Pet Care Articles by Dr. Baum: Weird Cat — and Rabbit Facts
I am eternally grateful to my anatomy professor, Dr. Howard Evans, who gave me not only an appreciation for, but also an actual zeal in the pursuit of the arcane facts that continually appear throughout the biological sciences. Tidbits like the horn of a rhinoceros is actually made of compressed hair and that elephants are coprophagic were regularly interspersed throughout otherwise mundane lectures in anatomy. We even learned that the anatomy specimens were meticulously cleaned down to the bone by a colony of flesh eating beetles which the good doctor kept in a jar in his office. There was one factoid, however, that, not only was I able to put to practical use, but it actually enabled me to pass the veterinary licensing exam that I took in 1972.
The study of anatomy was divided into two semesters — large animals with emphasis on cattle and horses the first semester, and small animals, with emphasis on the dog and to a lesser extent the cat during the second semester. Very little mention was made of exotic species — birds or pocket pets like rabbits, hamsters or rats.
However, Dr Evans always liked to make things interesting and while we were discussing the reproductive anatomy and physiology of the cat, he offered up several interesting facts. He wondered aloud if anyone in the class knew why the queen (female cat) screamed so loudly and continuously during coitus. When no answer was forthcoming he explained that the tom’s (male cat) penis was actually laden with multiple fleshy spikes which caused the queen to scream in ecstasy or pain. The result of this rough sex was that the act of mating actually caused the queen to ovulate thus ensuring that there would be eggs available to meet the spermatic invaders. This mechanism all but ensures reproductive success. With one exception, he added, this method was unique- almost all other species ovulated independently and reproductive success was based on the timing of the mating. The one exception was the rabbit, which shared the capacity for induced ovulation with the cat.
Armed with this knowledge, I was able, along with my roommates, to put it to immediate use. We shared an apartment in the college town area adjacent to Cornell University. The area was a mecca for stray cats and during the mating season the queens would be wailing for the tom to satisfy their reproductive urge.
This racket would go on for several weeks or until the mating occurred. For once the mating occurred, ovulation was induced and the heat period would come to an end, along with the caterwauling. To expedite the process, we would go out at night, snatch the lovesick queens and “diddle” them. This consisted of inserting a lubricated Q-tip or thermometer into their vagina and gently manipulating it to simulate coitus. The result was that the queen ovulated, the noise stopped, pregnancy rates dropped in our area and we could finally get some sleep.
When I took the state licensing exams in California, the small animal section of the test actually had twenty-five questions about reproduction in rabbits. The only thing I knew about rabbits was the offhand remark that Dr Evans had offered up, and I answered all the questions like I would have for a cat. I must have extrapolated well because I passed the test.
Veterinarians generally advise against spaying when the female is in heat because the higher levels of estrogen in the systems affect the animal’s ability to clot by affecting the function of the blood platelets. So when my friend and client called me last week to tell me that her cat was in heat and that the screaming was driving her crazy I chuckled and said, “Why don’t you bring her in for a diddle?
NOTE: For more info on the surprising similarities between bunnies and pussycats, please read Dr. Baum’s pet care article: “The Weird Things about Rabbits.”