Icon of the Web, an animal adored by the French, the cat fascinates as much as it unsettles. Illumination with behavioral scientist Claude Béata.
Playful but unpredictable, loving but lonely: cats are an enigma, a mystery. In ancient Egypt they were made gods. In the Middle Ages they were slaughtered as witches. Today, the cat rules social networks and is the most common pet in France. But it continues to be misunderstood: a dissonance that veterinarian Claude Béata wanted to combat. As a specialist in behavioral medicine, he strives to highlight animal psychiatry at a time when we are rethinking our relationship with living things more than ever.
On video, Jennifer Garner’s failed video demonstration and her cat carrier hoodie
In his new book, Madness of cats, we learn that in extreme cases the latter can be affected by forms of schizophrenia or bipolarity. But also why they attack without warning the sofa or our feet. An enlightening book to better understand them and build a relationship with them, where we also have everything to gain.
Madame Figaro. – Why did you want to devote a book to the “madness” of cats?
Claude Beata. – In France they are 15 million, about twice the number of dogs. So we are seeing more cases and I would like to appeal not to leave these cats in need. This is most often expressed by inhibition: they will move less, will grow or lose hair. However, cats have the rather negative reputation of being autonomous and not needing much grooming. What’s wrong.
Why are they so popular today?
Already because they are beautiful: the very round side, with big eyes… These are the recipes of the mammal world to move people, and kittens are past masters in the art of making you want to be cared for. Dogs, meanwhile, suffer from the irritations of the media: with the Dangerous Dogs Act, certain breeds are singled out. Then we live in smaller homes and we are in a country where we can sometimes go away for two or three days at the weekend: it is easier with a cat…
Animal welfare has long been considered: among farmers, for example, each animal was called by its name before intensive farming distorted many things.
Not all cats are mentally ill. But why do we often say they are crazy?
Because we understand them less than dogs, with whom we share a social structure: like us, they have the notion of hierarchy, and they will maintain a relationship with the human on whom they depend, even if this goes badly. With a cat, relationships are “extra”. We are talking about bonds of attachment: they can be very strong, but are never obligatory. If a relationship does not suit the cat, he can give it up completely. But it is this fragility that makes the price of the link we establish with them.
What do you say to those who think animal psychiatry is a useless luxury?
I have a philosopher and veterinary friend, Philippe Devienne, who answers with a pirouette: “I am not interested in knowing whether animals suffer. I take care of their suffering.” For us, suffering is obvious, objective, we see it every day, and our job is to alleviate it. Cats with mental disorders are at risk of being abandoned or euthanized. It is therefore a discipline that can save them and improve the lives of those responsible for them. Of course, animal psychoanalysis is the hallmark of a successful society. But animal welfare has long been taken into account: among farmers, for example, each animal was called by its name, before intensive farming distorted many things. Two years ago, the National Health Security Agency gave this definition: “A positive mental and physical state associated with the satisfaction of the physiological and behavioral needs, as well as the animal’s expectations.” It is a definition that proves that the representation we have of the latter, of his consciousness and of his position, has changed. He is no longer an object but a subject of his world.
How can we better understand cats?
Since they are very different from us, they force us to shift our focus, to change our way of thinking. For example, we have often resorted to punishment with animals, although fortunately this is less and less the case. With the cat it never worked. This is due to its dual nature of predator and prey. The cat has to hunt, but it is also a vulnerable creature, which forces it to be very suspicious. If we mistreat him or raise our voice, he will distance himself as his well-being does not depend on us. We must therefore accept that we cannot enforce it.
What can we learn from them?
Our love for cats speaks to our changing values in an increasingly stressful society. We need this contact, the affection they bring. The anti-anxiety properties of pets have been proven: in some cases, petting a cat is better than taking a Tranxene. They can also teach us to seek harmony as they manifest when they spin. And teach us some idea of self-respect and respect for others: a cat that comes on the lap means that it is pleasant, but there is no need to tamper with it. So people are surprised when they pet it but it goes away or it starts biting. Cats don’t necessarily want what we want. Basically, they give us a lesson in tolerance and difference.