Misconceptions about cats have persisted for far too long. Cats are not antisocial creatures who only come out at night to plot world domination. The mischievous memes and articles that mock cats' vindictive nature are no more accurate than the stories that claim dogs are merely wolves pretending to be our loyal companions. It's time to set the record straight about cat behavior and body language.
Like any other pets we share our lives with, cats communicate their feelings through their body language. By paying close attention, we can decipher when our cat is scared or stressed, in a playful or hunting mood, or simply happy and craving some cuddle time.
If you have concerns about your cat's behavior, the first step is to ensure that your feline friend is in good health. If you notice unexplained changes in your cat's behavior, it's advisable to consult your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical causes.
Fearful behaviors in cats are often triggered by exposure to unfamiliar or unpredictable stimuli, such as loud noises and sudden movements. Mikel Delgado, PhD, CAAB, co-owner of Feline Minds, a cat behavior consulting firm, explains that building a trusting connection with your cat requires avoiding any use of force or frustration.
Cats that find humans intimidating may exhibit a range of behaviors including an arched back and raised hair. Delgado further adds that cat body language is complex and can vary from one individual to another. Some common signs of stress in cats include dilated pupils, ear movements, tail swishing, and crouching with a tight body. To ensure your cat feels secure, it is important to be mindful of any sudden changes in their environment that could potentially distress them. Remaining calm and providing positive attention during stressful situations, such as moving homes or visiting the veterinarian, can help foster a sense of security.
While cats are known for their skills as hunters, they can also display hunting behaviors towards their human companions. Cats may unexpectedly "hunt" your hands and feet, especially during intense play sessions. Certain behaviors indicate that a cat is in hunting mode, such as a direct, unblinking stare, a stiff tail lowered towards the ground, and stiff, raised haunches. Delgado explains that when cats are feeling predatory, they tend to crouch, stare, and stalk their prey, often remaining very still. Dilated pupils and outstretched whiskers are other noticeable signs. They may even "chatter" at their imaginary prey and perform a little "butt-wiggle" before pouncing.
For those who are patient, kind, and attentive to their cat's needs, a close bond and a lifetime of companionship awaits. A study in Current Biology showed that cats form attachments to their owners, similar to dogs. Kristyn Vitale, PhD, a researcher at Oregon State University, compares the bond between humans and cats to that of a parent and their offspring.
In addition to the aforementioned loving behaviors, a contented cat's body language will exhibit trust. A relaxed cat may lay on their side or with their paws tucked, blink their eyes softly, and keep their ears and whiskers forward, without being on high alert. You might even hear a purr, the ultimate sign of feline contentment.
Not all cats express their opinions as openly and blatantly as we may desire. Therefore, it is always a good idea to seek the guidance of a certified animal behavior consultant or a feline veterinary behaviorist to gain a deeper understanding of your feline family member. Your cat companion will appreciate the effort you put into truly listening to their attempts to communicate.