I have owned cats for over 60 years. Between them and their vets, I have learned a great deal about how they tick.
Cats Don't Understand "Human"
Cats cannot understand the words we use to communicate the things we want them to know. They don't even know what the word "no" means, even though they seem to respond to it. The truth is that they are not responding to the words, they are responding to the tone of your voice and your body language.
Cats hear the anger, joy, sweetness, dislike, or whatever else you show when you are speaking to them. They see how you move and they see what you have in your hands. They can smell anger and fear and they can also smell food if you have it in your hands. When you speak, a cat watches and listens for clues about what you might be saying. They do not, however, understand what you are saying.
How to Show Cats What You Mean
Showing a cat what you mean is difficult because cats use tail movements, eye movements, and lip-licking to communicate with each other. That is how they understand things. Speaking to them requires that type of communication.
What to do:
- Speak softly if you are trying to comfort the cat, and loudly if you are angry.
- Move slowly to attract a cat and fast if you wish to shoo them away.
- Offer your open empty hand for the cat to smell if you want them to get to know you, and keep your hand away from them if you don't want them to get to know you.
- Raising your hand as if to strike something will cause the cat to run from you or get aggressive because they believe you are angry.
- Having equipment in your hands like walkers, canes, and purses could frighten the cat because they are often hit with these things by people who don't want them near.
- Moving as if to kick a cat will cause them to run to avoid being kicked.
Patience is a winning virtue.
How to Avoid Scratches and Bites
Some cats are aggressive by nature. Watch for signs such as crouching, hiding, hissing, and swatting.
These are signs your cat is afraid:
- This cat will scratch or bite if you continue to approach them.
- Recoil as if they expect to get hurt if you touch them.
- Hide under the bed or in other dark, cramped places.
Don't be angry at them, however, since they did warn you. To calm them or approach them in these cases:
- Stay calm and offer them a treat or food they like.
- Place the food close but not close enough for the cat to scratch.
- Don't approach, let them come to you.
- Give your cat time; patience is a winning virtue.
- Give them treats and gentle pets when they do respond.
How to Deal With Injured Cats
Injured cats will bite and scratch because they are hurt and are afraid. These animals, whether they are your own or an unknown animal, can be dangerous. This is the only protection they have now because of their injuries. If the cat is yours:
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- Try to carefully pick them up using a towel or blanket.
- Get them to a vet as soon as possible.
- Speak softly and do your best to comfort them.
- If the cat warns you not to touch, do your best not to touch that area.
- Blood is always a sign of injury, but some injuries do not bleed. There will be other signs such as limping, not eating, inactivity, and so on. Treat them as noted above.
- Do not offer food to an injured cat unless it is your only option. Food can bring the cat to you even when they are injured, but they should not eat until seen by a vet.
If the cat is not yours:
- It is best not to approach a cat you do not know, even if they are injured.
- Feral cats may have medical issues such as feline leukemia or rabies, which can infect humans and other cats if handled.
- You may have to call animal control to get assistance when collecting a cat to take them to a vet.
- If you touch a feral cat, immediately and thoroughly wash your hands.
A Summary of Cat Communication
- Cats respond to tones and actions, not words.
- Soft tones and gentle movements get better responses.
- Cats will warn you of their intentions, so heed their warnings.
- Approach a feral cat with extreme caution or not at all.
- Feral cats may have rabies or other illnesses.
- Approach an injured cat with care and understanding because they might bite or scratch.
- Call Animal Control if there is an injured cat that you cannot approach safely.
- Remember that items in your hands can be, and will be, considered weapons by a cat you are approaching.
- Cats need patience.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Cheryl Simonds
Tell me what you think, please.
Cheryl Simonds (author) from Connecticut on August 12, 2020:
Thank, I am glad you liked it. I hope it helps others.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 09, 2020:
We have always enjoyed our cats. Your advice about approaching feral or injured ones is excellent.
Cheryl Simonds (author) from Connecticut on March 24, 2020:
I can't argue with you on that point.
Sp Greaney from Ireland on March 23, 2020:
Good tips for newbie cat owner here. I've had a pet cat since childhood and they are the best pets ever.
Cheryl Simonds (author) from Connecticut on January 29, 2020:
Thank you so much Pamela, I was hoping that it would help people understand how cats hear us. Thank you for your comment.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 28, 2020:
I have had several cats over the years and I loved them all. I think your advice is excellent in this article.