Friday, April 4, 2014

What does your cat do to you while you are sleeping?

Have your toes ever had the crazy kitten treatment through the bedclothes?

The title of this post sounds a little sinister, and if you've ever had the joy of being woken by the sensation of sharp kitten teeth or claws through the sheets and into your toes, I can't blame you for reading it that way. 

But in a case reported in the Medical Journal of Australia, and re-reported in the Australian Veterinary Journal by Anne Jackson, nocturnal cat attacks proved (indirectly) life-saving. 

A 72-year-old gent presented to his GP with multiple scratches on his face and nose due to "repeated savage night-time attacks perpetrated by none other than his trusty loyal cat."

Instead of blaming the cat for being a jerk, the GP asked: WHY would this animal attack a sleeping person? "Perhaps," the authors write, "the cat was witnessing something which it deemed required intervention."

I love their thinking.

The owner had a history of coronary heart disease (stable), type 2 diabetes mellitus, diabetic neuropathy and hypertension. The medical history of the cat is not divulged in the case report.

The GP ordered an overnight polysomnographic assessment which found that the owner suffered obstructive sleep apnoea and bradycardia with 7 second cardiac pauses. That's a long time between heartbeats.

Perhaps the cat was sensing the heart had stopped and attempting revival (the authors suggest it was performing "C(at)PR") by slapping his owner in the face. Once the condition was treated (with continuous positive airway pressure) the nocturnal assaults abated. 

It would have been great if, along with the polysomnograph, someone could have hooked up a webcam and filmed the cat to work out if the attacks corresponded with the cardiac pauses.

The report itself is light-hearted, though the case is real, and it does suggest that the cat was responding to physiological changes in the patient. I don't know that much of a conclusion can be drawn from the motivation from the cat - was he really reviving the owner, or just testing if he was alive? 

I know that if I sleep in some days I cop a closed paw in the face, with the claws gradually emerging if I fail to respond. Perhaps wearing a ski-mask to bed isn't advisable after all. It might prevent the odd pre-dawn facial clawing (and it would certainly prevent facial injuries due to mistaken-identity incidents as previously described), but it may unwittingly "mask" sleep apnoea.

But seriously, animals are sensitive to subtle physiological changes that we aren't, and their behaviour - while at first seeming irrational - is something we should seek to understand. The GP in this case acted on the assumption that the cat was rational - and whoopah - life-saving diagnosis. N may equal 1 in this case, but its a nice example of productive anthropomorphism. 

Reference
Seligman WH & Manuel A (2014) The cat and the nap. Medical Journal of Australia 200(4):229.

2 comments:

  1. I had a client who was convinced that her cat saved her life - when she was going into a coma (maybe she was diabetic? This was a long time ago) and the cat licked her till she woke up.
    Who knows maybe the cat did - I hope so, it was a sweet kitty. And I still have the little cat toy the client gave me for treating her cat (nothing clever - it had a raging infection, I gave it supportive care and antibiotics and it got better).

    ReplyDelete
  2. Seriously! What can't they do?

    ReplyDelete

Add comments here: