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Watch My Moves

Watch My Moves

Cats have very distinct body language using their tails, ears, eyes, whiskers, and body posture to communicate with each other and with people to divulge what they may be thinking or feeling. It's its very important to learn to read all these physical signs.

A cat lying on her back with her belly exposed feels very happy and is seeking attention.

Common Postures; Simple Phrases

Here are some of the most common feline postures and what they mean.

Hello-I'm Friendly

When a cat puts a tail up and curls the end into a question mark, this is a friendly greeting. Very often, this posture is accompanied by a raised front paw, which means the cat is poised to come forward for a more personal greeting, such as being rubbed and tickled on the ear. The cat will reciprocate by rubbing up against your legs.

Attention, Please!

When a cat stands tall, with ears and tail up, it means she's being extra friendly and, in fact, is seeking your attention. Often entwining herself around your legs follows this pose and possibly even some vocal meows to indicate "pet me" or "feed me."

Hello! More Attention Please!

A totally relaxed cat seeking attention and lying on her back exposing her tummy, with her legs stretched out in different direction and her head facing upward, is having "an attack of cute." The message is "I am irresistible, come on, tickle or play with me. NOW." A belly-up posture is an extremely vulnerable position for a cat to lie in, so a cat in this posture is very happy and content.

Something's Out There

When a cat sinks her body close to the ground, pulls her ears back, drops her tail, and slinks off, or, alternatively, crouches close to the ground holding this posture, it means that she's wary, tense, and watchful. You can feel her intense gaze. This means the cat is feeling unsure about something, sensing a potential threat. The cat is trying to make herself as small as possible so that she isn't noticed by whatever is making her feel that way.

I'm Seriously Worried Here

A worried cat will tuck her tail under her haunches and squat, putting most of her weight on her hind paws. This means that she is getting ready to strike out with her front paws if necessary. The ears are wide and slightly back, and the whiskers also point backward. A cat who feels threatened by another animal in the household and thus is getting ready to take off often adopts this poise. Frequently, cats will meow loudly to draw your attention to the fact that they would like your help to sort things out.

Ah, This Is the Life

When a cat stretches out with her back legs out to the side and her front paws curled inward and sometimes under, she's totally relaxed in her environment. If her ears are pricked, it means she's aware of what is going on around her but is perfectly content.

Now This Is Fun!

When a cat lies on her side with her back paws brought forward to meet with her front paws, she's usually in play mode and having lots of fun with a particular toy or an object she's made into a toy.

Shhh-I'm on the Hunt

When a cat sinks low to the ground, her tail out behind her, her ears forward and eyes wide, and she holds this position completely motionless, she's in stalk motion, gleaning as much information about her prey as possible before she pounces. When the tail starts swinging from side to side, the moment of execution is imminent. In this mode, she will probably ignore you in an attempt to concentrate on the pending attack.

Are You Going to Attack Me?

A cat who crouches with her head drawn back and her ears flattened is in a submissive pose and is probably getting ready to be pounced upon by another cat. Sometimes, this position is adopted when a playful scrap is about to ensue. Other times, the situation can be seriously aggressive, especially if it involves feline territory. A sign that your cat feels really threatened is when the hairs along her back spike up.

To cats, a stare is a threatening gesture, so if your kitty is staring at something she is getting ready to pounce.

You Lookin' at Me, Witch?

You Lookin' at Me, Witch?

When territorial issues are at stake, the claws may come out and a real physical fight ensue, hence the slang terminology of a catfight referring to two women physically setting upon one another. Such physical feline combat is usually accompanied by vocal interaction such as hissing, growing, and yowling. The fight can sound deadly serious and just plain awful. A cat who arches her back-with the hairs along the spine spiked up and the tail hairs bristled, making her appear twice her size-is ready to attack. This stance is often nicknamed the witch's cat posture. Usually, when she's all fluffed out like this, she will also stand sideways to the threat in an attempt to appear even larger and more threatening.

