By: Robin Desmet – Jan. 2019
Our pets are always communicating with us, whether it is with their eyes, their voices or their body language. Their insistent meows tell us it is times for breakfast, and their slow blinks tell us that they trust us. Some of their communication is very obvious—we know to back off when a cat hisses, but other signs are more subtle. Knowing these signs and learning how cats communicate can help you better understand your furry friend.
Did you know that when cats meow they are only talking to their human companions? Cats are not meowing to each other, they are meowing to you. Unless a Mother cat is talking to her babies or vice-versa, or if a female cat is in heat, cats do not communicate with each other by meowing. When cats meow, they are looking for your attention. Meowing is a cat’s way of getting you to feed them or play with them or let them out of a closed room. Cats may also meow if they are sick, or if they are in distress. Pay attention when your cats meow—they are talking to you!
Much of the way that cats communicate is not vocal, but rather physical. A cat’s tail can give you a surprising amount of information about your cat’s mood and well-being. If your cat is prancing around the house with a tail straight in the air, you are looking at a confident, happy cat.
If that same tail is high in the air and all puffed out, your cat is angry. A very angry cat will have that tail all puffed out and the back high in an arch—the classic Halloween cat pose. A cat with a tail tucked under is the sign of an anxious, fearful cat. Lastly, if your cat’s tail is thrashing quickly back and forth—watch out—your cat is agitated and upset.
What about all that head butting (actually called “bunting”) and rubbing up against your legs that cats do? Well, they are depositing their scent on you and in turn picking up your scent. This type of activity makes you smell more familiar to them and helps to bring them comfort. It is a way for the cat to identify you as part of their group or to claim people and objects as their own. This is your cat’s way of showing affection and letting you know that they miss you. They are marking you up and bringing you back into the group after you’ve been away all day.
They say the eyes are the key to the soul. I believe this holds true for cats as well. Cats that stare at others with unblinking eyes are asserting their dominance and letting other cats know that they are the boss. Cats that are content will gaze at you with wide open eyes. When they trust you they will feel safe enough to close their eyes in your presence and give you a slow blink.
The more time you spend with your cat the more you will begin to notice all of the subtle and not so subtle ways that cats communicate.
If your cat is kneading with her paws while purring away in your lap, or is rolling on his back exposing his belly to you, then you are doing something right as far as your cat is concerned. Keep up the good work—your cat is happy!
Robin Desmet, is an Rph and MSPCA volunteer. ◊