Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Communicating With Your Cat

No, I am not going to give you a lesson in telepathy, nor is this a glossary of what every different type of meow means. This is a post on some verbal, but mostly non verbal ques you give your pets (as well as an interpretation on the ones they give you).

I have a cat named Drusilla, like most Siamese, she is very talkative, sensitive, and a little high strung, but she goes beyond that and is quite possibly the neediest cat you will ever meet. She and I have a very deep connection and I think we communicate very well, as long as I am paying attention. Most cats are more aloof than her, and therefore more difficult to communicate with, but none of them are impossible.

Remember that vocalizing is generally not your cat's preferred mode of communication. A cat's "first language" consists of a complex system of scent, facial expression, complex body language and touch. Cats simply realize that we don't understand the non-verbal signals they send to each other, so they vocalize in an attempt to communicate in our language. By observing which sounds elicit which actions from us, a cat learns how to make requests or demands.

Likewise, you need to be conscious of the sounds you use when communicating with your cat. Use a slightly raised tone of voice to indicate friendliness and a lowered tone of voice to indicate displeasure or aggression.

Develop a "command tone" to use with your cat when he or she is doing something that you consider to be wrong. Use a voice that comes naturally to you and can be replicated easily, but that is also distinct from your everyday talking voice. If you use this voice sparingly but seriously, your cat will learn to associate the voice with the idea that he or she is displeasing you. A low tone or a sharp hiss sound are sounds associated with "no" to cats so try to utilize that in your command tone.

 Never yell at or physically discipline a cat. This only frightens and angers the cat, and is counterproductive. You can add a hard edge to your voice. The cat will pick up on that and sense unhappiness.

 Non Verbal Communication:

An important communication tool for your cat is their tail. Observing your cat's tail can show you what kind of mood they are in. If their tail is straight up with a curl at the end they are feeling confident and happy. A twitching tail means they are most likely anxious, or unsure. Drusilla twitches her tail when she is trying to figure out how best to handle a situation that is making her uncomfortable, or when she is thinking about doing something she knows she is not allowed to do. If I see her staring up at the TV stand and the tail starts twitching I give her a low warning sound to remind her I won't be happy if she jumps up there.

If the tail fur sticks straight up but the tail is held low your cat is probably feeling aggressive or frightened. If they tuck their tail under their rear they are definitely frightened and if they curl their tail in the shape on an "N" with the fur sticking up they are definitely feeling aggressive.

Cats use their whole bodies to communicate though, not just their tails. This is Dru's "I want more turkey" look.

Dilated pupils usually means they are feeling very playful or excited. Ears back can mean they are in a very playful mood, or could also show fear or anxiety.

 If their tongue flicks out slightly and licks lower lip they are worried or apprehensive, while a sniff followed by an open mouth means they are identifying or possibly just enjoying a certain smell.

If a cat starts rolling on to his or her back, that shows they are relaxed, or in a playful mood and if you blink slowly when making eye contact with your cat, they will usually respond by coming over to be stroked. This is seen as a very non-threatening gesture. Yawning is another way of showing that you are not a threat.

Lastly, cats have certain greeting rituals and participating can help bring you closer together and get the ball rolling on your communication.

Things involved in greeting rituals include:
  • Lifting the nose and tilting the head back slightly: "I acknowledge you." Cats sitting in windows may greet you in this manner as you walk by.
  • Face sniffing: Confirming identity.
  • Rubbing head, flank and tail against a person or animal: he or she is marking you as his or her own.
  • Wet nose "kiss": An affectionate gesture when the cat taps his or her wet nose to you.
  • Head-butting: Friendliness, affection.
  • Short meow: Standard greeting.
  • Multiple meows: Excited greeting.
  • Chirrup (a cross between a meow and a purr with rising inflection): Friendly greeting sound, often used by a mother cat to call to her kittens

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