At some point, being the increasingly proficient bluffer you are, you may find yourself in a situation where you will be expected to ‘do things’ to a cat. If those around you believe you to be an expert, they will not think twice about asking you to hold, poke, administer, bathe or handle a cat in order to perform various necessary procedures. When this happens, you have a choice: you can either do it, using the recommendations below, or you can employ an excuse that maintains your credentials but relieves you from the duty. Therefore, all the following instructions will first include valid reasons why an ‘expert’ would not undertake the task. If all else fails, you are on your own.
PICKING UP A CAT
There are only three reasons why you might be expected to pick up a cat in public. The first is that you are planning to buy or ‘adopt’ one, but as this is beyond your remit, it can be put to one side. The second is that the owner (or person responsible for the cat) has their hands full at the time and casually calls over their shoulder for you to bring the cat to them. This usually starts with, ‘Do me a favour will you…?’ The advice on this occasion would be, ideally, to make an excuse. Your options are:
• Pretend you haven’t heard as your full attention is drawn to something else in the room or out of the window.
• Announce your intention to visit the lavatory at exactly the same time the person says ‘Do me a favour’. This will give you a good excuse to leave the room and the person time to work out how to do the whole thing without your help.
• Emphasise that you are sadly allergic to cats and should avoid touching them. This may well be an excellent explanation for not having cats yourself.
• Say bluntly: ‘What did your last slave die of?’ (Not to be recommended if you hope to develop or continue a sustainable relationship with the owner).
If you don’t feel you can get away with any of these, your only option is to knuckle down and do the deed. Commit this step by step guide to memory:
Step 1 Approach the cat trying really hard not to look weird. It is imperative you REMAIN CALM and LOOK NORMAL.
Step 2 As the cat walks away from you with brief glances behind, follow it slowly without looking menacing.
Step 3 Once the cat has run out of places to go, attempt to position yourself behind it, i.e., approach from the rear.
Step 4 Now you can bend and place your left hand (if you are right-handed; if not, reverse instructions) under the chest and directly behind the front legs.
Step 5 Quickly, but without a sense of panic, place your right hand behind the back legs, just above the stifles (don’t call them knees – and not to be confused with the ‘hocks’). Scoop the cat upwards by lifting and as the back end drops you can support the cat with both hands; the cat remains upright and facing away from you.
Step 6 Do not make any self-congratulatory sounds – remember that this exercise should come naturally to you.
Step 7 Place the cat gently where required by lowering the front legs to be in line with the back so all four feet touch down roughly at the same time.
Step 8 Remove hands and step away. DO NOT RECOIL.
Your get-out clause, given your expertise, can be used at any time during the above process if the cat looks in any way sinister, suspicious or just plain murderous. You can turn to the person who has asked you to pick it up and say: ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea. Your cat is clearly afraid of me as a stranger and it would be cruel for me to persist.’ Job done and cat expert reputation intact.
The only other reason why you might be asked to pick up a cat is if the owner (or person responsible for the cat) is scared witless of the animal and wants to use your superior knowledge to tame the beast and either remove it from the room or put it in a basket ready for a trip to the vet. With either of the scenarios, these cats are not generally likely to be in a particularly good mood so the ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea…’ get-out clause should be invoked immediately, followed by any of the aforementioned excuses.
Of course, the most useful advice in any of these scenarios is to avoid finding yourself involved in them at all costs.
GIVING A CAT A PILL
You may well have heard jokes about ‘giving your cat a pill’. They involve all manner of appalling injuries to the owner and very little drug consumption for the cat. All cat owners find this familiar and frequently hilarious because it is true. If you find yourself in charge of a cat at any time and you have to give it a pill, then this is the process:
• If the tablet or capsule has to go down the cat’s throat rather than be disguised in food (and generally spat out in disgust), and you find yourself with an audience for some inexplicable reason, try to do this as gently and quickly as possible to avoid bloodshed. A popular phrase in the veterinary world when it comes to restraining a cat is: ‘Less is more.’ You may want to chant this quietly in preparation before getting up close and personal to the cat’s razor-like teeth.
• If you are on your own (shame on those around you for not mucking in), tuck the cat’s body under your left arm if you are right-handed (if left-handed, reverse instructions), while trying to avoid asking yourself, ‘Why am I doing this?’
• If you have come up with a reasonable answer, place the thumb and index or middle finger of your left hand (if right-handed) either side of its head at the corners of its mouth.
• Tilt the head back until the nose is pointing upwards and the lower jaw will become slack and open slightly.
• Hold the tablet between the thumb and forefinger of your right hand and use the middle finger to gently open the jaw by pulling down on the incisors (small row of teeth at the front).
• Drop the tablet to fall on the back of its tongue – accuracy is really important here. You don’t get a second chance to fish the tablet out if you missed the back of the tongue.
• Close the mouth and gently lower the head, stroking the throat to encourage swallowing.
• If, at this point, the cat starts to foam at the gills like a faulty washing machine, you will know that the pill DID NOT go on the back of the tongue and is now dissolving in its mouth.
• Give up, blame the cat, and seek veterinary help.
You may also be required to administer drops and creams, to be applied to various orifices or rubbed on various bits of fur or skin. These are best avoided, unless of course you personally suffer from ear mites, conjunctivitis or a burst abscess, in which case it wouldn’t be such a bad idea. You will undoubtedly end up with more on and in you than anywhere near the cat.
