A Persian Cat Case Study
Cats are very communicative with body language and sounds. They are often stereotyped as being distant and uncommunicative because of their solitary nature and independence. I doubt the cats who live in the wild communicate the same as our domesticated cats. It is my opinion; the domesticated cat probably learns how to communicate with body language and sounds from their human companions and other companion animals.
My Persians, Taz and Fairy, are now 8 months old. They are starting to communicate more than when I first got them at 8 weeks old. It is truly interesting to sit quietly with them and observe what they have to say to me through their eyes and body language. Of course, I probably interpret what they are saying according to my own feelings, background and the specifics of my own personality.
At times, Fairy hardly acknowledges I am in their space, and then at other times, she will make it a point to put her paws on my knees while making direct eye contact with me, she seems to be saying, "I want to sit with you." I pick her up; she looks deeply into my eyes with her eyes wide open and at times starts to pat me on the shoulder with one of her paws. I feel like she is possibly saying, "I really like you, mom," or "I love you." She is purring the entire as well. The visit lasts for 5 minutes or so and then she jumps down returning to her window perch or some other favorite spot in her space.
Fairy also interprets my body communications and knows exactly what is going to happen. When I am at her sink, preparing to put their daily treat of soft Fancy Feast food in their bowls, she comes quickly to start nibbling in her bowl. Fairy eats her treat from the sink (this sink is in the cat cattery area and separate of my own). At other times, at the sink, I prepare their face cleaning powder and liquid. Fairy knows this is not something she can eat. She observes to see what I am doing and when she determines it is not her meal, she does not even try to come near the sink. She learned the difference in what I was doing at sink by observing my body language. I said nothing to her in words.
Anyone who thinks only dogs are communicative is quite misinformed or misguided. Cats communicate very effectively. We just have to quietly observe and listen to what they have to say. Of all three cats I have now, Fairy is the only one who wags her tail like a dog when she is feeling happy and content.
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The following is a list of simple body language communications as determined by cat behaviorists:
- Arched back, fur on end: Among kittens, this could mean "play with me." With older cats, it might mean "leave me alone." If the movement is accompanied by a deep growl, stiff movement or solid eye contact, you can probably conclude the cat does not want to be bothered at the moment.
- Kneading with paws: This is typically seen only in small kittens. Cat behaviorists think this can be the kitten trying to comfort itself. It is not usually seen in adult cats. My Diamond does this when I hold her. I felt she may have done this with her "cat mother," while nursing.
- Leg rubbing: This is natural marking behavior for cats. Taz does this while I am at the sink preparing their food. Fairy is on top the counter, and Taz is at my feet, rubbing his face against my legs. Cat behaviorists say the cat is covering you with pheromones from glands on their face so you and everyone else in the space will have a comforting group odor. It can also obtain favorable attention for the cat which leads to petting. I just assumed Taz knew something was happening especially for him that he liked very much and he was actually petting me for preparing his meals.
- Hissing: A hissing cat is not happy at all and a warning that you better leave her alone. Fairy is the only cat so far that has made some horrendous hissing sounds at me. This was during her bath. In general, cats hate water. Unfortunately, they do have to be bathed from time to time. A Persian cat does well with a bath about every two weeks. I spoke softly to Fairy, made very slow movements, turn the water on first while talking softly to her, wrapped her in a towel, allowing only her head out until she was relaxed enough at the sink and the running water to unwrap her and then preceded with the shower. She still was unhappy, but got over it. After her bath, she hated to be dried as well and would kick her feet as if to sling the water back in my face. She tolerated things until dry, and then she was soooo happy, she began to roll on her back and purr. The cats love how they feel after a bath, but very much hate the water and bath time. It takes some patience, but they learn to tolerate it after awhile.
Animal experts say when a cat rolls over and bares their belly, he or she is giving you the ultimate compliment, and it is their way of saying they trust you. I received Fairy's message after her bath and blow dry as just this - a compliment, or like saying "thank you, I do feel better now."
While on the subject of cats and water, just why do many cats hate water? Some theorize there are several reasons for this that includes:
- Cats descend from arid regions
- Have land-based prey
- Are fussy groomers (think there is no further need to clean them since they constantly clean themselves)
Animal experts say our modern house cats lived in the semi-arid regions of Africa. These wild cats obtained water from their food and by necessity they learned to live without a source of drinking water. They say cats don't actually "hate" the water, it is just because of their instinct they inherited from over hundreds of generations ago tells them "there is no good reason to dip their toes in water." This actually is the message I hear from my cats. They look at me as if to say, "Just what do you think you are doing here, I don't need this."