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relaxed. Sideways pointing ears show that the cat is attentive to what is going on around it but may be unsure about it. Not so relaxed. The ears upright and pointing back and the cat is perturbed by something and may become aggressive. If the cat's ears are pointing back and are flat against the side of her head she is fearful and submissive but prone to become aggressive. An enraged cat will show aggression by flattening the ears sideways (and will be giving other cat body language warning signals.) Don't go near that cat!
The Cats Eyes Have It.
In the world of cats, sustained eye contact (staring) is assertive and threatening. Two cats with a territorial dispute may stare at each other until one signals by its body language that it will, on this occasion, be submissive. Alternatively two cats meeting may have no conflict with each other; one may break up the stare by blinking, this reassures the other that there is no dispute.
The tail hanging down is showing the cat to be defensive mode. The arched back and ruffled fur may be an indication that it is observing something that it is unsure of. Cat body language shows that the cat’s ready to protect itself, a defensive aggression.
You may misinterpret your cat if you try to glean a message from her eyes alone. But read in conjunction with the rest of your cat's body language, her eyes can tell you something of her thoughts. Dilated (enlarged) pupils could be signaling fear, pain, aggression or just excitement. Narrow, slit like pupils could mean that your cat is angry but self-assured. On the other hand if the eyelids are also half-closed or fluttering it could mean that your cat is sleepy. If your cat looks at you eyelids fluttering and drooping, it's an indication of her trust in you.
Head and Mouth Signals.
An aggressive cat will hold its head low and with its eyes firmly fixed upon its mark (the assertive stare.) The cat will move in on the mark with its head shifting from side to side. A defensive feline will often hold its head to the side and give sidelong glances rather than looking directly at the aggressor. The defensive cat will back off if it can. Often the cat will hiss and spit,
but it does not want to fight, although will if cornered, it would sooner run from the aggressive cat. When two friendly cats meet they will often engage in head rubbing and sometimes gentle head bumping. It's a cheery hello, or the cat equivalent of a handshake. If your cat uses her head to greet you in this manner she is employing cat body language to tell you that she is pleased to see you. Cats sometimes, but not often, give a hiss or a snarl with an open mouth clearly communicating defensive aggression. If you see your cat appearing to grimace with teeth bared, perhaps staring into the distance, she is not using threatening language but analyzing pheromone scent signals in the air. Cats communicate with us and other pets in many ways. The biggest way they communicate with other cats is through their speech. Meows mean something among other cats. But the greatest way a cat communicates to humans is through their body language. Vocalization is the main way they communicate. Their hissing, purring, meowing, and snarling is an important part of their lives and the way they interact with others. We know what each of those actions mean with our cats and establish a relationship based on their use of those vocalizations. One of the favorite body languages an owner has for its cat is when it arches its back, seems to stretch out a bit, curls its tail upward loosely and puts its head down. This is a big sign that it wants to play and that it likes you. It may even get into this stance and move toward you, as it tries to rub up against you. A healthy, confident and alert cat walks straight with its tail extended and its eyes narrow. If your cat walks like this, it’s a good sign. It likely has few worries and is quite happy with life. A cat that is on alert to be defensive and aggressive toward another cat or person either points its tail straight upward or lowers it to the ground, it perks its ears, and perhaps the hair on its back stands straight up. You may also notice that its ears point downward and point toward the back of its body, that means it’s ready to fight. It’s important for cat owners to get used to how their cats interact and what different body languages mean. If your cat sits focused on you in front of you in an upright and perky position for a long period of time, perhaps it wants to be fed. Each cat will establish its own way of communicating with you. You will need to learn what different signals your cat is giving you throughout the first few months and years you have your cat. Your cat will develop its own body signals when it wants different things from you. It will adopt body signs of when it wants to be playful with you and other pets. Pet owners don’t usually have much trouble figuring out what different body signs mean with their cats.
CAT COMMUNICATION - BODY LANGUAGE 2002-2009, Sarah Hartwell
Cats which communicate mostly with other cats use mainly on body language and scent - this is their "native language". Their body language is subtle, but many owners and cat workers learn to read the more obvious cues. A BRIEF SUMMARY OF FELINE VOCALISATIONS There are at least nineteen different types of "miaow" which differ in pitch, rhythm, volume, tone, pronunciation and the situations in which they are used. The familiar purr may be used for contentment, self-reassurance or an invitation for close contact. Injured or sick cats (and even dying cats) may purr because the sound frequency has been shown to soothe the cat and to promote healing. The "miaow" and purr are just two of at least thirteen different categories of sound made by cats: caterwaul, chatter, chirrup (chirp), cough-bark (rare in pet cats), growl, hiss (with or without spit). meow, mew (of kittens), purr, scream, squawk, yowl and idiosyncratic sounds (i.e. sounds peculiar to an individual cat). There are probably over 30 different sounds. The number of sounds a cat makes depends on how much the cat communicates with (a) other cats and (b) other non-cats e.g. humans. Cats which communicate with humans a lot have a wider spoken vocabulary because they learn that humans understand sounds but cannot easily understand feline body language. Cats learn which sounds elicit the desired response from their human companions and some cats have a wider "vocabulary" than others. Purring and vocal communication is discussed in detail in "Cat Chat - Can Cats Talk". You may also wish to read "Do Cats have Emotions" HOUSECATS, FERAL CATS AND BIG CATS. Housecats develop a wide variety of sounds to alert humans to their needs and intentions. Many are variations on mother/kitten meow or chirp sounds which the cat has adapted in order to "speak" to non-cats. This is quite logical since the cosseted housecat remains dependent on humans i.e. a permanent kitten. Others are adult sounds such as the caterwaul (used in a sexual or territorial context) or the cough-bark (a fear/anger sound usually accompanied by a front paw stamp). Cats kept with other cats are communicating with each other all the time through body language and scent. They are communicating with their owners all the time too, it's our problem that we can't understand their language. Cats work out which sounds elicit suitable responses from humans (positive feedback) and learn to make those sounds in order to achieve a particular aim e.g. for a door to be opened. Since humans are in charge, it makes sense for the cat to learn to communicate vocally though it must sometimes be frustrating to a cat which has clearly communicated its mood using facial expression to have to explain things vocally to humans. It is the feline equivalent of speaking slowly and loudly to a foreigner! Cats have different personalities and this affects how much they want to "speak" to humans. Personalities are partly controlled by genetics and partly by upbringing so both factors contribute to how much an individual cat talks. Like some humans,
