Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Seeing Both Sides of the Situation

Our exam rooms have been host to numerous animals and owners seeking to find common ground and resolution to a myriad of complex problems. The one thing that all of our appointments have in common is how the appointment starts – with the student, staff or faculty member asking “how can we help you today?” After that question is tossed out, we get perspective of how the pet’s behavior has affected their owner. After that, we let our eyes, ears, nose and hands help get the rest of the story from the pet. The solution to the problem presented is often about opening lines of communication between the two parties so healing can begin.

As humans, we take in information around us, and then sort it into what’s important and what isn't. Next we add emotions to the situation, with a dash of our own history into the interpretation. The end result is what we understand as true. The problem is we’re using our perspective to write the narrative of a creature that doesn't think like we do.

Case in point: You come home to find that your cat peed on your comforter. You know it’s your cat, because it’s the only pet with access to the room. You know it’s less likely to be your husband because, well, he knows that being housebroken was a non-negotiable item on your e-Harmony form. You start pondering about what would compel your cat to do such a thing. Your bed doesn't appear to be a sandy litter-box. This has never been an issue before. The cat knows it’s your bed, since she sometimes sleeps with you under the covers on cold nights. She didn't pee on her OWN bed, so this must have been personal. Why would she be mad? Well you were out for a fun weekend in Tahoe, and she was left alone with the automatic cat feeder as her only form of company for a day and a half. Your cat is a pouty vindictive wet towel who detests the idea that you’re out hanging with friends rather than sitting in front of the boob tube, petting her.

This all sounds logical to a human (though I doubt many of you have room mates who feel put off by not being invited to a party and handle the slight by relieving their bladder on your stuff). On our end, we see an older, pudgy cat with a mild limp. There’s only one litter-box in the home and it’s downstairs. When no one’s around, said cat enjoys lying on the bed, bathing in the sunshine provided by a nearby window. When people are home, she’s all about being on her owner’s lap for a pet…though that’s been happening less for some reason. What we wonder is if the cat is arthritic, and if pain from jumping up and down might have something to do with the situation. If she was uncomfortable and lying on the bed and couldn't bounce down off the bed, down the steps and across the home to the litter-box, accidents happen. Cats aren't vindictive. They don’t keep hash-marks on the side of their scratching post, tracking perceived slights until the decision to steal your breath while you’re sleeping seems an attractive prospect on the ol’ bucket list.

We would want to perform an exam on the cat, x-rays if indicated, and possibly a blood and urine sample to rule out internal organ function problems. If everything looked normal, then we would discuss recent changes in the household such as a different kitty litter, pan, litter-box location, other pets, stressful events or local outdoor visitors like feral cats. Felines are sensitive souls, but most of them really WANT to use a clean, well-placed lavatory. Once you get the pets perspective, answers come more easily and harmony in the household can be re-established. Some cases aren't as easy as this, but it’s a good example of how a single offensive act doesn't necessarily indicate a declaration of war – rather a cry for help.   

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