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the smartest cat

Today I was told I may have the smartest cat in history. By a veterinary technician, so she should know.

So as I mentioned in the long post about my snow mishap with the bus—and, incidentally, that video apparently made it to national TV, my parents back in New Hampshire saw a clip of it on the news, so now I'm almost sort of quasi-pseudo-famous—Nimiel has not been well this week, last Friday she started displaying her typical signs of some kind of urinary tract distress. I got some pain medication and antibiotics for her on Saturday, I brought a urine sample to the vet on Monday, and Monday afternoon the vet called me back about putting Nimiel on a prescription diet (which led to my epic journey back up Capitol Hill to fetch the food and consequently being on the bus that crashed). This week I've been giving her the prescription food, and continuing with the pain medication and antibiotics until they run out.

Nimiel doesn't really mind the pain medication—she'd rather not have it, and squirms around when I try to give it to her, but she takes it tolerably well and fairly little fuss. However, she clearly decided right away that the antibiotic medication is yucky, and I can't blame her, as it smells to me faintly of bananas, which are clearly yucky. So she's been a lot more active about trying to avoid the medication, squirm out of my clutches, and run away when I try to give it to her. Because of my leg being in the brace, I've been putting her up on the higher-level counter where it's easier to hold her, instead of sitting down in a chair with her.

In the past couple days, she's been over-salivating as I give the medicine to her, which has the effect of making more of it drip out of her mouth. She's also started clinging to me when I pick her up, as if to seek a comforting hug but really because she clearly doesn't want to be put on the countertop and force-fed yucky medicine. Well, today when I put her on the counter, she immediately started over-salivating, before I'd given her any medicine at all. I got a bit in her mouth, and then figured I should call the vet to see if there were a better way for me to give her the medicine, as otherwise it seemed likely she was just going to dribble more than half of it back out over the counter and floor.

When I talked to the technician, however, and told her that Nimiel had been over-salivating in anticipation of getting the medicine, the technician claimed that it's impossible for cats to anticipate; their brains are too small and they just don't have any sense of impending future actions. The tech explained that over-salivating was a reaction to a bad taste in the mouth, and if Nimiel were doing that then it was a sign of some other problem and I should bring her in to be checked. I said that I trusted her knowledge and experience, of course, but nonetheless it was clear to me that Nimiel was over-salivating as a direct response to my actions of preparing the medicine and putting her up on the counter; I hadn't observed her doing that over-salivating at other times recently, and I had been giving her the medicine the same way long enough for her to have learned the cues. The tech's response was just that if Nimiel had figured it out, that made her the smartest cat ever, and she'd never seen any other cat learn such a thing.

I'm still somewhat puzzled by that. It seems perfectly natural to me that Nimiel could learn to pick up cues that tell her certain things are about to happen. She clearly knows when I'm getting ready to leave the house by my actions of putting on shoes, closing the curtains, and getting my stuff together, and she will go sit by the door and wait for her opportunity to go check out the outer hallway. She knows the difference between me getting her dry food out of the cabinet and getting anything else out of the cabinet. It's easy to observe and learn habits that directly affect her life and interests, so it makes sense that she'd quickly learn a small set of simple actions mean that I'm about to give her medicine. However, the vet tech's point could still make sense: Nimiel could be smart enough to learn that a certain set of behaviors mean a specific event is going to occur, such as going outside or being given medicine, but she could still be incapable of anticipating the bad taste of the medicine and reacting by over-salivating. 

In any case, I'm sure that Nimiel did start her over-salivating before I'd actually brought the medicine near her. The solution to the problem turned out to be fairly simple: she'd cleared her mouth in the time I'd been on the phone, so all that I had to do was put her up on a different tabletop and quickly give her the rest of the medicine dose, before she had time to realize what it was. Nimiel then got her revenge by occasionally swishing her mouth for the next half-hour or so, long after she should've been reacting to the medicine. The only times I've observed her to do that kind of swishing in the past was just before she vomited, so she had me nervous that she was either going to vomit or that the tech was correct and Nimiel did have something else wrong that needed to be checked out. So now I just have to keep a careful eye on her in the next few days to see if she does that swishing any more, or if it was just a carry-over from the medicine. There's only one or two doses left, so fortunately that'll be done soon. Hopefully with her new prescription diet, she won't have further occurrences of this infection.

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( 1 wrote — Write )
(Anonymous)
Nov. 27th, 2010 04:31 pm (UTC)
Vets don't always know what they're talking about, in my experience. I remember one vet lecturing me about how we needed to curb Emily's mean behavior. The vet proceeded to manhandle this sweetest of kitties until Emily took the unprecendented step of biting the vet (which was then presented as proof that she was a bad cat). I've never seen Emily bite or scratch someone in anger, including the time a three year old chased her into a paper bag, then followed in after her.
( 1 wrote — Write )

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