Looks that communicate and miscommunicate

lifestyle July 29, 2012 00:00

By Laurie Rosenthal
The Nation o

Angel and Wan-Wan signal alarm to an uncomprehending owner


Talk about communication. This morning, I’ve fed the dog and cats, including my elderly cat Susu, and now it’s time for the turtles.
As I move towards the patio, though, my poodle Wan-Wan steps in front of me and gives me a Look.
She has special Looks, one for “It’s time for a walk”, another for “An upstairs turtle has jumped out of its tub and is heading for the stairs”, and yet another for “You forgot to give me my treat”.
This Look is different. Wan blocks me, then walks over to the stairs and points upwards. Then she looks at me again.
I don’t understand. Then my one-eyed Angel, the gentlest of the cats, becomes involved. She follows me around, calling urgently. “What’s wrong, kid?” I ask. She gives me the same Look that Wan has given me.
She meows, gives me the Look, wanders away, meows again, gives me the Look, wanders away.
I really feel stupid. The dog and the cat are telling me something, but I just don’t understand.
Only when I go up to the third floor to clean Susu’s bedroom do I comprehend.
Susu, who was happily eating breakfast an hour ago, is now lying on the floor on her left side. Her right front leg and her right back leg are in spasms, moving uncontrollably back and forth. Her eyes aren’t jerking, though. She’s fully aware, and when she hears me, she gives me a most heart-breaking Look. I understand her immediately. “Please help me!” she says.
There’s nothing I know how to do. Instead, I rush her to the vet.
First, the vet takes Susu’s temperature, which is normal. Then she checks the cat's ears. A bad ear mite infestation can cause an animal to lose her sense of balance. We also check Susu’s blood for any kidney or liver problems.
As far as we can see, everything is normal, except for those terrible spasms. The vet gives Susu a sedative, which sends the cat into a dreamland where her muscles relax, and the spasms stop.
We then wait to see what happens when the sedative wears off. Much to everyone’s relief, the spasms don’t return.
No one is sure what caused them. It’s possible that Susu has an earmite infestation deep in her inner ear. We’ll be able to tell with an X-ray to see if the bone has thickened abnormally from ear mites.
It’s also possible that Susu has suffered a seizure, with abnormal electrical activity in her brain. She is, after all, 19 years old, elderly by any standard. If so, there’s really nothing we can do, except to ensure that she’s free of stress and safe.
A few weeks have passed, and those terrible spasms haven’t returned. Susu herself has returned to her happy, food-centred world - and Wan and Angel haven’t given me any more Looks.