some cats probably have nothing much they want to say! Also, some owners are good at reading cat body language and the cat simply doesn't need to vocalise quite so much. Most cats tend not to vocalise with strangers unless the stranger approaches them (less often the cat approaches a stranger for food or fuss). The vocalisation then depends on whether the cat is fearful or friendly. If fearful the cat may hiss or growl and thrash its tail (agitation) to warn the stranger not to approach any closer. If friendly it will meow or purr and its tail will stick upwards (greeting) inviting attention, or possibly begging for food. Stray cats living around restaurants learn to beg appealingly to diners - this is linked to food begging, though some do enjoy interaction and a fuss. Cats also learn to communicate with other household animals e.g. dogs. They are less likely to vocalise because dogs can interpret scent signals and can learn some feline body language. Sometimes the cat must reinforce its unspoken message with a hiss if the other animals ignores or fails to understand body language. Like cats, dogs also rely greatly on body language. In a household setting, cats and dogs are in close enough proximity for long enough that they can learn each other's body language to some degree. Feral cats rely more on their native body language. They don't need so many variations of "meow". They use all the "major sounds" e.g. yowl, growl, etc but they rely much more on non-verbal communication to convey meaning - posture, gesture, facial expression, tail position, whisker position, ear position, scent-marking - with vocalisation often being a last resort to augment or reinforce the non-verbal communication or when they can't see each other properly. Feral cats with little or no contact with humans don't learn so much "spoken" language as do housecats. They have no need to learn a vocalised "second language" because they are communicating with native speakers of "cat body language". Details of big cat vocalisation is out of scope of this article. Big cats have their own repertoire of sounds e.g. the rumbled greeting of lionesses and the distinctive "chuff" of tigers. Two important differences are that big cats such as lions, tigers, jaguars and leopards cannot purr because their throats are built for roaring. Conversely, the small cats, puma and cheetah, screech or yowl rather than roar (this is discussed in Cat Chat - Can Cats Talk"). Although there are a few reports of purring-type sounds (a breathy groaning sound rather than an in-and-out purr) from lions and tigers, it seems that a cat can either purr or roar, but not both. Purring is also found in the cheetah, puma and most small cats such as the serval and ocelot. Cubs may "mew", but adult big cats do not "meow". Individual big cats are sometimes tamed e.g. if hand-reared, but big cat species have never been domesticated in the same way as the housecat. "Cat Chat - Can Cats Talk" suggests that living alongside humans has meant that the process of evolving a domestic subspecies from a wild ancestor went hand-in-hand with increased vocalisation in
domestic cats. Big cats have not been through thousands of years of evolving a domestic subspecies and have not needed to communicate with humans. THE LANGUAGE OF SMELL The first language a kitten learns is that of smell. It is blind, deaf and defenceless but it has well-developed senses of smell and touch (including warmth detection) to guide it to the mother cat's nipple. A kitten recognises its own scent on the nipple and aims for the same nipple each feeding time. The mother identifies her kittens by their individual scent and by her own scent on them. This then is the first mode of communication the kitten learns. Scent will play an important role all through the cat's life. Cats have scent glands on the chin, lips (in the corners), temples and at the base of the tail. Each cat has its own scent signature. When it washes, a cat transfers its scent from these glands to its fur. This scent is then transferred to objects the cat rubs against - a fencepost, twiggy plants, a doorway or a person's legs. For example, most of my doors have a grey greasy mark at cat's cheek level where Cindy marks them over and over again. They use this scent to mark areas and objects around them, other cats, humans and other animals in the household. This helps create a communal smell. A new cat must literally rub up to superior members of the group to mix their scents before becoming an accepted member of the group. Its home territory also has a smell profile and any new smell - another cat or even a new piece of furniture or a scent carried in your shoes or clothing - can cause insecurity and lead to a frenzy of marking activity! When a cat scratches it leaves both a visual marker and a scent marker from its paw-pads. It will mark its territory by rubbing its chin or cheeks onto upright objects (posts, chair-legs, door edges etc) and also by spraying or depositing faeces. Scent is so important that blind cats can navigate around their indoor territories using a combination of memory and scent trails. Cats who are familiar and friendly with each other often have a greeting ritual. They use a similar ritual to greet their humans or other household animals. They rub their head, flank and tail against the other cat or person to exchange odours. They hold the tail straight up so that the other cat can sniff the anal glands. When stroked, cats raise their rumps even higher (almost standing on tiptoe) to invite you to sniff their anal glands! The language of smell manifests itself in a less pleasant - to humans - way as well. Tomcats spray pungent urine to mark their territories and to advertise their sexual status. It's the equivalent of a human marking out boundaries with flags advertising his age, healthiness and his readiness to service fertile females. The urine is sprayed roughly at nose level, making it unmisable to other cats - and unmissable to humans if it is sprayed on doorposts, dustbins or indoors! In areas where territories overlap, tomcats try to spray over other cats' scent markings as well as
refreshing their own scent markings. An unfortunate side effect is that some spray indoors in response to scents carried in on shoes or clothing. Female cats also spray and for the same reasons, though less commonly than males. Neutered and unneutered cats of both sexes will spray and Siamese cats (either sex, neutered or entire) are often notorious sprayers. Faeces is also a scent-laden marker. Although common wisdom is that cats fastidiously bury their wastes, they may use faeces to mark territory - a behaviour known as middening. Middening cats deposit their faeces in a prominent spot (often on top of a tuft of grass or the middle of a path), often choosing the same place again and again to advertise their continued presence. Middens are usually located at disputed areas of territory where challenges are likely to occur. Sometimes this is indoors, the usual place being the bed. A cat which has been upset by an intruder or unusual event middens in the place which smells most strongly of its human family, reinforcing the family bond. Humans don't see it the same way. When a cat scratches a tree, scratching post, wallpaper or doormat (or even the furniture) this does several things. As well as stropping the claws and exercising the leg muscles, it deposits scent from the paws onto the object. The height of the scratch marks may be important in communicating the cat's size and strength to any potential challenger. The height of scratch markings above the ground appears to be important to tigers in advertising their age, size and strength and the same may be true of domestic cats. Spraying, middening and scratching ensure that cats are communicating with each other even when not physically present. Though these behaviours may be annoying to owners, to cats these scent laden markers are signposts, boundary markers and personal advertisements. BODY LANGUAGE Unlike dogs, cats do not generally co-operate to hunt or form cohesive packs. Cat colonies are much looser groupings than the strictly hierarchical wolf-pack. They haven't needed to evolve the social rules for pack living. They mix with other cats when mating, raising kittens and in sociable groups such as feral colonies or multicat households. Feline body-language is complex and subtle with ate least twentyfive different visual signals used in sixteen combinations. There are doubtless many other, more subtle, nuances which we don't notice. Most owners can learn to recognise at least some of their cats' visual signals. The most dramatic body language occurs when rival males meet, during courtship or over fiercely protected territory (in general, cats are happy to let other cats pass through their territory or even time-share it, but the core territory may be fiercely protected). Neutered cats generally have less extreme interactions. Many visual signals are displayed when cats play, either on their own, with other cats or with humans.
