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Thursday, July 25, 2024

The Language of Cats

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If you are a cat person, that does not necessarily mean that you can understand cats and their ways better than anyone else. Cats seem to never lose their mysterious trait however well you know them.

Suki, the author’s cat, appears quite content with what is going on with her life at the moment.

I am a cat person and, right now, we have 13 adult cats and 4 kittens. Whisky, our oldest cat and first rescue, left before the pandemic and never returned. She would have been nine (human) years old now. We thought we knew her well and that she would always be our Whisky, that she would always come back home to us and never be any different from how we knew her to be. At first, she would come back but each time she returned, she would appear to be more and more different than before. She began to be grumpier. Until one day, she hissed at all of us after coming back from a stroll. We tried to see what was up with her, if she had wounded herself during her stroll outside, but she would not let us near her. When she mellowed down and we were able to hold her again, there were no wounds whatsoever. We never knew why she acted that way.

Days before we relocated here, at the farm (before the lockdowns began), she went out but did not come back until we had to leave the apartment already. I still went back to the apartment many times to look for her. I even slept there, alone, just to wait for her to come back. But she never did.

Theories in understanding cat language

In her article “Cat Language: How Cats Communicate,” Christine O’Brien described a study called “Meowsic,” which was launched in 2016 by Lund and Linköping universities in Sweden to investigate how cats communicate with people. Adult cats were discovered to meow only to humans and not to each other. This proves that your cat is truly your fur baby. So, if you hear your cat talking, it is probably because she is trying to communicate with you rather than with another cat in the house.

Socks, another cat of the author, just woke up from her nap.

Another study showed that the “meowing” of cats has specific “goals” on their humans. According to this study, cats have become very skilled at manipulating humans to get what they want, which is primarily food, shelter, and a little human affection. Nicholas Nicastro, a self-described cat person who has documented hundreds of different feline vocalizations in the common house cat (Felis catus) and its ancestor, the African wild cat (Felis silvestris lybica ), was mentioned by Roger Segelken in his article, “It’s the cat’s meow: Not language, strictly speaking, but close enough to skillfully manage humans, communication study shows”.

Nicastro’s research, which he presented on June 5, 2002, at the 143rd Acoustical Society of America meeting in Pittsburgh, compiled a sample of 100 different vocalizations from 12 cats to see how different “meow” vocalizations indicated how urgent and demanding the sounds were for their human parents.

Nicastro, a Cornell psychology assistant professor’s laboratory student, discovered a clear negative relationship between pleasantness and urgency, which was rooted in how the calls sounded.

Amy Shojai, CABC, animal behavior expert and award-winning writer with over 25 years of hands-on experience training and caring for cats and dogs, shared her vast expertise in understanding cat language in her article, “Cat Language and Signals Explained”.

Shojai said cats primarily communicate through silence. She said cats communicate through complex combinations of body language, vocalization, and scent cues.

Cats use vocalizations to express emotion, Shojai said. Meowing, purring, hisses, growls, and other sounds are part of the feline repertoire, each with a different meaning depending on the context.

Steven, one of four kittens of the author, stretches while sun bathing.

She added that cats’ ears express emotion and intent. Ears facing forward show interest. In general, the more a cat’s ears swivel sideways and backward, the more agitated or distressed the cat is. Backward ears and a hiss or swipe are telltale signs that your cat is feeling threatened or dissatisfied with what you are showing or giving her.

Cats communicate with their eyelids (how open or closed they are) as well as pupil dilation. A sudden dilation of the pupil is caused by arousal, which can be caused by fear, interest, or any other strong emotion. Wide-open eyes indicate trust, whereas slitted eyes indicate fear or aggression. According to Shojai, droopy, sleepy-looking eyelids indicate that your cat is relaxed and trusting.

Shojai said the cat tail communicates interest, affection, arousal, and other emotions. She said that the height of the tail, as well as its motion, has meaning. When cats want to be approached, they raise their tails, indicating that interaction is welcome. A flailing or thumping tail is usually a warning to keep your distance.

Cats communicate through their fur as well. The ‘fur talk,’ as Shojai described it. The fur of a healthy, calm cat lies smoothly against the body. Unkempt fur can indicate illness and should not be ignored by their human parents. A suddenly fluffed coat, including a “bottle brush” tail, indicates fear or aggression.

Cats are territorial, and the scents they leave behind are clearly designed to send the message to would-be intruders that “this territory is mine,” according to Shojai. They use strong urine and feces marking, bunting (body rubbing), and clawing to leave scented messages that other cats read.

The cat’s overall body posture also indicates everything from confidence to fear or submission, said Shojai.

Although cat behavior research is limited in comparison to dog behavior research, it is well established that cats are intelligent creatures. So, while cats are naturally independent, know that they are communicating with you. You just need to pay closer attention to their nonverbal cues to truly understand what she is trying to tell you.

About the Author: Mariana Burgos is a freelance artist. She is a solo parent for 16 years now because she is wife to a desaparecido. She and her daughter are animal lovers and are active in advocating not only human rights but the rights of animals as well.

About the Author: Mariana Burgos is a freelance artist. She is a solo parent for 16 years now because she is wife to a desaparecido. She and her daughter are animal lovers and are active in advocating not only human rights but the rights of animals as well.


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