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Cat Whispering - Mastering the Language of Cat

By: Renae Hamrick, RVT

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Horse whispering... dog whispering... so...what about cat whispering? Any cat whisperers out there? Can anyone speak "Cat"?

Cats are complicated animals, and communicating with them can be a challenge. Cat whispering hasn't gained the popularity and success that dog and horse whispering have, but there are ways to communicate with Kitty. You can read your cat's body language to understand her feelings, and you can send her positive messages to let her know she's loved and appreciated. Here are some tips on how to understand what your cat wants and to help you to better understand and communicate with your cat. Who knows...you may become the next "Cat Whisperer"!

Cat Communication

Cats show their expressions with intricate changes of their body from head to tail. For example, here are some signs of cat communication:

  • A happy, relaxed cat will have her ears upright in their normal position with her whiskers fanned out straight from her face. Her eyes may blink or wink a lot. Her tail will be either upright or relaxed, and she may purr.

  • An angry or aggressive cat will make direct eye contact and lower her body close to the ground, ready to attack. She will have constricted pupils with her ears flat and pulled back against her head. Her hair on her back and tail may stand up. The tail will swish or thump the ground, and she will probably hiss and growl.

  • A frightened cat has dilated pupils, and her whiskers may be pulled back. Her ears will be pulled downward and may twitch; the hair on her back and tail may stand up (piloerection).

  • An annoyed cat usually hisses at its source of irritation, flattens her ears against her head, and flicks the tip of her tail. A sick cat may have half-closed eyes with exposed third eyelids (nictitating membranes - they come up over the lower inside portion of the cat's eyes).

  • The sick cat may hunch her back, tuck her tail between her legs, and have droopy ears and whiskers. Sick cats often purr to comfort themselves.

    By watching your cats behavior, you can better communicate or understand what he or she is saying. As every cat lover knows, cats are complex animals. This is merely the basic body language of a cat, but every cat is different and has her own quirks. Observation and bonding are important to learn the specific ways your cat expresses her emotions.

    Cat Feelings

    What about cat feelings? Cats have unusual habits that also reveal their feelings. If you're petting your cat and she appears to be wagging her tail, she's not giving you the same message that the family dog would be giving you with his tail. Kitty is telling you she's had enough, and if you continue to pet her, she may bite you. If Kitty was sitting in the window watching a bird and her tail was flicking and thumping, you would know she wanted to attack the bird. The same applies to your hand.

    On the contrary, if you're petting your cat and she's kneading your leg with her paws, she's showing you love and appreciation. This kneading action begins when Kitty is a nursing kitten. She kneads on her mother's breast while she eats. Cats continue kneading as adults, kneading their bedding, their owners, a stuffed animal.... anything that makes them happy.

    Cat Rubbing and Marking

    What is a cat saying when doing the cat rubbing or cat marking behaviors? Cats also show their appreciation by rubbing their scent glands on people or objects. These scent glands, which produce chemicals called pheromones, are located on the forehead, near the mouth, around the paw pads, at the tip of the tail, and around the anus. Whatever a cat rubs her head or face on, she is happily claiming as hers, and she is showing appreciation.

    Cat marking from the rear end (such as urine spraying) is a behavior reserved for times of anxiety, for aggressive territory marking, and as a sexual enticement. Intact cats (especially males) are more likely to urine mark. Marking with the glands around the paw pads is done during scratching. This is a very common way for a cat to claim territory, both visually with scratch marks and with the scent of pheromones. Scratching also provides an emotional outlet for cats and a way to stretch after a long nap.

    Cat Napping and Cat Playtime

    Though napping is extremely important to cats (in fact, most cat sleep between 16 and 18 hours a day), playtime is equally important. Playtime is essential for good health, well-being, and appropriate social behavior. It also is vital in strengthening the human-cat bond.

    Because cats are so self-sufficient and independent, it is easy to fall into the pattern of only bonding with Kitty when filling her food bowl. Cats want more than a full bowl of food and a basket of toys in the corner, they want to play and interact... like a cat, not like Fido. Stalking and attacking prey is what a cat in the wild does best. It is also something your domestic cat enjoys and does well. This is a cat's favorite form of play.

    Keep this in mind when playing with your cat, and try to use the toy to mimic the actions of Kitty's prey. Don't just dangle the toy directly in front of Kitty's face; make the toy dart and hide. Give your cat a challenge, but also allow her to catch the toy and succeed. This will help build her confidence. Be sure your cat moves about when playing; don't just allow her to sit in one place and bat at a toy.

    Cats need exercise; it is too easy for them to become sedentary and obese. Fishing pole-like toys, laser toys, and bubbles are great for the predator-prey type of play because they keep your hands our of harm's way. Never allow your cat to play directly with your hands, as this teaches bad behaviors. Set aside a couple specific times of the day to play with your cat. She needs about 30 minutes daily. It will strengthen your bond, keep your cat healthy, and prevent boredom and excess energy, which can lead to destructive behaviors.

    Post-playtime, when your cat is tired and relaxed, is a good time to give your cat some one-on-one TLC (if your cat is one who enjoys affection). Most cats are fearful of feeling trapped and don't like to be cuddled tightly. A nice scratch around the ears, on the cheeks, under the chin, and at the base of the tail is usually appreciated though. Unlike their canine counterpart, most cats do not enjoy belly rubs, though they may roll on their back when you pet them. They are simply displaying contentment and relaxation.

    Cat Environments

    A cat-friendly environment is another way to show your cat you care and to encourage good behavior from your kitty. A household needs one more litter box than the number of cats living there. The boxes should be cleaned at least once a day and kept in quiet locations where your cat can have privacy. For example, don't put the litter box beside the washing machine or in the middle of a busy room. Inside a closet with the door kept cracked open, or beside an infrequently used toilet are ideal places. Especially in homes with dogs or children, there should be plenty of safe places for a cat to hide.

    Cats hide for comfort, so if Kitty runs behind the couch, don't pull her out. This will scare her more. Let her relax and come out when she is ready. Cats also appreciate elevated places to sit, such as cat trees. This is a location of safety and entertainment for them. A cat tree beside a window for bird watching would be ideal. A cat also needs a soft, clean bed for all her important napping. On the cat tree or somewhere elevated, safe, and quiet is the best location for sleep.

    Education and patience are the keys to communicating with your cat. Learn how cats think, observe your own cat, and be patient with her as she comes to trust you and bond with you.

    Though a cat doesn't wear her heart on her sleeve quite like a dog does, she can be understood and become your close friend.

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