The aim of body language is to convey a message and to avoid or end physical confrontation. The aggressor or challenger would prefer to win its case without resorting to teeth and claws since it could be badly injured in a fight. Many disputes are resolved by staring each other down and yelling. Sometimes it is so subtle that humans cannot tell there was potential conflict - the dominant cat, having won the confrontation, simply walks away from the loser, sits down and looks in another direction (or start grooming - a favourite feline activity). Body language has to be read by looking at the whole body - the face, the posture and the tail position. Looking at one of these in isolation is misleading since they all combine into an overall message. For example when a cat arches its back, is it upset or is it friendly? The same basic posture means two very different things depending on the facial expression, whether the fur is bristling and the eyes and the ears. THE HEAD A cat's head position tells us several things. If its head is stretched forward, the cat is encouraging touch or trying see its owners or another cat’s facial expressions. This is a greeting message. In conflict, an assertive or confident cat may raise its head, but an aggressive cat will lower its head. An inferior or submissive cat will also lower its head submissively. An inferior cat which is fearful and defensively aggressive will raise its head though. To understand the message, you have to look at the other end of the cat - its tail! If the cat keeps its head down, pulls in its chin and turns sideways to prevent eye contact it is conveying a lack of interest and the fact that it is not threatening. It will also pull in its chin when relaxed. To understand the whole message you have to look at the way it holds its body.
Friendly cats will head-but or head rub and will extend this into a full body rub. Cats will also head-butt and body-rub their humans. The nose-bump is another friendly greeting. When cats meet, they sniff each other's faces - sniffing the scent glands
around the lips to determine the identity of the other cat and whether it is a family member or not.
Sara and Ginny head-butting. This is a friendly action and often ends up as a whole body rub and maybe also tailtwining.
The back-turned ears and the posture (pulling away, but head turned to face the person approaching it) shows that this young cat is flinching away (see later for details on posture). It had just arrived at a shelter and was friendly but nervous of its new surroundings.
THE EYES Humans love eye contact - it is friendly. For a cat, prolonged eye contact is an assertive, or even threatening, signal. The classic case is when several people are in a room for a social occasion and the host's cat walks in. It unerringly goes towards the person who doesn't like cats. Is it simply being perverse? The answer is in eye contact. Cat lovers will be watching the cat, hoping it goes to greet them. Those who don't particularly like cats will ignore it, hoping it will leave them alone. For the cat, the eye contact made by the cat lovers is somewhat threatening. It avoids them. The people who don't particularly like cats are not making eye contact - to the cat, they are signalling that they pose no threat. They are being polite in cat terms, so it goes to socialise with them. Rival cats try to out-stare each other to resolve conflicts. When a cat realises it is being watched or stared at, it may stop whatever it is doing, assess the "threat" and then continue with its activity, but in a far more self-conscious way. The cat knows it is being watched and becomes uncomfortable. Only when it is no longer being watched, does it relax again. This is one reason it is hard to study cats! Slowly blinking breaks up an aggressive stare and is a reassuring signal between cats and between owners and cats. Yawning is even more reassuring! When relaxed, most cats have their eyes half-open, giving the appearance of being half-asleep.
