by Barbara George, Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Looking at the individual messages our cats put out is one part of listening to them, understanding the complete message may be more complex.
Reading a cat’s message is like reading a sentence; each word can have various meanings depending on the context and the emphasis placed on them. Many words can have different roles in the sentence; verb, noun, adjective.
Along with the ‘words’ the cat displays are actions – or lack of action – which provide the emphasis and add extra meaning to the message.
The cat that is calmly lying with you being stroked, gently flicking his tail, is slightly aroused, enjoying the attention. When his body tenses it signals that he has reached his cuddle-limit and you should stop. Other signs may be a faster-wagging tail, looking around at your hand, whiskers moving backwards or eyes hardening (not always easy to see when they are closed!). He may be too relaxed to move away at this point, however there are definite signals that you should stop what you are doing or deal with the consequences.
Two cats looking at each other is a complex situation as they use very subtle signals. Standing, sitting or lying down positions each have their meaning, and every small movement of head, whiskers, ears or tail is a message. Are these two friends, acquaintances, or enemies? Are they discussing the best places to snooze or threatening each other over the invisible territory boundary between them? What other cats, dogs or people are in the area that may influence the messages? Will they stay peaceful; which one will walk away? Usually the one who walks away is the stronger cat, or has won the battle and no longer has to be involved in the conversation.
The position of the cat can be part of the message; distance from others, direction they are facing, tilted head, are they using items to shield themselves from others? Are they settled up high or at ground level? Do they move away or hide to be safe?
What colours do they chose to sit or sleep on? Cats that are security-conscious tend to choose complementary colours so they blend in and are less visible while cats that want to make a statement may select contrasting colours so that they are easily seen.
Like sentences made of words, there is an infinite number of messages a cat can give, each with its own subtle variation. Cat-watching, or cat-reading, is an interesting and informative pastime.
HEAD AND EYES –
WHISKERS, NOSE AND MOUTH –
PURR, MEOW –
MORE VOCALISATION –
BODY POSTURE –