GROOMING A LONG-HAIRED CAT
Most domestic cats will moult (lose fur) to some extent all year round, and grooming helps them to remove the dead hair, much of which otherwise would be swallowed. This hair becomes impacted and either passes through the cat’s system or is vomited up as a hairy brown sausage on the dining room carpet. This may be useful to know when an unwitting owner howls in disgust that her cat has defecated on the floor. You can politely reassure her that it is actually something that has been disgorged via the other end.
Most cats will spend a significant part of their day grooming; they can bend and flex and do the whole job efficiently without intervention. The cat’s tongue, as you now know, is covered with backward-pointing spines, perfectly designed to groom coats effectively, removing loose hair and dirt.
Grooming performs several important functions, which may be helpful to discuss when you find yourself in that difficult social situation when a cat starts licking its genitals in polite company. You may mention any of the following, preceded by, ‘Did you know that grooming…?’
• Removes loose hair and smoothes the coat to help insulate the body more efficiently.
• Regulates temperature in hot weather by spreading across the coat saliva that subsequently evaporates, cooling the cat down.
• Keeps the coat waterproof by stimulating glands at the base of the hairs.
• Spreads something called ‘sebum’ along the coat, producing Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight which is subsequently ingested by the cat.
• Spreads the cat’s own scent across its body (that’s why cats wash after humans touch them and mess up their own unique smell).
• Removes parasites.
Although many owners do like to groom with brushes, combs, rakes, ‘mitts’ (gloves with rubber bobbles) and similar devices for a mutually enjoyable experience and bonding session, most cats do a perfectly good job grooming themselves. Sadly, not all cats can be so self-reliant in their grooming habits though, as some have been bred with coats that are virtually impossible to keep tidy without some additional assistance.
Needless to say, cats that are bred to have impossibly long and tangle-tempting coats are also those that are inherently intolerant of any grooming assistance. The Persians and similar high-maintenance breeds are most problematic – despite their squashed faces and jumbled teeth, they can still pack a mighty bite to deter your attempts. You can reaffirm your credentials as a serious bluffer by pointing out to any owner with this problem that the cat is probably very uncomfortable with all the knots, and that grooming out tangled fur can be painful, hence the aggressive retaliation. Any gesture on your part that shows empathy with the cat will always be appreciated, at least by the cat.
Rather than ever get involved in doing this yourself, you could very patiently give your best advice on how the process should be done with minimum inconvenience to all:
• Long-haired cats need to be groomed at least once a day.
• Massage the skin thoroughly before grooming by rubbing with your fingers against the hair growth from tail to head.
• Using a wide-toothed comb, groom from head to tail to remove dead hair.
• Take particular care with areas under the cat’s ‘armpits’ (you could use the term ‘axillae’ or singular ‘axilla’ to sound extra impressive) and between its hind legs, as the skin is very thin there and extremely sensitive. It is also an area of friction where it is likely to have knots.
• Tease matts or knots apart using the fingers, working from the root towards the end of the hair.
• Avoid the use of scissors; it is extremely difficult to see where the skin ends and the hair starts when it gets really matted and blood will be drawn at some stage (not necessarily from the cat).
• Check the hair between the toes and pads for matts. Any accumulated debris can be teased out gently.
• Use a rubber mitten or pad to remove more dead hair.
• Remove dead hair on the surface of the coat with a damp cotton or rubber glove (or hand).
• Finish off with the comb again.
If grooming is a struggle, you can suggest owners try offering food treats and talking reassuringly, commencing the grooming when the cat’s attention turns to the treat. For the truly lazy owner, there are a number of freestanding or wall-mounted grooming aids that encourage the cat to rub against them, thereby removing dead hair. These of course are completely useless for the high-maintenance coat, but one assumes that they can be quite pleasant for the cat.
You will no doubt have seen a shaved cat before now (just look on the internet). This usually occurs because the cat in question has developed matts (thick pads of matted hair that pull on the fur so hard it removes it from the skin and the cat ends up looking like it has Fuzzy Felt wings) that can be extremely uncomfortable. Professional cat groomers or even members of the veterinary team will either manually groom or shave the matts off completely, leaving a GI-style crew cut. This sometimes requires sedation or even a general anaesthetic at the vet’s (and that might be just for the owner). The end result will either be functional or deeply unattractive; in either case the cat looks stupid and generally mortified.
GIVING A CAT A BATH
Don’t. If a cat is healthy, there is no reason to give it a bath. Bathing in a medical shampoo may be necessary for some skin conditions or after coat contamination with oil, tar, or other noxious substances. In which case, this is best carried out by a veterinary nurse who has the skill, equipment and patience to ensure the minimum of trauma. Any attempts on your part to dunk a cat will probably end in tears. Yours.
BRUSHING A CAT’S TEETH
Owners are routinely advised by their vets to brush their cat’s teeth. This is necessary to avoid dental disease which is a major problem. Very few owners do this but plaque and tartar can build up on a cat’s teeth and lead to infections, receding gums and loose teeth. Most owners will choose to have dental cleaning and extractions performed under general anaesthetic at the vet’s surgery. This involves ultrasonic descaling of the teeth, the removal of any that are damaged or loose and a final polish for a pearly white snarl. It is an expensive process that could potentially be avoided if owners rolled up their sleeves and stuck a brush in their cat’s mouth, using tuna flavoured toothpaste, once a day (best introduced at the kitten stage when the cat knows no better as introducing it to an adult is tantamount to self-harm).
If you have any sense of self-preservation, you will of course decline as many opportunities as possible to do ‘things’ to cats, in the certain knowledge that the first to see right through you will be a cat of average intelligence.
PROVERBS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
I gave an order to a cat and the cat gave it to its tail. China
Happy is the home with at least one cat. Italy