If you’re lucky enough to own a cat, you’ll be more than aware that they come with a mind and language of their own. Sometimes it feels like your mutual understanding is world’s apart: maybe they look at you in ways you can’t decipher, or they suddenly make a swipe at you – making you upsettingly wonder whether you ever knew the feline at all.
It’s no hidden secret that cats harbour their own code, and unlike dogs who tend to adapt to the humane characteristics of their environment, cats are a little more stubborn. They expect you to put in the work, too. Although, luckily for you, we’ve put in the majority of the work by compiling a handy guide right here; all you’ve got to do is read it and put it into practise!
Don’t Put Pressure On Your Cat To Cater To Emotive Needs
We seem to live in a society where the best pets are judged by how much affection they shower on to you. Needless to say, this affection is measured using our own humane understanding and perception of what affection looks like. I find this to be a bit disheartening; a pet’s purpose is not to bow down to you, nor cater towards everyone who feels the need for additional emotional reassurance.
When you’re in a relationship with someone whom you care for and respect, that simultaneously means that you respect their physical and mental boundaries. You wouldn’t continue touching someone if they stated they didn’t wish to be touched. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the person doesn’t like you, it’s just they’re not feeling it. This is no different with cats. Not every feline wants to be petted every few seconds; some feel uncomfortable by it.
Our misconception that petting is directly equated to the level of affection a cat feels for you is plain damaging. It really depends on the individual and what their preference is. By no means does it mean that they hate or dislike you, or that they’re an unfriendly cat. Although, they probably will end up disliking you if you refuse to respect their boundaries.
How do I know whether it wants to be petted or not?
It’s about reading their response. If your cat leans in to your touch (particularly by brushing its face against your hand), that’s an invitation to continue. Sometimes it’ll come up to you and nudge you – again, a big green light. Check it’s other language: if it purrs at your touch or if their eyes look relaxed and half-closed, then they’re positive signs too.
If your cat walks/shuffles away after you’ve tried touching them, it’s quite obvious that they’re not feeling it. Likewise if their eyes look wide and dilated and they’re generally unresponsive, it’s probably a sign that they’d rather you weren’t petting them.
Understanding Their Vocal Communication
You’ve probably already noticed that a range of different sounds come from your cat, and they all mean very distinct things.
Chirps/Trills – This is the cute little vocal vibration sound they make from the back of their throat. Scientists have found that cats actually inherit this from their mother, which often conveys affection. So if you’re hearing it from your cat, it’s meant with nothing but a loving intention. A cat may happily chirp at you when they’re seeing you for the first time in a while, or when you’re stroking them (meaning it’s definitely welcome!).
Meows – Cats will actually never meow at other cats, it’s a vocal form of language they’ve learned over time to communicate purely with humans. Usually it means they’re trying to tell you something: they want to go outside, they’re hungry, they’re bored and want attention etc.
Purring – It sounds cheesy, I know, but hearing my cat purr is one of my favourite sounds! Most of the time it means they’re content and relaxed (although occassionally it may refer to an anxious state, so look out for other body language). Scientists have found that purring boasts many benefits for humans, including lower risk of heart disease, stress and anxiety – all the more reason to keep your feline happy!
Hisses/Growls – It’s kind of an obvious one really – a hiss or growl is designed to sound offputting as a ward against someone/something. You may hear them making these sounds with other cats, meaning those two are certainly not friends! If they aim the sound at you, give them some space.
It’s All In The Eyes
All members of the cat family: lions, tigers, cheetahs etc. use eye contact as their primary source of communication. It’s no different with our domestic friends. If big cats are about to engage in a fight with one another, they’ll stare each other out with wide, unblinking eyes – therefore if your own cat stares you out, it might be a sign that you’re irritating them.
On the other side, if your cat is happy and relaxed, it’ll display half-closed eyes – a bit like if it was really sleepy. This communicates that your cat trusts and feels comfortable around you. Even better, if you notice it slow blinks at you, that’s what we call a ‘cat kiss’, which is basically their way of showing affection for you.
Other Body Language Broken Down
Bunting – This is when a cat brushes its face/body on you or around your furniture. You’ll probably notice it when your cat is trying to creep around you for some tasty treats, or when it’s feeling particularly content. In feline code, it’s a way of asserting their territory (it leaves their scent so other cats can pick up on who’s claimed what), although in our translation, it’s basically another display of affection. Think of the Lion King where Simba and Nala are shown brushing their faces together, it’s the same gesture!
Ears – If their ears are upright or twitching along to different sounds in the background, it’s feeling comfortable and attentive. It’s the flattened ears you need to be careful of, as this communicates that the cat is either distressed or angered.
Bodily posture – Ever noticed sometimes that your cat’s body curves under your touch if you try stroking it while it’s upright? That’s a subtle sign that it would rather not be petted for the time being. However, if its body remains in the same position, or even curves towards your touch, it’s a big green light!
Following you around – Does your cat sometimes follow you everywhere you go? Or have you found it often relocates to the room that you’re occupying? It’s just an obvious sign that it enjoys your company and feels content around you. The cat doesn’t neccesarily have to be right next to you or accepting fuss for this to apply.
Granted, a cat’s language can be a little difficult to read at times. Sometimes it’s plain unpredictable and contradicting! But then again, we as humans can be just as bad at times. If anything, it just goes to show what complex and intricate creatures cats really are – and we love them all the more for it!