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Want to feel closer to your feline family members?
Here are five tips on how to communicate with your cat, from leading cat expert Claire Bessant
Nurturing a relationship with an animal is one of the best feelings. The patter of their paws as they come up to you for attention, nuzzling up against you. But do you ever wonder what they’re thinking?!
Claire is the chief executive of the Feline Advisory Bureau, and has recently released an updated edition of her book How to Talk to Your Cat. In her book, she shares tips on building a stronger relationship between you and your moggie. As well as analysing problems that can arise between cat and owner, and how best to resolve them.
Here are Claire’s top five tips on how to communicate, and keep your cats happy.
1. Treat cats as cats
Cats are sensitive creatures, tuned into their environment, and to the people and other animals within it. They’re not like people, or dogs, who have an inbuilt need to collaborate and compromise in exchange for the benefits of being within a group.
Cats (except lions) have evolved as solitary predators. And as such don’t have the genetic make-up which drives them to compromise. Therefore, some of their behaviours may seem ‘selfish’ to us, but that is a human point of view. The word ‘pet’ implies certain behaviour on both sides. But we are dealing with an animal with strongly inbuilt needs, not a teddy bear or a robot. The fact that we can live successfully together is actually a huge credit to the adaptability of the cat.
Many of us call our pets ‘fur babies’ or ourselves ‘pet parents’, which shows our love for them and the responsibility we take for them. However, this also allows us to consider them as children and interpret their behaviour and needs as such. This can do the cat a disservice, removing the need to understand the species, and can lead to miscommunication.
2. Let the cat take lead
When a cat comes for interaction, react and stroke or talk, being sensitive to how long the cat wants this interaction to occur. Go slowly and don’t push the physical interaction – the cat may not want to be grabbed, or cuddled or kissed.
Watch out for signs that the cat has had enough. If it dips away from your hand, turns to look at the hand which is stroking it, that’s a sign. So is it if its skin ripples, its ears move lower or turn around, or it tries to move away.
Cats usually like short interactions which do not confine them – longer and closer is not usually the cat way. React to positive signs from the cat – approaching with its tail up, rubbing around your legs, purring, or moving towards your hand for interaction. It’s about trust and gentle, respectful interaction; few cats want intense handling or tummy tickling. If you ignore negative signs, then the cat is less likely to initiate interaction, and vice versa.
3. Get to know your cat
Just like people, there are bold and confident cats who take life and its challenges in their stride. There are others which are nervous, and for whom change may cause stress. Being stressed means that cats may behave by hiding, or by pushing people away, which may be interpreted as aggression.
How the cat reacts can be a result of its genes and its experiences in the first couple of months of life, when it can learn to be comfortable with people, or to be fearful of them.
4. Listen to your cat
Between themselves, cats do make sounds such as small chirrups, purring, and of course hissing or growling if they are not getting on. However, cats have learned, very cleverly, to develop interactions with their people using different miaows.
If a certain miaow is interpreted by us as them wanting food or attention, they may encourage us by making some parts of the sound higher pitched or drawn out. The more you allow yourself to be ‘trained’, the more likely the cat is to interact in this way.
Listen to your cat’s purr. You will start to notice that there are two ‘modes’; one that is rather sleepy and contented, when for example they are sitting quietly on our laps; the other more demanding, with an underlying pitch which stirs us into action! If you react positively to their encouragement, communication is being built up.
5. Be respectful of your cat
Be respectful, and don’t try to control the cat. All of its instincts will interpret this as a threat to survival, not that you are doing something you feel is for its own good. Enjoy the contented moments and read the signals the cat is giving. They may be subtle but if you tune in you will notice more and more. Encourage and reward with whatever your cats likes; stroking, food, or play. But identify when the cat has had enough.
Enjoy the small things. It’s not all about cuddling the cat. The cat may want to be with you when you are working at the computer or in the garden, it may begin to communicate more if you react in the right way and that is rewarding too. Even small things can make you happy, as well as the cat. Each relationship is different.
How to Talk to Your Cat, by Claire Bessant, is out now
Lana can usually be found spinning her collection of records, or writing odd poems in her phone notes. Her mixer of choice is a ginger beer, and you’ll never find her away from the sea for more than a few weeks.
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