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Cats and humans: understanding each other better.

Photo: Pet MD

Your cat’s body language and vocalizations can tell you a lot about your pet’s current state of mind. And as it turns out, studies reveal our feline friends can somewhat gauge our temperament as well.

Understanding cats has been something scientists, cat parents, and cat behaviorists have obsessed over for centuries, ever since felines were domesticated thousands of years ago.

Scientists are learning more and more about cat behavior by observing their interactions with their human counterparts and through experiments that measure their behavioral responses in certain situations. 

But just how much we’ve come to understand each other is still as elusive as cats themselves. We humans spend an awful lot of time with our furry co-habitants, so understanding them better would be beneficial to both species.

Animal behaviorists have deciphered the feline lingo by observing body language, vocalizations, and eye expressions to help humans better understand their cat’s behavior. 


Check out these observations and interpretations offered by WebMD.com:
  • The Belly Flop – You walk into a room and your feline companion plops down, stretches out, and rolls over at your feet. Is that your signal to stroke your kitty’s tummy? Well, that depends, the experts say. Your cat could just be relaxed and content, or she could be feeling feisty and respond with aggression. Through trial and error, you’ll soon learn what she prefers.
  • Bedroom Eyes – When your cat greets you with slow blinks or sleepy eyes, he’s likely projecting his trust and affection. The experts say closed eyes denote complete trust. So, the next time your cat is batting his bedroom eyes, reciprocate the gesture. Evidence shows cats are able to read human expressions, including smiles and frowns. It would be no surprise, as well, that cats respond more favorably to their human mom’s radiant face over a stranger’s.
  • Tall Tails – A cat’s tail is like a mood ring, but instead of changing color, the position of the tail itself serves as a barometer to the animal's temperament. If the tail is raised, your cat is confident and happy. If it’s curled around your leg, your feline is being friendly. Tucked between the legs denotes anxiety. And an upright bottle-brush tail with a bended back is a sign of extreme aggression. A vibrating tail translates agitation and a wagging one could either mean “let’s play” or “I’m angry.’’
  • Bug-eyed or Narrowed Eyes – A frightened cat will appear bug-eyed with pupils dilated. In an angry cat, the pupils constrict to focus more effectively on the subject at hand. Pay attention to your cat’s eyes, but refrain from a stare-down competition, which cats find threatening and will respond accordingly.
  • Defense Mode – Too much play can aggravate a cat to the point of aggression. Since cats are predators by nature, rapid movement by way of a cat toy, a human hand, or a crawling insect stimulates the feline pounce-and-kill response. To deflect this natural stalking instinct, experts recommend freezing the action or be willing to become your cat’s next prey.
  • Cat Talk – Most cat parents say they can easily distinguish their cat’s meows when the animals are expressing hunger, happiness, or “help!’’ much like parents and newborn babies. They would be right since cats use their vocalizations to communicate with the human species, cat behaviorists say. Other audio cues like purring, chatting, and growling are other ways cats “talk.” Purring signals contentment, chatting indicates friendliness, and growling denotes agitation.

If you would like to learn more about cat behavior, check out Tuft + Paws insanely thorough, Definitive Guide to Cat Behavior and Body Language. This guide was written by a cat behaviorist and is chock full of graphics.

Final thoughts.

Every cat has its own vocabulary whether it’s via body language, facial expressions, or cat speak. Deciphering your housemate’s behavior is a challenge, but with time, patience, and thoughtfulness, you can come to a better understanding of your four-legged friend. To build trust, always gently lower him to the floor. Sit on the floor, cross-legged, to encourage your furry companion to settle in for a petting. And always maintain a low calm voice when you’re calling him from his hiding place.

In what unique ways do you and your feline friend connect? Share your keys to better understanding your cat’s behavior on our Facebook page