Friday, 1 November 2013

Speech and Language Therapy - How Not to Offend Your Cat's Senses Part II

Heaven Scent – Part II


     In the first part of this two part blog I looked at how sight, hearing and smell are so different for a cat. Whilst sight is most effective at nighttime completely contrasting with a human, a cat has an increased sense of smell and hearing that makes our world an over stimulating environment of potential confusion and anxiety for it!

     Today I’m moving on to the last two senses in animal terms, touch and taste, and an extra special one that makes the cat such an amazing creature to share a life with.

Cats keep us amused with their antics!
     We love cats because they keep us amused with their antics. Pusia won’t let me forget, however, that she’s an incredibly sophisticated animal; like all cats, she’s a gifted problem solver; she lives her life independently and she responds to cues from the outside world, intelligently and sensitively.

     A cat rarely wastes energy or acts without purpose. They’re thoughtful creatures that are always learning something new about the world. They never question our demands that they adapt to our environment and its challenges.

It’s All a Matter of Taste

     Cats are notorious for being fussy eaters. Wouldn’t you be if someone else was choosing your menu for you day in and day out? I mean, how would you feel about forever being given the same dry biscuits or not being given the chance to choose between gravy and jelly? In my attempts to keep Pusia happy and interested in mealtimes I’ve ended up with a mountainous variety of food. I simply can’t guess what her preference will be from one day to the next.

     I think a mistake we make is considering food in human terms. For example, I found myself opening a packet of chicken cat food the other day and thinking, “Hm, that smells so good!” I put it down for Pusia and she sniffed it, looked at me as if I was a complete disappointment (yet again) and wandered off to tear strips out of her scratching post. We certainly misunderstand cats.

We tend to judge cats by our own tastes.
     Something that smells good to us (even if it is cat food) doesn’t necessarily hit the spot for a cat! Cats, for instance, have little or no interest in sweet things. They just can’t taste it! With my relatively developed taste buds I, on the other hand, positively crave a crumpet with jam or a bar of milk chocolate. Then again, my partner prefers dark chocolate and some people detest chocolate altogether, though I imagine they must be freaks.

     From time to time I want salty snacks but not all the time. Why do we suppose that we have the monopoly on being sweet or savoury people? It’s the same for cats. They’re not gravy or jelly, dry or wet felines. They may have a preference for one over the other, but as the song goes, “It ain’t necessarily so…” I find, the more variety the better. Back to that cat food mountain.

In a never ending quest for variety...
     A large proportion of taste comes from aroma. For a cat this is intensified. With a limited range of taste buds focusing on identifying fats and protein, their acute smell compensates in this task. Hence the initial sniff test.

     Ever seen those wine connoisseurs who taste their wine so noisily? They slosh it around in their glass and aerate it a bit. They slurp it over their drooling lips and sloop it around their mouth. All in the name of identifying the lush raspberries, hints of summer, aniseed and any other fanciful thing they like to talk about in relation to wine. Well a cat could teach them a thing or two about this!

A cat can teach us a thing or two about wine tasting.
     When a cat gets a whiff of something appealing she may grimace for a bit. It’s not a negative reaction to the smell. The Flehman Response is a reaction common to a lot of mammals (including wine tasters, apparently) and it helps the animal identify the nature of what it’s smelling by allowing it to ‘taste’ tiny particles of air!

     Imagine if that smell is the same old dull and uninteresting smell every single day. It’s every bit as important to keep a cat interested with a variety of good smelling food as it is to vary our own diet.

     Taste is a complicated and personal thing!

I’m Touched

     Then there’s touch. Anyone who’s ever known a cat knows what a treasure this is. Apart from anything else it’s magical to give pleasure to a cat by stroking it and hearing that lovely purr. We like to feel connected to them. There may well be some reciprocal love, and it does feel great to commune with a cat, but the sense of touch is far more important than pure pleasure.

That tickle and stroke is more than just a cuddle.
     Cats have sensitive touch receptors all over their bodies. They’re concentrated in their face and front paws and their extension is displayed obviously in a cat's marvellous whiskers. If I want to send my kitty into ecstasy I start by massaging these parts first. It’s obvious that she loves it. You can hear her ecstasy. She even starts purring in anticipation of a good cuddle!

The paws are sensitive to vibrations.
     A cat’s paws are also incredibly sensitive to vibrations. If Pusia is uncertain about where her food bowl is (if you’ve read the first part of this blog then you’ll know how blind cats can be in daylight) then I tap it. She’s drawn towards it by the sound of the tapping and the vibrations she ‘hears’ through her paws.

     Why, then, am I surprised when she turns on me if I pay her a little too much attention? To be fair, she never does me any damage, not intentionally anyway, but if she nips me it’s a warning nip that I take seriously.

     Imagine a Swedish masseuse applying a little too much deep pressure. We might yell out or flinch. A cat’s only option of communicating this to us is to ‘nip’ it in the bud. I’m lucky that I have a polite cat. Some people are not so lucky. I meet them from time to time and they bear the scratch marks to prove it!

Extra Sensory Sense Perceptions!

     So that’s all the conventional senses taken care of. Cats, however, have a reputation as magical and mystical creatures. Black cats, in particular, don’t get a good deal throughout history and even today there are tales of black cats being mistreated. Thank goodness Pusia is not a black cat. Though I still meet a fair number of  ‘objectors’ to the felis sylvestris catus!

The most important sense: knowing where they belong!
     Cats are magically present. Their silent entries and exits encourage us to regard them with awe and wonder. It elicits that in me, anyway, and Pusia is the prime example of just how magical a cat can be.

     She exists in a kind of twilight space in my life. For the moment she chooses to waft around in my world and I’m happy she does. She could just as easily survive on her own and her survival instinct would serve her well.

     A cat naturally has an extraordinary sense of what’s good for them. Consequently I feel honoured when Pusia hangs around me for any amount of time. The liminal space she occupies is comforting and complementary to my existence. I find myself modifying my behavior to fit in with this feline energy that is ever present and accepting of me.

Pusia hangs out in a liminal space...

     And so, in conclusion, I attempt not to affront Pusia’s remaining senses.

  • I give her exciting and varied food that smells good and tastes of stuff that appeals to a cat, not me! If she doesn’t like it then I respect that she may like it another day.
  • When I stroke her I concentrate on her face and I give her gentle and slow strokes. I try not to surprise her. If I do then I can expect a nasty shock myself.
  • I give her space to 'be' a cat!

     The Egyptians believed that cats should be welcomed into our lives as the spirits of our ancestors. From what I’ve observed I think this may very well be true. When Pusia observes me she does so with such wisdom. I could well believe that she knows me inside out.