Friday 19 September 2008

Cats are aware of our needs

tuxedo cat looking up
Binnie - she cares and understands. The kindest of souls.

Cats are aware or our needs, some people believe. Do they have a innate sense, that we don't understand, that allows them to detect if we are ill or need their company and is there some relatively simple scientific explanation?

We hear of dogs being particularly in tune with their human companions and being able sense when a person is ill or needs company. But what of cats? There is the fairly well known story of Oscar, a cat who lives in a hospice "at Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island." (src: Wikipedia published under GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version - see Wikipedia licensing below) The hospice actually have 6 pets who improve the lives of the residents. Oscar is able to pick out the patients who need his attention more than the others because they are within several hours of death. He lies down next to the patient. If asked to leave he paces outside and meows. The question is how does he do it? And why does he do it? Is the answer as simple as it looks, meaning he just wants to help and comfort people in the last hours of their lives. These are the kind of altruistic, compassionate actions and emotions of humans (when they are being kind).

The answer may help us work out the answer as to whether cats are aware of our needs. Oscar has lived at the hospice since he was a kitten and he was born in 2005 so he has been there for a while and therefore in tune with the surroundings and the patients.

Some medically qualified people have given their views. Dr. Dosa believes that a dying person gives off chemicals. Oscar being a cat has a fantastic sense of smell and picks up the smell of these chemicals. Margie Scherk, a veterinarian in Vancouver concurs with this. Margie also says that cats can detect illness. Dr. Jill Goldman makes the point that Oscar has had time to learn that a certain smell is associated with death. Dr. Daniel Estep, a certified applied animal behaviorist makes a good point, I think, that Oscar is picking up on the fact that some patients are particularly still and quiet. It is these patients who are the ones that are within hours of death.

These are plausible theories and support the view that cats are aware of our needs. They explain how Oscar detects a patient who is within hours of dying but it seems that it has already been concluded that Oscar lies with the patient as an act of compassion. Is this true? If one was being very cynical there is an argument that Oscar is doing this for some other reason. For example, he simply likes the smell or he knows the person will be still which suites him. I am playing devils advocate here, no more by the way.

Dr. Jon (of Petplace fame - great website) recounts the story of a veterinarian's clinic cat called Gizmo who is able to detect, it seems, animals which need urgent medical attention. Gizmo alerts the veterinarian by jumping up and meowing. Gizmo can also sense when the people in the surgery need comfort as well. Once again this is evidence of a kind that cats are aware of our needs and the needs of other animals.

OK, what of my personal experiences? While writing this (at 3 am in the early hours of the morning because a fox screaming outside woke me up - no problems I like foxes) my girlfriend/partner said that my cat (Binnie Do) had slept with her for several hours last night. Binnie hadn't done this for a quite a while. Binnie had placed her paw with claws retracted on her closed eyes and face for a long time. Binnie had also licked her gently on the face. This had gone on for about 45 minutes. Nothing spectacular about that except my partner has recently undergone a major operation and is just recovering, going through a difficult time. My partner was quite moved by it and feels better as a result. Are the two events connected? More evidence that cats are aware of our needs.

Binnie knows when to touch gently. And she does come to me when I have been unusually still or in bed, for example, longer than usual (this would indicate illness). She will wake me or try and arose me by placing her paws (claws retracted) on my face. This supports Dr. Daniel Estep's thoughts above. I think that cats do pick up on different behavior patterns of their human keepers and respond to this. Cats are very involved with the concept of routine. They like routine and familiarity with their surroundings. This enables them to readily pick up on any changes. Changes bring concern and a response. Stillness in a creature is a clear indication that something is wrong as it is counter to activity and activity means life and living. I think this is the most important factor that draws Oscar to dying patients. We see wild animals picking up on this. They know when a member of the family is ill or dying and stillness is the first and most outstanding sign. If it is true that cats are aware of our needs it arises in part from this; our stillness or lack of activity.

It is certainly possible to have a very close connection with a cat such that one can communicate on quite a profound level. What I mean by that is not on an intellectual level but a profound emotional level. This comes from a long relationship and habits becoming very familiar to each individual.

This allows both the human to be aware of the cat's need and to go to her when she needs help or comfort and in the same way for the cat to do likewise. My conclusion for what it is worth on this difficult subject is that cats are aware of our needs on a fundamental survival type level as their needs are bound up with our suvival. The survival of the "family" means that our cat is more likely to survive. Cats are aware of our needs for selfish reasons. This is not a criticism. It is natural. We are all made this way.

Cats are aware of our needs to Household pets (Moggies)

Wikipedia license

1 comment:

  1. In July of 2008 I lost my last Borzoi, I didn't expect her to go so soon, but on her annual check up the vet discovered a large mass which turned out to be cancer. My only choice was to let her go even though it broke my heart.
    When I arrived home, I sat in my chair and the pain of loseing her was unearable, tears streamed down my face, and then my F2 Bengal who was always very aloof even with me climbed on to my lap and put his paw on my chest, he just sat there quietly an looked into my eyes. He stayed for a few minutes, and I knew he felt my pain and was there to comfort me. Since then he is still very cautious as he was before, but in that moment he showed me what I always knew...Cats know when you need them, and even when they are afraid they will still show their compassion.


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