Cats have excellent peripheral vision and tend not to stare directly at something unless they are getting a fix on a moving object in preparation for pouncing. When a cat sits day-dreaming, it appears to be not looking at anything in particular. It is actually taking in a great deal of information with its peripheral vision. Some owners deliberately engage in "blink kissing" with their cats - when looking directly at a cat the owner blinks in a slow and deliberate manner. This uses the cat's own language to say "I am not threatening you, you can relax". The cat often blinks in response and then acts in a self conscious way, perhaps fluffing itself up or grooming. While some owners claim "blink kissing" helps the cat-owner bond, the cat would no doubt prefer the owner to politely gaze into the middle distance and observe the cat using peripheral vision instead of a direct gaze. Interestingly, behaviourists have tried the "gaze and blink" trick with big cats in zoos and have reported that lions and tigers will blink back at them. A few readers have emailed me having tried the same. This is not recommended since a direct gaze is a challenge and a big cat has no real need to reassure us of its friendly intentions - it sees us as potential prey. The pupils of the eyes convey part of a cat's message. As well as dilating or contracting according to the amount of light around, they contract or dilate to indicate mood. Dilated pupils accompany fear, aggressive excitement and also the mild excitement of seeing its owner, a feline friend or even dinner! The more fearful a cat is, the wider its pupils expand - it is as if the eyes are trying to take in as much information as possible. An angry, confident cat has narrowed pupils. It may be ready to provoke a fight and by narrowing the pupils it can focus better on detail and also reduce the risk of damage to that part of the eye. Nutmeg, the cat in the photo is alert and interested (whiskers pricked forwards), but her dilated pupils indicate apprehension. She was, in fact, rather apprehensive of the strange apparatus (the camera) pointed at her at relatively close range. However her pricked whiskers indicate that she is not actually frightened. The eyes alone cannot convey a whole message and if the cat is blind, its permanently dilated pupils cannot convey a message at all. It is necessary to look at the rest of the cats face to piece together what it is saying. This sounds like a lot of work, but most humans read human expressions instinctively. If you can read
human body language and facial expression, a little practice is all that is needed to learn the cat's facial language. THE EARS Cats' ears are extremely mobile. With 20-30 muscles controlling them. They can swivel through 180 degrees and move up and down. They can be pricked forward or flattened sideways or backwards. The Scottish Fold cat, with its permanently folded ears, is at a slight disadvantage here. A cat can move its ears independently of each other. Not only do they pan around like radar dishes, scanning for any sound, the ears are important instruments of communication - they act like semaphores signals. Some wild cats species have dark ears with white or pale markings on the back. The make the ear signals even more visible, especially at dusk and dawn when cats are most active. Ear tufts, such as seen in the lynx and caracal, also emphasise the movement and position of the ears and may help short-tailed species (e.g. lynx) compensate for their lack of tail. Note: in experiments with caracals, the ear tufts also help pick up sound vibrations, caracals whose ear tufts were trimmed off were less able to hunt small prey in long grass. When content and relaxed, a cat sits with its ears facing forward but tilted slightly back. However, its ears demonstrate that the cat is alert even when it appears half asleep. If the cat's attention is caught by a noise or a movement, its pricks its ears more upright, maybe swivelling one or both to track the source of the noise. If the cat grows anxious, its ears move slightly back and flatten down. An fearful cat has lowered ears. The more anxious or fearful the cat is, the flatter the ears until they are lying straight backwards, flat to the skull. If the cat is fearful but aggress, the ears flatten sideways - a combination of the forward pointing "alert" ears and the flattened/lowered "fearful" ears. If one ear is flattened and the other isn't, the signal is more ambivalent and the cat isn't yet sure how to react to what is going on around it. Generally it will withdraw a short way in order to consider the situation. While considering, the ears shift and change as it processes stimuli and possible responses. A similar highly mobile state occurs when the ears are panning round to catch noises, but the cat's entire demeanour will be one of alertness or interest, probably with a slightly twitching tail. Ear flicking or "ear flagging" (flattening and horizontally moving one ear) has been reported by some of my readers. John Whitehead, a biology teacher in the UK, suggests it is also used as a way of pointing in a certain direction. This, he believes, can be seen when a cat is on a "walk through" of another cat's territory and encounters the resident feline. After a pause and some facing down, the visiting cat is signalled in a direction by the resident cat flicking one ear. He believes that some pet cats extend this to communicate with humans, for example when a door is
opened and the cat given a choice of in or out, it may signal its intention to stay indoors by ear flicking towards its favourite chair. I am not convinced about ear flagging, but it merits further study. A more usual explanation is that the cat is in two minds about something and its uncertainty results in ambiguous ear signals.
THE WHISKERS AND MOUTH The whiskers are not just for judging the width of gaps or the proximity of objects. They are also mobile and help to indicate the cat's mood. In a normal relaxed "neutral" state, they are held slightly to the side. As the cat becomes more interested in something around it, the whiskers perk forwards, ultimately coming forwards in front of the muzzle (a good position for the shorter whiskers to detect the bite point on the prey's neck). The cheek pads also seem to swell out as the muscles pull the whiskers into position. If the cat is fearful, it pulls its whiskers back alongside its cheeks to signal that it is non-threatening. This also makes its face look smaller. A cat rarely uses its mouth to signal aggression. An open-mouthed yawn may signal non-threat. An open-mouthed snarl or hiss show that the cat feels threatened and defensive. Growls are delivered with the mouth only slightly open. The teeth-bared grimace is not a dog-like snarl, it is the cat's flehmen reaction - one way in which a cat analyses scent signals.
Flower is yawning. Her whiskers are pricked outwards and slightly forwards. Her ears are pricked (the flattened one is actually listening to a sound!) indicating alertness. She is neither aggressive nor defensive and though relaxed, it is still alert to its surroundings.
When reading a cat's expression, be aware of its surroundings. Affy may look angry (narrow pupils, ears back) but she is actually yawning. Many cats partly flatten their ears when they yawn widely.
Flower, the cat in the photo is yawning - its whiskers are pricked slightly forward, its ears are pricked (the flattened one is actually listening to a sound!) indicating alertness. The cat is at ease - neither aggressive nor defensive and though relaxed, it is still alert to its surroundings. Some cats sit with their tongue sticking out a little. This seems to show relaxation and contentment or that the cat has become interested in something. On the one hand it gives the cat a rather daft look. On the other hand it gives the cat a look of concentration. Licking the lips may indicate anxiety or anticipation depending on what is happening around it. Cats may lick their lips slightly as food is presented, but reserve real lip-licking for the after-dinner wash. When cats yawn they are not so much bored as signalling reassurance and contentment. Sometimes yawning at a timid cat (and blinking slowly while gazing into space) will help it to relax. Cats also yawn during their waking-up routine e.g. as they stretch. When a cat yawns its whole face appears to split open! THE TAIL
The tail is an organ of balance, a rudder/counterbalance for manoeuvring at high speed and a means of communication. While hunting or stalking, the tail is kept almost horizontally behind the cat. This prevents it from fouling in low-hanging shrubs and prevent the prey from seeing a telltale tail. It may spring upright during the final rush. The tail also conveys a cat’s interest and concentration with a twitching movement as it corners its prey. You can also see this twitching movement, usually just the tip of the tail, when a cat sees something interesting through a window. When a cat is crouched low to the ground, edging forward towards prey, the slight twitch of its tail indicates how hard it is concentrating. The tail is an important tool for communicating with other cats and with humans. It is highly mobile: side to side, up and down, graceful and slow, thrashing and whiplike. It can be a sleep coil folded around a sitting or sleeping cat, a fluffy scarf across a curled cat's nose or an erect bristling bottlebrush when the cat is frightened. A mother cat may also use it - deliberately or accidentally - as a toy for her kittens.
