Wednesday 22 November 2017

'He' or 'she' cats: it doesn't really make any difference

Sammy's owners were astonished: they had been told that she was a girl, and they had just assumed that this was correct, when in fact he is a male!
Sammy's owners were astonished: they had been told that she was a girl, and they had just assumed that this was correct, when in fact he is a male!

House calls only make up a small part of a pet vet's job: it's nearly always more efficient to see patients in the consulting room. Apart from avoiding the time consuming hassle of traffic hold ups driving to and from a patient's home, there are other reasons why it makes sense for animals to visit the vet at the clinic.

If any complicated examinations or tests are needed, the staff and facilities are immediately on hand to help. And routine procedures, such as weighing an animal or clipping matted fur from awkward areas, are much more easily done in the clinic.

There are exceptions: for example, owners may choose to have euthanasia consultations carried out at home, where a pet may feel more relaxed and less stressed. And on other, happier occasions, there can be a social element to house calls which is enjoyable.

A few weeks ago, a friend called me to let me know that they have a new kitten: could they bring her down for me to check her over and give the first vaccination. It so happened that their house was on my cycle route to work, so I suggested that perhaps I could drop in to see them, to make it easier.

On the appointed day, I sent them a text to say that I was on my way. The answering text was simple: "Great. Would you like some lunch?". I am never one to turn down hospitality, so I accepted, and fifteen minutes later, we were sitting down together to enjoy some home-cooked soup and bread together.

I am sure farm vets often sit down to eat with their clients, but it's an unusual occasion for a pet vet, and I enjoyed it immensely. Far too often, our lives are a mad dash from one place to another: there's something wholesome about stopping to enjoy food with others.

We had interesting conversation over lunch: my hosts are vegetarian, and we talked about the difference between animal rights (when animals have as much right to control their own destiny as humans, and they cannot be killed for meat etc) and animal welfare (when it's acceptable to use animals for food or entertainment as long as they don't suffer, and it's OK to take their lives, as long as they are killed humanely). We live in an animal-welfare based world, but a growing number of people (like my vegetarian friends) are strongly supportive of animal rights.

After eating together, we went looking for the kitten, who had hidden underneath the sofa. We soon coaxed her out, and once she had become used to me, she was friendly, purring as I checked her all over. She had a healthy heart, bright, clear eyes, and a shiny coat: she was in perfect condition.

There was only one problem, which I discovered as soon as I lifted her tail and looked underneath: "she" was a "he". Her owners were astonished: they had been told that she was a girl, and they had just assumed that this was correct. She had already been called "Sammi", which in the circumstances, was an excellent choice of name. She (or "he") is now "Sammy" with a "y", but that's the easy bit. Her owners now have to get used to saying "he", and "him" rather than "she" and "her". It's remarkable how quickly we get used to calling an animal by a particular gender, and it's not easy to change.

My own first kitten when I was a child suffered from this problem. We believed that "he" was a "she" until he was six months old: he had been given the unfortunate name of "Honey", which did not work so well when the vet informed us that "she" was a "he". It was too late to change his name at that stage, and he remained Honey until the end of his life. It took us about three years to finally get used to calling him "he" rather than "she", but I don't think Honey minded.

For most owners, it doesn't make much difference whether a cat is male or female. Nearly all pet cats are neutered anyway, so the male/female hormones are removed from their bodies when they are young. The strong gender differences never develop: neutered tom cats don't grow into large, muscular cats with a faint odour of urine, and neutered female cats don't wander off regularly to produce litters of kittens in the garden.

People often ask me if it's better to get a male or female cat, or which combination of genders work best in groups of animals. It's hard to be certain about these issues: there's so much individual variation between cats' personalities anyway, before taking gender into account.

My own view is that it really doesn't matter at all: I have seen all combinations either getting on wonderfully well or fighting furiously. Male-male, male-female and female-male can all work well, or can end in tears.

As far as my friends are concerned, there's a small bonus about having a male kitten: the neutering operation for males is less costly than the spaying operation for females. It's a simpler operation and it takes less time, which makes it less expensive.

I gave Sammy his vaccination, popped a worm tablet down his throat, and it was time to head back to the clinic for the rest of my appointments.

It'd be pleasant to spend more time enjoying lunch breaks with easy conversation and good-natured animals: maybe I should reconsider my routine?

New Ross Standard

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