Sometimes, cats in a household will suddenly spat in this manner for no apparent reason. In fact, a typical scenario is when two cats are curled into one another grooming each other and dozing and, all of a sudden, one will jump the other and a quarrel will ensue. In this kind of surprise attack, the defending cat will roll over onto her back with her paws in the air, ready to kick out at the attacker. This upside down position is a defense posture, and the cat is getting ready for her next move. Then the games begin: the aggressor will circle around the defendant in the witch's cat posture. Sometimes, they will continue to spar like this. Other times, they will chase one another, flying around the room and tumbling about. Then, as quickly as the fight heated up, it cools down and all goes quiet. The former combatants may even go back to grooming one another, leaving you wondering what that was all about. Another typical feline scenario is when a cat is sitting quietly and another feline family member just walks past, prompting the first cat to raise a paw and hiss. This often happens at feeding time when the food bowls are being put out. It's a gentle feline warning to a housemate to eat out of her own bowl-no sharing!

Rare Catfights

Real catfights are rare; when they do occur, they are usually over quickly. During a fight, the defensive cat will roll over onto her back so that she can use all four feet-claws and all-as weapons.

Blinks and Stares

Every blink of the eye or stony stare also has a special meaning. A blink is a very reassuring signal and is used between cats to communicate with each other and with people. Slowly blinking at your cat is often called giving your cat blink kisses, and they usually respond back the same way. And, if they add a yawn, that's the ultimate compliment that they are enjoying your companionship. In contrast, a stare is threatening. Cats in a conflict situation will often try to outstare each other. When a cat realizes she's being stared it, she will stop what she's doing to assess the situation and will only resume when she knows that there's no real threat. Often, after such a staring match, cats go into grooming mode. Generally speaking, cats have excellent peripheral vision. Consequently, they tend never to stare directly at something unless they are setting their sights on it and getting ready to pounce. Looking at your cat's pupils is another way of reading the message she's sending. As well as dilating or contracting according to the amount of light around, a cat's pupils also contract or dilate to indicate mood. Dilated pupils accompany fear, aggressive excitement, and mild excitement, such as that experienced upon seeing a favorite person, a feline friend, or even dinner! The more fearful a cat is, the wider the pupils expand.

A Yawning Hello

After a long snooze, a cat will wake up and give a big yawn. This is a sign of reassurance that all is well and also is a greeting-it's a casual "hello." Often, they will simply turn around, reposition, and go back to sleep. However, if the food bowl is "calling," the cat will most likely get up and stand tall, giving a good stretch by arching her back and then proceed to stretching out front and back legs. Behaviorist Roger Tabor calls this routine "feline isometric wake-upwarm- up exercises."

Tail Signals

A cat's tail can tell you a lot about what she's thinking, feeling, and planning to do next. It's important to understand the following tail language:

  • An upright tail that quivers gently is a sign of happiness and excitement.
  • A slightly raised tail with a gentle curve means that something has piqued the cat's interest in a nonthreatening way.
  • A gentle downward curve with the tip curled upward is a sign of contentment.
  • A tail that is still except for the very tip, which twitches continuously, is an indicator that something is annoying or irritating the cat.
  • A tail that swishes from side to side in a fast motion denotes a very angry feline.
  • A sleeping cat who's curled up in a ball with her tail following the curve of her body is very relaxed and contented and is using her tail as a wrap for warmth.

Siamese are among the more vocal breeds.

Listen Closely

Feline behaviorists say that there are at least nineteen different types of meow that differ in pitch, rhythm, volume, tone, pronunciation, and the situations in which they are used. Cats also make a variety of other different sounds such as growling, hissing and chirping, chattering their teeth, and yowling and screaming.The number of sounds a cat makes depends on its breed because some cats, such as the Siamese, are considered far more vocal than others. It also has a lot to do with how they interact with other cats in the household or who they may come into contact with and the type of human–feline bond they experience with the people in their lives. There is no question that if you talk to your cat, she will talk back and soon learn the sounds that elicit a response. A cat who is the only feline in the household is often more vocal with people than are cats who share a home with other felines. People also sometimes reinforce their cat's vocalizing by answering back and by interacting with the cat by petting her or picking up a toy with the intention of initiating play.