Relaxed, alert and confident - ears pricked, whiskers slightly drooping, tail drooping from horizontal. Shampoo is off to greet a friendly person.
These two ferals first greet each other by stretching and then by rubbing and tail-twining to mix scents to reinforce their bond.
When a cat is relaxed, confident and alert, it walks with its tail horizontally behind it or even slightly drooping. This prevents the tail from becoming snagged in undergrowth. If it meets a friendly cat or friendly human, the tail goes up like a flagpole to convey its friendliness. If it is friendly but cautious of the other cat or person, the upright tail is hooked over at the tip indicating a degree of uncertainty. A mother cat's upright tail is a signal for her kittens to follow and their upright tails may help littermates or their mother to spot their whereabouts. A spraying cat also adopts the tail up posture, tail a-quiver and treading/dancing with the hind feet, trying to lift its rump higher. When a cat meets its owner and wants to extend a friendly greeting, the tail goes up and quivers, but there is no
spray of urine. It is the cat's version of "I am SO happy to see you, I am overcome with emotion." Many owners refer to this as "feather-dancing" because the upright tail resembles a quivering feather. It may pull its upright tail slight forwards over the back, kinked down a little at the tip and give a little chirp at the same time. This invites the cat/person it is greeting to sniff the anal glands and confirm its identity as a group member. When kittens greet their mother, they run to her with their tails upright like small flag-poles. They droop, twine or rub their tails around their mother's rump or tail to solicit food from her. Adult cats also tail-twine. They entwine tails with friendly cats as they rub against each other (the tail has scent from the anal glands on it from where the cat has washed it). They also wrap their tails around human legs or objects. This both marks the leg or object and, if they are tail-wrapping part of the owner, is an attempt to get attention, fuss and food! When a cat is at rest, but readying itself for action, it sweeps its tail erratically from side to side. It seems to accompany the feline thought process of "do I or don't I?". As it becomes more alert or more emotionally charged, the tail swishes faster, wider and in a more regular manner. If the cat is lying on its side, the tail will be thumping on the floor, often loudly. Though this is most often associated with anger, it may also indicate another highly charged emotion - some cats thrash their tail in ecstasy when being groomed. Violent thrashing therefore indicates high excitement or imminent aggression. A swishing or thumping tail is sometimes an invitation for another cat to join in a bout of play. Very few cats wag their tails in happiness like dogs. The other easily recognisable tail signal is the upright bottle-brush tail. This indicates that the cat feels seriously threatened and has become defensively aggressive i.e. it would rather get away, but if provoked it will defend itself. The tail doubles in size and the hair on the cat's spine also stands erect (pilo-erection). As well as indicating the cat's state of mind, it makes the cat look bigger than it really is in an attempt to make the aggressor leave it alone. The "inverted L" is a sign of conflict. The first inch or so of the tail is horizontal and the remainder points straight downwards. The "Inverted U" or "Horseshoe" tail, often with the fur erect, is defensive aggression, but can also be seen during the "mad half hour" when the cat rushes around as though it has the wind under its tail. Kittens frequently use the inverted horseshoe during play and mock-battle. When the cat stretches its forelegs, its tail may come right forward over the head. When it stretches the back legs, the tail may end up upright and hooked over.
Sometimes the upright tail is jerked suddenly and briefly forwards. This seems to be the feline version of the human "two fingers" obscene gesture. It denotes mild irritation or derision. You might see this if you address your cat as it is walking around - the cat acknowledges you, but has its mind set on other things and is making a "So what!" exclamation. POSTURE As previously mentioned, a defensive cat erects its fur to appear bigger than it really is. A dominant cat will also try to look bigger than it really is, perhaps swaggering a little. In both cases, the cats are bluffing to try to avoid conflict. An aggressive cat will straighten its legs (the hind legs are longer than the forelegs, so its rear end will be higher than its shoulders) and erect the hair along its spine and tail into a ridge to make itself look more impressive. A defensive cat erects not only a ridge of fur, but all of its fur, puffing itself out. It arches its back and positions itself side-on to its aggressor to make itself look larger still. It wants the attacker to think twice about attacking it. If the attacker pauses, the victim may move sideways in a crab-like fashion (frequently seen in playing kittens); it moves slowly away from its aggressor, watching for any sign of attack. The slow retreat is an attempt to avoid provoking a sudden or instinctive attack.
In contrast, a submissive cat wants to appear small and unthreatening. It may shrink into a crouch indicating that it wants only to be left alone. If this doesn't work, it may sink down on one side demonstrating its submissiveness. If the other cat still threatens, the victim will roll over onto its back, turning its head to face its attacker. This is an appeasement gesture. Unlike the dog, which will go belly-up in full submissive mode, a cat on its back is still a formidable opponent. It has done its utmost to avoid conflict, but if the aggressor continues to press the attack, the victim is able to fight back with all four sets of claws and with teeth. Tin this position, if the aggressor jumps on its victim, victim's fore legs can clasp the aggressor close to the victim's teeth. Meanwhile, the hind legs are especially dangerous as they may disembowel the other animal (and are sometimes used in this way against same-size prey such as rabbits which have not been killed outright - something which can be seen when a cat plays with a stuffed toy).
