What is your cat really trying to tell you?
How cats communicate
Your cat speaks to you in so many different ways that sometimes it’s hard to know what they are saying. To know where your cat is coming from, the first thing you should know is that your cat considers you to be their human, belonging to them in every respect and all of their actions are based on that fact. So when your cat does something that angers you, keep in mind they may be trying to tell you something.
Cats often leave little hints that something is not quite right
Overly full litter boxes, for example, can make your cat angry enough to leave smelly presents on your pillow or favorite chair as a hint--meaning it has been too long between cleanings and you need to step up to the plate. Cats like themselves and their environment to be clean, that’s why they are always cleaning themselves. Imagine how you would feel if you were a perfectionist in cleaning and had to walk over your own waste in order to relieve yourself.....yuck is putting it mildly.
Ever had a cat clean themselves right after you’ve petted them or picked them up? That’s due to a few reasons: either they are angry that you touched them, for whatever reason, and they are cleaning off the scent--in most instances that is an insult to you; or you have a scent on you that they do not like. The scent could be perfume, lotion, or even another cat you might have petted. Be aware that strong smells of perfumed items can actually anger a cat. If they ingest a lot of it, it could also make them sick. So if you have cats, keep your arsenal of perfumed items for those special nights and be sure to wash them off before cuddling Fluffy.
Insults, it seems that cats can be insulted for the simplest things
When a cat turns its back on you and flicks their tail, watch out! They’re ticked off and ready to fight if you persist in whatever it is you’re doing. Under most instances they will walk away feeling their message has been understood. However, they might just decide that this is the last straw and decide to fight back. Best way to end an angry cat attack of your friendly feline? Stop and cry out-loudly. In cat language, an attack between two generally friendly participants ends immediately after one of them cries out in pain. Also by holding still until they let go, you are saving yourself long deep cuts that could occur while pulling away from them.
A cat can be insulted for many of the following as well (and they might even have a few we haven't learned yet):
- You took their chair
- you are sitting on their blanket
- you splashed them while washing your hands
- you have bought the generic food again
- you gave them a bath
- you took them to the vet
- you left them with a bunch of kids
- you didn't get the good litter
- you forgot to greet them when you came in the house
- You didn't go looking for them if they weren't at the door waiting for you
- you didn't change the water today
- you put glassware on their favorite shelf and it fell off when they tried to lay down
- you had the nerve to bring in fish for me and then hide them behind a solid wall
Actually, cats can be insulted even if you didn't do anything that you can understand; they are quite fickle that way.
Verbal is, of course, another form of communication
For instance, did you know that when your cat meows at you he/she is really just calling your attention to something like you forgot breakfast or the litter box is full? Or they might just be calling another cat to play. They might meow to go out, or come in. They might meow to tell you that you need a lap cat today or they might mean you have been working too hard and need a break. Cats have a way of insinuating themselves in such a way as to coax you into believing that you actually came up with the idea. They also might come up and jump on your book, or keyboard, to tell you it is time to stop (and their time to nap on your things).
Another verbal way, is when cats are happy with you, they purr when you pet them or cuddle them. A cat's purr is involuntary. They hear their mother purring when she is feeding and cleaning them and soon add their own voice when they are happy or content. Petting a cat on the head (gently, of course) tells them that you love them. Petting them on the cheeks is also a good way to tell them that you love them--oops, I mean that you are enjoying paying attention to them. Remember, though, when a cat touches the top of their head to you they are saying they love and trust you. Oh, and don't get upset if your cat is purring but also trying to get away from you. Generally it means they like you and want the pets, but they were busy and you interrupted them.
Scent and ownership
Cat's will touch you and your things; pee on you or your things (otherwise known as marking); or rub against you or something you own in order to let other cats in the area know that you are theirs. Yup, when they lovingly rub their face against your face, they are leaving their scent all over you. Cats will generally mark a new home to overmark the scent of another cat. And fixed cats may also mark if the scent is strong or reeks of a full male. I know, I know, you couldn't smell anything, but those cat nostrils can pick up a scent miles away (just like a hound dog, only with less noise).
In order--Salty, Cocoa, and Tigger
Tail action can tell you a lot about how a cat feels, and don't forget the ears
When a cat walks with their tail straight up it means that they want to be noticed. If you don’t notice fast enough, they might get directly underfoot and swirl from one leg to the other. Of course, it is worse if you have something they want like canned food or milk. They will start to yell if you aren't forthcoming or fast enough for them. When a cat walks with their tail between their legs it is a sign that they are afraid of something or might be submitting to a more dominate cat or human. They might also roll over and offer their belly to a dominate cat to show they are not contesting the dominance. If a cat offers their belly to you they are telling you that they submit to your dominance but don’t let that fool you because they still believe they own you. A cat that walks with their tail down and dragging is trying to be hidden or unnoticed. If that behavior lasts for longer than a day, you might want to take the cat to the vet for a bit of a check up. A cat might lay its tail on something showing possession; or flick its tail at something that angers him/her. They often flick their tail to warn you that you are getting on their nerves and you probably should stop or the claws will come out. A cat that is angry, will not only hiss but their tail will become the biggest bottle brush you have ever seen. Note: please don't attempt to comfort your cat when they are angry. An angry cat doesn't know the difference and might bite or scratch you in 'defense'.
Ears tell a story all their own. When a cat lays back its ears it usually means it’s angry and might attack. When they cock one ear to the side it’s like someone raising an eyebrow or looking at you like you have three heads. When they bring both ears forward they are trying to hear, and understand, anything that is being said to them, or perhaps a distant sound (or another cat in the area).
To gain attention, your cat might seem to have lost its mind or is getting close
Your cat might purposely lay in your way for attention. They might sit on something they know is off-limits to gain your attention. Or, maybe, they might reach for you with a paw, claws in or out, to indicate a desire for attention. Cats like their attention, but they also like their toys. If you don't give them several, they might use you or your things instead.
A cat will extend its claws for many different things such as to kneed (when they are content they might put their paws out, claws extended, and then pull them in rhythmically which is how they get their mother’s milk to flow). A cat might extend its claws in anger or fear. Claws are also extended for cleaning purposes as well as scratching which can mean several things such as ownership, sharpening claws for a fight, or dominance. Claws can be removed, but please don't; instead, set up a weekly routine of trimming their claws and give them plenty of things to scratch.
Indoor/outdoor cats, or cats that are all outdoors
Cats, remember, believe that they own you, and to do a proper job, they must feed you. That is why outside cats will often kill an animal and leave it as a gift on your window or doorstep. As horrid as this may seem to you, it is perfectly natural for your cat. Another reason for leaving little 'gifts' is to show you they are strong and capable. I have seen cats leave snakes, rats, and even squirrels as 'gifts'. Oh, and just so you know, if you throw the 'gift' away, your cat may get angry of hurt by your actions. If you must (and most of us do), place it in several bags and then bury it in the trash can.
Next time your cat does something, you might want to pay attention
They might be trying to tell you something, and it might be important…..at least to them. Learn the unique ways your cat communicates with you. Each cat is different and has its own personality so their communication might be different, but keep this in mind, they will eventually let you know.
© 2011 Cheryl Simonds