The Purr

There is nothing that quite sums up a feeling of pure contentment than a purring cat. A queen purrs when she's giving birth and guides her newborns through the vibrations of her purr to her nipples. (Predators are attracted to little cries and meows, but not so much to the purr vibrations, and since kittens are very vulnerable, the purr helps keep them safe.) Kittens begin to purr when they are days old and are suckling their mother while gently kneading her tummy with their tiny paws. It's a signal to the mother cat that all is well with her babies. Adult cats often continue to knead your lap and purr throughout their lives. Some cats purr so loudly it sounds like a low-grade rumble; others purr silently-you can hardly hear them, but if you put your fingers under their chins you will feel a rhythmic vibration. However, cats don't only purr out of contentment. It can also be a sign that the cat is stressed, sick, or injured and in pain. The reason is that cats find the sound of their own purr very soothing, and it helps them to heal. In fact, studies indicate that endorphins, nature's pain relievers, are released when cats purr. Dying cats have also been known to purr.

Felinese

According to psychologist Mildred Moelk, PhD, there is more to "felinese" than the simple meow. In 1944, she made a detailed study of cat vocabulary and found sixteen meaningful sounds, varying in duration, intensity, tone, pitch, speed, and repetition, which included consonants and vowels. She divided cat sounds into three groups that collectively list a cat's desires and intentions:

  • Murmurs made with the mouth closed
  • Vowel sounds made with the mouth closing, as in "iao"
  • Sounds made with the mouth held open

Kittens begin to purr when they are only a few days old. This signals to mom that all is well.

The Meow

There's no question that if you live with a cat long enough, a very definite form of communication will be established between the two of you. Nicholas Dodman, director of Animal Behavior Clinic at the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in Grafton, Massachusetts, says cats communicate partly by instinct but also by learning how humans react to certain sounds. Dodman says that cats remember what sounds achieved the desired effect, and they also watch and copy what other cats do. He also believes that cats recognize a particular human's voice. Other behaviorists believe that cats can in fact even recognize specific words. Author and naturalist Jean Craighead George, who writes about the language of cats in her awardwinning book The Cats of Roxville Station and has studied cats in nature, endorses this idea that the different ways in which a cat meows have special idiosyncratic meanings. She has categorized some feline vocalizations as follows. They are written phonetically to emphasize the different sound and tones.

When meeting a cat, it helps to get down on her level.

Kittens:

  • Mew (high pitched and thin)-a polite plea for help
  • MEW! (loud and frantic)-an urgent plea for help

Adult cats:

  • Mew-plea for attention
  • Mew (soundless)-a very polite plea for attention (Craighead George believes this is what author Paul Gallico termed the "silent Miaow," which is probably a sound pitched too high for human ears)
  • Meow-emphatic plea for attention
  • MEOW!-a command
  • Mee-o-ow (with falling cadence)-protest or whine
  • MEE-o-ow (shrill whine)-stronger protest
  • MYUP! (short, sharp, single note)-righteous indignation
  • MEOW! Meow! (repeated)-panicky call for help
  • Mier-r-r-ow (chirrup with lilting cadence)- friendly greeting

Tomcats:

  • RR-YOWWW-EEOW-RR-YOW-OR- caterwaul
  • Merrow-challenge to another male
  • Meriow-courting call to female

Mother cats:

  • MEE-OW-come and get it!
  • MeOW-follow me!
  • ME R-R-R-ROW-take cover!
  • Mer ROW!-No! or Stop It!
  • Mreeeep (burbled)-hello greeting to kittens and disarming greeting to adult cats (also used between adult cats and humans)

If you take the time to observe your cat, you'll find it's easy to understand what is being said. That's what communicating with your feline is all about.