There are other reasons a cat rolls over. A playful cat will roll over in order to use all four paws, claws sheathed, to "defend" itself, sometimes mock-biting the other cat or the owner. Some cats roll over to greet their owners - this is kitten behaviour and an invite for us to "groom" the cat's belly. Unfortunately the kitten behaviour and the adult behaviour often conflict with each other with painful consequences for the owner. Other cats, those with a great degree of trust and affection, love having their bellies rubbed. Oestrus females roll wantonly in front of males to solicit their attention. Cats also roll as a way of scratching their backs, often rolling on hot pavements or in dust-baths.
Although his ears and whiskers indicate alertness, Tsar's tail is held firmly beneath him in a sign of submissive fear. Tsar had just arrived at a cat shelter and was nervous of his new surroundings.
er in a neutral mood. His kers are ightly drooped in ation. His ears are in the ard position. His pupils are
Shampoo is making a friendly appro towards owner Philip Harvey. Ears an whiskers are pricked forward in inter Her tail is in the normal horizontal
d entirely because of the His tail is coiled neatly nd him. ENIGMATIC CATS
position, but is moving into the frien upright position.
Not all feline communication or feline behaviour is easily understood, even by those ho are used to cats. We are not attuned to pheromones or to reading the more subtle nuances of their body language. To us, some feline behaviour truly perplexing to the point of bordering on a supernatural explanation. Early one morning in 2002, Michael Powell (Dublin, Ireland) watched 12 cats "of every variety" emerging from a garden across the road from where he stood. The cats pranced across the road in a straight line, nose to tail with their heads and tails up, making a remarkable sight. They gave the distinct impression of being on a mission. When they reached the hedge near to his home, they all turned right in strict formation, took a sharp left through a hole in the hedge, then right again along the side of the hedge, then left at the next corner, right again through another hole in that hedge and out of sight. Without knowing the familial relationship (if any) of the cats, it is hard to say what was going on. Was the lead cat on oestrus and were the followers her suitors? This seems the most likely explanation. Numerous suitors have been seen trailing after a single oestrus female until she is ready to mate, but rarely in such an orderly fashion. Were the pursuers the grown up offspring of the leader? Kittens will follow their mothers in this way; since domestic cats often retain juvenile behaviour, perhaps this was the case. It brings to mind the curious parade of cats out of an English town some hours before it was bombed during World War II. On another occasion the same witness saw three cats sitting in the "Egyptian sphynx" position. The centre cat was largest and slightly forward of the other two, both of which were angled slightly away from the centre cat so that they were in an arrow formation. All three cats were staring straight at a fourth cat who was also sitting in the sphynx position directly facing the centre cat. The cats sat like that, motionless and silent for some 10 minutes. It looked like the fourth cat was having an audience with a top cat. Quite possibly this was a boundary dispute with two cats staring each other out over an invisible (to us) territorial boundary. The two smaller cats were probably from the same household as the cat they sat with, shared its territory and were "interested parties" in the dispute. Linda Louis-VanReed (St Louis, Missouri, USA) had a similar experience of feline follow-the-leader. She adopted a small, black long-haired male cat that stumbled onto her porch in need of urgent medical attention. Though small, Genghis Khan was very dominant and was raised him alongside a labrador/shepherd mix pup. Geenghis was an indoor/outdoor cat and this 8 pound ball of attitude routinely attracted and peacefully dominated every group of local cats he encountered, including aggressive cats, just by sitting down and staring silently. In Orlando, Florida, when Ghengis was 14 years old, Genghis went roaming with Korat kitten
Naomi in tow and did not return for several hours, despite Victoria calling for him. The 6 local cats were 14-18 pounds Maine Coon males, two of whom were not neutered. Linda was concerned about Genghis and Naomi because of alligators and snakes in the area. After about 2 and a half hours she called for him again. She says "The hedges next door rustled and out he comes from beneath them, tail up, chest out, looking very calm, like it was any ordinary day. He was followed by his romping little charge, Naomi, and every last one of those large male cats from around the neighborhood, walking in a tight line, all with tails in the same positions, all following within a foot of one another. He lead them about 15 yards or so, until I spoke to him, at which point the others broke formation and ran. He stopped, turned and looked after them, flicked his tail, and strolled in to eat." Genghis lived to 17 and a half and right up to the end he exerted his power of domination/attraction/fascination over other cats.
MESSYBEAST.COM CAT RESOURCE ARCHIVE
CAT CHAT! CAN CATS TALK?
