If only our pets could talk life would be a little easier! But as it is unlikely they will ever master the art of human language, we need to look at other ways to understand what our cats are trying to tell us. Our feline friends rely on their body language to communicate, and though this can be very subtle at times, it is worth the investment of time and effort to build trust and an increasingly loving relationship.
Meet Niamh - our Head Vet & Cat Lady!
When it comes to cats, there’s not much, Head Vet Niamh hasn’t seen, treated or cared for. A huge feline fan herself, Niamh is our resident expert in understanding cat body language and knows exactly when they are in pain, not feeling their best as well as recognising when they're on the road to recovery.
Niamh has several cats of her own and each has its own personality! But at the end of a hard day’s work, there’s nothing more comforting than for her to return to the comfort and company of her furry feline brood.
Niamh explains “Cats have a very subtle way of communicating certain feelings, especially when they are under the weather. As vets, we learn to recognise even a hint of these signs. But as owners, you too can learn how to spot an unhappy pet and prevent any escalation of ill-health.
Always pay attention when your cat appears not to be their usual self, especially if retreating, hiding away or off their food. There is almost always an underlying reason for this, and more often than not, it is something that is very easily treated.”
If your cat is displaying any behaviour that is unusual for them, it may be a sign that there is an underlying issue. If you are in any doubt or are concerned, seek professional veterinary advice as early as possible. You vet will be able to advice on the best course of action for your cat.
Niamh’s top tips on understanding cat behaviour
Meowing is a behaviour cats developed to communicate with humans, and they can have up to 100 different vocalisations.
The social roll
Cats in a relaxed state may lay and roll when they see you. It can be a form of greeting from them but doesn’t necessarily mean they wish to have their tummy rubbed. This is an overly sensitive part of the cat’s body and rarely do cats like this area to be touched. If your cat lies on its back or in any way reveals it’s tummy, it is indicating to you that it trusts you and feels comfortable enough in your presence to reveal its more vulnerable side. Respect that trust and your relationship will be even stronger.
Another happy form of greeting is the ‘hop-up’, when your cat hops onto its back paws and nudges for a little bit of fuss. This is the behaviour of a contented cat.
When your cat swishes its tail from side to side, mid height, it usually indicates indecision. This can be accompanied by pacing. Allow your cat space and time to work out what it needs to do next. An upright tail with a quiver, also known as a ‘pseudo spray’ tends to be the behaviour of a cat happy to see you – another form of positive greeting. However, a tail that is erect with some bushing of the fur suggests your cat is feeling threat of some sort and will likely be on the attack. Be wary of a cat that displays this behaviour, which is usually coupled with flat ears and teeth revealed.
A cat that is tucked down close to the ground, its muscles tight and its tail tightly tucked into its body is a worried cat. Its ears may be slightly turned outwards and its head low with wide eyes and enlarged pupils. This behaviour is telling you they are uncomfortable, and they may not want you near them. A worried cat may also hide. It is important to leave a cat to hide in peace, undisturbed.
A relaxed cat will have its eyes half closed, whiskers down and back into their face and ears forward yet relaxed. This cat is happy and comfortable in its surroundings. However, a cat with pricked ears, perhaps with one pointing slightly outwards, eyes open and pupils widened may be anxious or worried. This is different to a cat with ears pricked and forward, eyes wide but pupils not so enlarged and whiskers up, this cat is generally just alert – it may have heard or spotted something that interests them.
In either case, allow your cat some space to figure out the situation. Be aware of a stressed cat, who will typically display flattened ears, wide eyes and pupils, body flat to ground or perhaps seeking somewhere up high to retreat to. This cat needs you to monitor its behaviour; is it a one-off occurrence, or is this becoming more typical behaviour? Long term stress or depression in cats can lead to other health issues, so it is important to seek professional advice if you think this applies to your cat.
Male and female behaviour
Though behavioural differences can be observed between male and female cats, it is generally more obvious in those that have not been neutered or spayed. This is due to the behaviour being closely linked to their sex drive. Male cats can be more aggressive, spray and try to escape the house when sexually mature.
Whereas female cats will become more loving, rub against objects and owners and become quite vocal. However, once neutered and spayed, it is the cat’s environment that will have more of an impact on their personality and behaviour. When choosing a cat, the sex of the pet shouldn’t be too much of a consideration as a cat’s genetics and environment will play the bigger role in how they bond with you. It is best to visit a few furry friends and see which one best suits your situation.
Why cats love catnip!
It is widely accepted that most cats will go crazy for a sniff of this perennial herb.
Catnip acts as a mood enhancer; reactions can be mild, such as staring off into space or excitement and extreme playfulness or even aggression! The effects of catnip usually only last about 15 minutes and for most cats, it’s great fun; and it can be used for training or to encourage use of a scratch post.
If you have a cat that doesn’t seem so bothered by catnip, perhaps try alternatives such as honey-suckle or valerian, but seek the advice of your vet before trying anything new on your cat. They will be able to recommend the right alternative.
A few fun facts you may not know about cats!
- While humans have 206 bones, cats on average have 244. It ranges between 230-250 depending on how long a cat’s tail is and how many toes the cat has.
- A house cat is genetically 95.6% tiger.
- Cats can run around 48 kph (30 mph), but only over short distances. A house cat could beat superstar runner Usain Bolt in the 200-metre dash.
- Cats can jump 5 times their height.
- An adult cat’s brain has nearly twice the number of neurons as dogs.
- A cat’s tongue contains a number of backward facing hooks known as filiform papillae; these rough tongues can lick bones clean of any bits of meat.
- Cats have an extra organ that allows them to taste scents in the air.
- Each cat’s nose is unique, much like human fingerprints.
- Cat whiskers are the same width as their body.
- Cats walk like camels and giraffes, both right feet then both left feet.
- Cats sleep 12-16 hours per day and spend 1/3 of their awake hours grooming.
- Grooming stimulates blood flow to the skin, regulates body temperature, and helps them relax.