assist the patient, the owner must also be assisted. We can only provide the veterinary service we provide by listening, training and working with the patient owner.