Page 74 - WSAVA2018
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 25-28 September, 2018 | Singapore
Many of the behaviours cats show in a clinic situation stem from the fact that while they are predators of mice and small birds, they are prey relative to almost all other larger animals, including larger birds. When they feel threatened, they rely on “fight or flight” and will try to escape situations that they view as dangerous. When they can’t flee, they fight (self-defense) or freeze. From the perspective of a cat, humans are, (and what we do is), dangerous. As a result, we see frightened and defensive cats every day. Cats try to avoid physical confrontation through by using intimidating sounds and postures. This small creature feels more threatened than we do; it is important to refrain from becoming frightened ourselves.
Reading and understanding the cues and signals that cats use is important to detecting incipient fear. This allows us to respond respectfully as well as redirect the progression of an emotion and reshape experiences. We can learn to avoid using signals that are hostile (e.g., scruffing, making shushing/hissing sounds, looking into their faces) when we know how cats communicate.
FELINE SIGNALING: READING THEIR CUES
Tactile Sense
Touch is very important to cats. They rub against each other (allorubbing), against us, and against inanimate objects. Whether a full-body rub or rubbing a flank, tail, cheek or other body part, rubbing is believed to be an affiliative behavior seen between members of the same social group, feline or human. Rubbing is not only tactile, but is also a means of depositing the colony (family) scent. Cats often rub against us; unfortunately, we often misinterpret it as a request to be fed.
Allogrooming (mutual grooming) may precede a playful attack, follow a stressful interaction, and appear to be conciliatory or may simply be grooming. Kneading and treading occurs in adults either as a kitten-regressive behavior or as a component of sexual interaction.
The neck bite/scruffing is used by cats in three contexts: for transportation of young kittens, for restraint during copulation, and for dominance in a fight. Our use of scruffing fits most closely with the last and does not promote shaping safe, respectful cooperation. (See AAFP and ISFM Feline Friendly Handling Guidelines.)
Olfactory Cues
The role of smell and scent in feline communication
is something we human beings are ill-equipped to appreciate. It has been estimated that the size of the olfactory epithelium in cats can be up to 20 cm2, whereas humans have only 2 to 4 cm2 of olfactory epithelium. While olfactory signals may be left by several methods, the one that is most problematic for people is urine spraying. This is a potent and important method of communication that we fail to appreciate. Other forms
of olfactory messaging are cheek marking an object or
individual, scratching to leave scent from glands below the footpads, and midden, (i.e., leaving a deposit of feces uncovered in a strategic place). All of these have several advantages over visual cues. The message persists
over time and in the absence of the sender, allowing for remote communication without the potential for conflict that direct interaction risks. This is especially useful at night and in areas with poor visibility. These signals
help cats spread out over space as well as time-share territory. The disadvantage of this form of communication is that the sender cannot change the message once it has been deposited; it cannot be altered or removed and no adjustments can be made in response to the recipient’s reaction. So, urine marking in the home is an attempt to signal to the other cats when “I was ‘here’” and to establish a routine so that the cats can keep
a distance by time-sharing the same space without needing to come into conflict. Every time we remove the urine, we interfere with this communication!
We have less well-developed olfactory sense; we fail
to “read” the signals a patient may be giving us and are unable to fathom the overwhelming olfactory messages from previous patients and substances used in the hospital that the clinic experience presents to cats.
Visual Cues: Body Language (Posture, Face, Tail)
Body language and facial expression are extremely effective at maintaining or increasing distance between individuals potentially competing for resources. This requires having an unobstructed view, adequate ambient light, and, unlike olfactory cues, that the two individuals are in the same space at the same time. Body posture cues the big picture of emotional state but facial expression (eyes, ears, whiskers, mouth, visibility of teeth) provides the finer details and changes more rapidly. In a clinic setting, for us to appreciate the mental/ emotional state of an individual, to avoid provoking them and getting hurt, it is extremely important to watch and interpret facial changes.
As a species that generally leads a solitary existence, survival depends on speed, stealth, self-reliance, and outsmarting others. As a consequence, cats may “bluff”. When they act aggressively, they are generally hiding fear; “stoicism” hides vulnerability; subtle changes in behavior mask pain or significant illness. Body postures communicate confidence and physical prowess that may not be present. Keeping a threat at a distance may eliminate the need for a physical confrontation. The arched back “Halloween cat” typifies this façade of confidence. Making oneself smaller, on the other hand, to minimize threat and evade attention is portrayed by a crouch and withdrawal. In these postures, the weight remains on all four paws so that flight or chase remains possible. A cat feeling less fearful does not need to
be on his or her feet. However, an extremely fearful threatened cat will roll exposing his or her abdomen
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43RD WORLD SMALL ANIMAL VETERINARY ASSOCIATION CONGRESS AND 9TH FASAVA CONGRESS











































































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