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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Understanding Your Cats Communication

The social behavior of cats is wonderful in its complexity. By carefully listening and watching the nuances of your pet's communication, you can learn more about her moods and needs, and perhaps uncover a talent for interspecies conversation.

Feline Speech
If you listen closely to your cat's vocalizations throughout the day, you might notice that she expresses far more than a clich├ęd meow.

Along with body language and the "signatures" produced by marking with scents glands, claws or urine, vocalization is an important and expressive communication tool for cats. The voice can be used to bring other cats (or humans) closer or to keep them effectively at a distance, to greet warmly or to warn that kitty is about to attack.

To illustrate the range of cat vocalizations, their differences can be broken down into three broad categories: murmurs, vowel patterns and strained intensity patterns.

Murmurs, produced while the mouth is closed, include purring, mating vocalizations and the closed-mouth "mhr?" uttered when cats anticipate a treat.

Vowel patterns include the more typical "meow" and are produced when the cat opens her mouth and then closes it. In contrast, strained intensity vocalizations are produced when the cat holds her mouth open throughout the sound-- clearly aroused and upset. As might be expected, such emotional sounds include growling, hissing and screaming-- vocalizations we hope never to hear from our pet cats.

Tricks of the Tail
A cat's tail acts as an extension of her feelings and as a warning of her intentions. Generally, the higher the tail, the better the mood. A happy cat will hold her tail straight up, while a fearful cat will tuck her tail between her legs.

Broad swishing indicates annoyance, while twitches are a sign of excitement and curiosity. For example, the cat who decides she's had enough petting will signal you by swishing her tail in impatience. If you continue, a bat with the paw generally follows. The batting is an act of aggression indicating your cat's agitation.

Really agitated cats will move their tails rapidly back and forth from the base, a clear, threatening signal. It is to the cat's advantage to exhibit a visible warning to other cats (and to you), so that she can avoid direct conflict. With prey, though, the tails of hunting cats show more subtle twitching movements, explaining her intention to other cats while not warning the victim.

Listening to the Ears
When a cat's ears are held erect and forward, she is relaxed, exploring her world or offering a friendly greeting. But when the ears go down, watch out. Ears laid flat back against the head mean aggression-this keeps them out of the way of teeth and claws if a fight erupts. Ears back and down indicate fear, but aggression is also a possibility here, because a frightened cat may feel she has to fight.

If you watch your cat's signals, you can often avoid handling her in a way that pushes her over the line from purring kitty to angry cat. The signs are there, if you know how to read them.

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