Sometimes Cats Just Can't Get Along!

Sometimes Cats Just Can't Get Along!

Cat lovers bringing new cats into the household often are unaware of the social issues that can occur. They feel sorry for a kitten they've found and introduce the newcomer to the family simply by leaving her to fend for herself without properly preparing the household to accept a change brought about by another cat. The premise is for the cats to "work it out" or "determine who is boss."Bad idea! If cats don't accept cats outside of their social circle in the wild, there is no guarantee that they will accept and like one another in a domestic situation. Consequently, if there is conflict, it never goes away. And, in fact, you are trapping them in a toxic environment for the rest of their lives!According to Margaret M. Duxbury, DVM, DACVB, of the University of Minnesota Veterinary Behavior Service at the College of Veterinary Medicine, studies have shown that unmanaged cats in a natural outdoor environment may regularly explore from as little as one acre to more than 400 acres. Such cats are highly social within their own groups, but tend not to interact amicably with cats they do not know.

Feline social groups typically consist of related individuals (females and their offspring) and are resistant to new members. In a restricted household environment where there is little room to roam and where they do not even have the benefits of predatory stimulation and exercise, the problem of dealing with newcomers is exacerbated. "Limited physical space exacerbates conflict between unbonded household cats that might choose to avoid each other in more open and complex environments, but who are forced to cope with close proximity encounters with a cat perceived as an intruder," explains Duxbury. "Consequently, household cats, and especially those that are brought together as adults, may not form affiliative relationships despite years of living together."Fortunately, in a domestic situation, you can take steps to create a state of nonconfrontational co-habitation.

First, every time you bring a new pet into a household, it's important to do proper introductions. (This applies to dogs too.) When introducing a new cat to an incumbent cat, confine the newcomer to one room with food, water, and a litter box for a week, possibly longer. (It can take as long as a month.) Introduce her to the incumbent cat first by smell. To do this, take a pair of socks, rub one on her and one on your incumbent feline and exchange the socks with the cats. After they are used to the smell of each other in this way, bring them face-to-face for supervised visits until you are comfortable leaving them alone.The two cats may turn out to love each other, or they may be indifferent to each other but get along. In these instances, the initial hissing and growling will subside.But then there is the situation in which they can't stand each other, and the problem is permanent, characterized by ongoing overt aggression with open-mouthed, sustained vocalizations and physical altercations.According to Duxbury, cat owners also often miss signs of covert or passive aggression, such as staring and blocking physical space like the exit from the litter box. Such overt and passive conflict can be diminished, possibly removed, depending on the spatial arrangements in the household.

Cats have a harder time avoiding each other in homes with narrow hallways, lots of corners, and small rooms. So, consider dividing up your home by placing litter boxes, food, and water in different areas of the house so that every cat in the household can get what she needs without encountering a feline bully. "This is especially important in order to promote successful litter box use by all cats in a household," says Duxbury. "In homes with inter-cat conflict, cats are often reluctant to use litter boxes that are covered, in enclosed cubbies, or accessible only after passing through a narrow hall or doorway." So make sure you have large open pans and place them so that the user can see who is approaching from all sides.

Another way to avoid conflict is to increase the space in the home by "going vertical" and adding perches and runways at ceiling height. You can add more options, such as lofty hidey-holes, and create new exits and entrances through walls at this elevated level so that cats can come and go without feeling trapped.Behaviorists also suggest putting a bell on the collar of the most assertive feline in the household to give warning to other felines that she's approaching.Also consider creating a safe zone by kitting out one room of your home with a computerized cat door that only cats wearing the proper microchip on their collar can access. Such changes can go a long way toward decreasing social pressure and improving quality of life for all the felines in the household. And, in so doing, it's much less stressful for the humans who live there, too!

From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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