Copyright 1995 - 2009 Sarah Hartwell Can cats talk? Many cat owners would like to think so and some even claim that their cats speak a number of recognisable words. A Brazilian cat takes claims one step further by apparently being able to sing a number of well known songs while the Fortean Times carried a report of a cat which speaks several words in Turkish and suggested, with tongue firmly in cheek, that the reason many owners cannot understand their cats is because the cats are speaking Turkish. But before cat-owners rush out for phrase books, are these cats really speaking or are their owners just talking turkey? In 2008 a Chinese grandmother, Granny Lv, of Changchun city, claimed her male cat Mimi could speak Chinese. His vocabulary included 'laolao' (Grandma) apparently copied from her granddaughter. His other phrases are 'ren ne?' (where is everyone) on waking up and finding no-one around and 'gan sha ne?' (what are you doing?) when Granny Lv plays mahjong. Her neighbour, Mrs Wang claims Mimi's pronunciation is very clear, but girlish. Unfortunately, the 2 women are hearing what they want to hear when interpreting feline sounds. So perhaps cats are talking Cantonese or Mandarin instead? Katharine Simms in "They Walked Beside Me" (1954) wrote: "Several people have, however, claimed that their animal could speak with human speech. Frederick Eddy, former president of the Siamese Cat Society of America, has said that his Siamese queen [female cat] Adamina used to greet him every morning with a cordial and distinct 'hello!' " For humans, the terms 'speech' and 'talk' are not restricted to vocalization, but encompass human body language (which most of us read without realising it), gestural languages (sign language) and tactile languages (of deaf-blind individuals) which are equally expressive among those fluent in their use. Further, human language comprises both verbal and non-verbal components (including the written extension of body language through gestural substitutes such as the <VBG >, :-) symbols within Internet communication). The cat's vocal apparatus differs from our own and is not designed with speech in mind. However cats need to communicate, both with other cats and with owners. They "speak" to each other through body language, communicating feelings and intentions through posture and facial expression. Scent is also an
important component of cat communication. In addition, they have a vocabulary of sounds ranging from caterwauls to mewing sounds, from hisses to the "silent meow" which is probably a sound pitched too high for human ears to hear. The familiar "miaow" is used mainly for communicating with humans as we are evidently too thick to understand anything other than kitten-talk. The remainder of this article will be concerned with vocalizations - the vocalizations used in cat/cat communication and the vocalizations used in cat/human communication. For more detailed information on feline body language and non-vocal feline communication, refer to Cat Communication. You may also wish to read Do Cats Have Emotions? DO CATS HAVE LANGUAGE? In "Alice Through the Looking Glass", Lewis Carroll wrote "It is a very inconvenient habit of kittens that whatever you say to them, they always purr. If they would only purr for 'yes' and mew for 'no', or any rule of that sort, so that one could keep up a conversation! But how can one deal with a person if they always say the same thing?" On the other hand, "Your Guide to Cats & Kittens" (1973) produced by Pedigree Petfoods/Peter Way Ltd wrote that "mew" did not do justice to the cat's wide vocabulary - ranging from greeting to plaintive - and went on to compare the different vocalisations of several popular breeds: Siamese, Burmese, Longhair (Persian) and British Shorthair. Lewis Carroll, it seems, was not a keen observer of cats, otherwise he would have noticed that cats do not always say the same thing! They make a variety of different sounds which, among humans would be called "words", but in our belief that we are naturally superior to "dumb" animals, we don't call cat-sounds "words". Since the sounds don't conform to our notion of grammatical structure, it simply appears that cats lack language. To the uninitiated, and probably to Lewis Carroll, the simple "miaow" is an all-purpose word. Most catowners, however, are aware that there are a whole variety of miaows that differ in pitch, rhythm, volume, tone and pronunciation. Jean Craighead George attempted to categorise these according to the cat's age, gender and situation:Kittens: • • • • • Mew (high pitched and thin) - a polite plea for help MEW! (loud and frantic) - an urgent plea for help mew - plea for attention mew (soundless) - a very polite plea for attention (this is Paul Gallico's "Silent Miaow" which is probably a sound pitched too high for human ears) meow - emphatic plea for attention MEOW! - a command! mee-o-ow (with falling cadence) - protest or whine MEE-o-ow (shrill whine) - stronger protest MYUP! (short, sharp, single note) - righteous indignation MEOW! Meow! (repeated) - panicky call for help mier-r-r-ow (chirrup with liting cadence) - friendly greeting RR-YOWWW-EEOW-RR-YOW-OR - caterwaul merrow - challenge to another male meriow - courting call to female
• • • • • • • •
Mother cats: • MEE-OW - come and get it! meOW - follow me! ME R-R-R-ROW - take cover! mer ROW! - No! or Stop It! mreeeep (burbled) - hello greeting to kittens and disarming greeting to adult cats (also used between adult cats and humans)
There is more to felinese than the simple miaow though. In 1944, Mildred Moelk made a detailed study of cat vocabulary and found sixteen meaningful sounds, which included consonants and vowels. She divided cat-sounds into three groups:• • murmurs made with the mouth closed vowel sounds made with the mouth closing as in "iao" sounds made with the mouth held open.
Although these may not be used in grammatical sentences, one definition of language is "any means, vocal or other, of expressing or communicating feeling or thought" (Webster's Dictionary). Observant owners will notice the following sounds which cats make to communicate their state of mind (this list is not exhaustive, since cats will improvise): • • • • • • • • • • • • • Caterwaul - cat wants sex! Chatter - excitement, frustration e.g. when prey is out of reach or escapes (involves rapid teethchattering jaw movements) Chirrup - friendly greeting sound, a cross between a meow and a purr! (friendly greeting sound with rising inflection; familiar to most cat owners) Cough-bark - alarm signal (rare in pet cats); like us, cats can cough both vountarily and involuntarily) Growl - threat, challenge, warns others to go away Hiss (with or without spit) - threat, fear, warns others to back off Meow - general-purpose attention seeking sound used by adult cats to communicate with owners or with kittens Mew (of kittens) - distress, hunger, cold (to attract mother's attention) Purr - contentment, relaxation, also to comfort itself if in pain (cats in extremis may purr); a loud purr invites close contact or attention Scream - fear, pain, anger, distress Squawk - surprise, shock (somewhat strangled sound) Yowl - a threat, offensive or defensive, but also used in a modified form by some cats seeking attention when owner is out of sight Idiosyncratic sounds - a sound which a particular cat uses in a particular context.
Note: While cats may lack the complex and abstract emotions of humans, they have basic emotions characterised by responses in certain regions of the brain. These basic emotions, which include fear, distress and anger, are discussed in Do Cats Have Emotions?. This is not anthropomorphism - cats' brains have similarities to our own brains and are often studied in laboratory experiments (please note, Messybeast.com is opposed to invasive or otherwise distressing experimentation).
