When the cat’s away…



Pet owners often report back to their veterinarians that the animal that was treated in hospital is met with unexpected hostility by the resident cats or dogs on their return to the home.

The unusual welcome from other cats may be some hissing, spitting, attempts at clawing, hiding, anorexia or running away. Some dogs are met with aggression which has, on the very odd occasion, resulted in a fatal attack by a large dog upon a small one.

In essence, whenever any animal is removed from its environment and away from the canine pack or feline chowder there is a serious social disturbance and immediate restructuring. The absence of an individual may be for veterinary hospitalisation, grooming at a parlour, boarding at a kennel or a short vacation with one of the members of the family.

The extraction of one individual may cause separation anxiety among those remaining pets which are over-dependent individuals which rely on the submissive or dominant interaction for group security and homeostasis.

A domineering cat, for example, may be stressed by the absence of a subservient one purely because there is no longer an opportunity for bullying, allogrooming or territorial disputes. In a compatible canine pack system the absence of one individual causes an immediate restructuring of social standings which usually settles down very quickly. The owners detect behaviour changes such as the one not eating, being very quiet and maybe licking its paws excessively.

Image courtesy stock.xchnge

Image courtesy stock.xchnge


This anxiety response to the stress of change in routine can become continuous and obsessive if the people try to comfort, sympathise and reward the dog for not coping with the sudden absence of one dog. Pet owners always feel sorry for the denizen animals in these instances and do not realise that they are reinforcing fear and rewarding neuroses.

Ideally, under the circumstances, they should take no notice of any alterations of behaviour and convey the attitude that everything is a status quo. When the pets in the home look for some form of reassurance from the people in the home they will settle quickly as long as owners remain consistently unaffected.

Animals cannot perceive that the absentee may be ill or injured at a veterinary hospital or residing temporarily at a boarding facility – they only detect change – animals live only in the moment. People create multiple anthropomorphic conspiracy theories when they observe their companion animals during a temporary absence situation. If a cat climbs to a strategic area in the house where the absentee used to be people will perceive that this cat is looking after the other one’s lookout post.

A dog sniffing the blankets in the basket of the absentee will create owner ideas that it is looking for messages as to where the other dog may be because it knows something is wrong with that particular dog. Some people who are indoctrinated by Walt Disney will try to sit their pets down and explain what has happened to the animal which is being treated, operated on or boarding at the vet or kennel.

What the resident pets understand from the detailed explanation is a short communication from the person concerned but absolutely nothing else! We do not only speak a different language, we are a different species!

More on this topic next week.




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