The exact meanings of all of these sounds may be modified or emphasised by facial expression, tone/volume, body language and context (paralanguage). In his dealings with Scottish Wildcats, Mike Tomkies noted that the wildcats would greet him with a loud spitting "PAAAH" accompanied by a footstamp. I have received the same greeting from feral cats. The meaning ("*** off!") is unmistakable and only a fool (or a cat-worker intent on packing pussy off for neutering) ignores it. Some cats may use some of these cat-sounds in different ways when communicating with humans and only our familiarity with our own pets tells us that a certain type of growl is a play noise and not warning of imminent attack. Another suggestion for teeth chattering, in outdoor cats at least, is to hypnotise prey. Some owners have claimed that cats can call birds, even flying birds, closer by chattering at them. Personally, I consider it unlikely that cats are imitating birds to encourage them to approach and the chattering more likely related to the birds being out of easy ambush range. I also find it unlikely that the chattering hypnotizes prey such as squirrels or chipmunks though it might make the animals curious enough to overcome caution. Many prey species don't have good colour vision and rely on movement for their visual clues and are lulled into a false sense of security. By sitting still, the cat is almost invisible, but it is becoming tense with excitement. Teeth-chattering may be related to the build-up of tension in a cat's body before it pounces or rushes its prey - you can see the cat tensing its limbs. The chattering seems to be an overspill of excitement. Another sign of emotional leakage in a stalking cat is the twitching tail. Cat-owners will recognise many of the cat-sounds listed, although we may refer to them in more anthropomorphic terms: greet, grumble, nag, whimper, swear, sing etc. Some cats add their own idiosyncratic words to this general vocabulary such as the sudden exhalation of air used by my own cat, Aphrodite. This word, which we call "foof" or "frooff" can be anything from an exclamation ("Oh!" and "Well"), a comment ("So?" and "Huh?"), a non-committal response when we speak to her ("Hmmm"), or a noise to be used when she feels she needs to say something, but can't think of anything meaningful to say (small-talk and self-satisfied murmuring). It all depends on HOW it is said. For Aphrodite, "froof" is the all-purpose "supercalifragilistic..." of cat vocabulary. Scrapper used "mrrrp" in the same way. Other idiosyncratic sounds reported include what David Kennedy calls a "Squabble - a series of short and long meows and grunts made in a complaining tone that occur when a cat is moved or made to do something it would rather not do". "Roaring" is more often associated with big cats than small cats, but nevertheless there have been several reports of domestic cats that roar, often to proclaim "I am here". Roaring in pet cats should always be investigated by a vet as it can be a symptom of throat problems. Some caterwauling tomcats suffer partial voice loss after strenuous yowling and end up roaring. Maybe those few perfectly healthy cats that roar their territorial claims were lions in a past life. More fanciful and less scientific attempts at categorising cat sounds have produced dictionaries of words. According to Katharine Simms in "They Walked Beside Me" (1954): "In 1895 Alphonse Leon Grimaldi, FRS, published a paper in New York on the discovery of a cat language. The cat's voice is modulated as is man's [...] in the cat's voice the French author, Champfleury, counted sixty-three different notes, though Darwin spoke of only six or seven. But the Abbé Galliani counted twenty inflection, and vowed that the cat's language is a 'tongue' for 'they always employed the same sound to express the same thing'. Marvin Clark, the blind author, has published a cat vocabulary of seventeen words which he says repeatedly occur in the talks which cats 'struggle to carry on with members of their household'. Some of these words such as bl for meat, aelio for food, and ptleebl for mouse, may seem far-fetched, but I feel that mi-ouw for beware, burrieu to express contentment, parriere for open , and mi-youw for 'I'm here', are reasonable and recognisable. Mr Clark adds that as well as the seventeen main words the cat uses about 600 root words capable of inflection and many combinations, which are by tone of voice, graded with subtle shades of meaning. Now a Washington doctor has agreed with Marvin Clark and also compiled a catlanguage dictionary. Even in the sixteenth century Montaigne wrote 'doubtless cats can talk and reason with one another. It has been pointed out that dogs use only vowel sounds, but cats include at least six consonants in their speech." LEARNING THE LINGO Pedigree Petfood's book "Your Guide to Cats & Kittens" observed that a cat’s vocabulary increased as it matured. Initially, newborn kittens only purred (contentment) or mewed (distress). They learned to interpret the wider range of noises made by their mother, and in response they developed the ability to make a wider variety of communicative sounds. In fact this process continues throughout a cat's life owners who frequently talk to their cats are often rewarded by cats who "talk" back to them.
Kittens learn a great deal from imitating their mother, and cats retain the ability to learn and adapt into their adult life. They soon discover that humans use sounds in order to communicate and most cats react to this by developing different sounds for certain circumstances. A plaintive miaow is best suited to achieving a goal such as extra grub or an open door while a friendly chirrup elicits a favourable response when the cat greets its owner. Many of these noises are accompanied by exaggerated actions as the cat "acts out" its communication - by running back and forth between owner and closed door or by licking invisible crumbs from an obviously empty food dish. Humans have an innate language instinct and a need to communicate vocally (or through sign language etc) with everyone about them. Adults with small children use a simplified version of language known as baby-talk (called "motherese" by some linguists) where certain words and syllables are greatly stressed and frequently repeated. These efforts are rewarded when baby makes noises back and parents readily identify meaningful noises ("mum-mum") in their babies when the rest of us hear only random babble. In response, parents talk even more to their offspring. Whether or not we consider our cats to be surrogate children, we tend to relate to them in a similar way, using motherese to communicate with them. Cats may respond to this verbal barrage by making noises of their own. After all, if their humans need to communicate through all this audible chit-chat, any selfrespecting cat is going to have make noises if it is to stand any chance of getting attention! And since the owner lacks much of the necessary apparatus needed for speaking felinese (tail, mobile ears, whiskers, erectile fur) it is up to the cat to learn humanese. One feature common to both cats and people is the use of a slightly raised tone of voice to indicate friendliness and a lowered tone of voice to indicate displeasure, aggression etc. Friendly chirrup and foodseeking miaow are usually uttered in a raised tone of voice while the low-pitched growl of a cross cat is undeniably unfriendly. Volume is sometimes used for added emphasis e.g. a strident miaow for urgency, a gentle "brrp" for contentment. Cats which simply feel compelled to add their two penn'orth to a conversation often do so in a neutral tone of voice to indicate that they are not being particularly hostile, nor unduly friendly, nor is there any great urgency about the subject matter. ARE SOME BREEDS MORE TALKATIVE THAN OTHERS? Most owners of Siamese and Oriental cats say that these breeds are more talkative than other breeds. Beneath their non-Siamese colouring Orientals are basically Siamese cats, with the modern Siamese being chattier than the older style Siamese. "Your Guide to Cats & Kittens" (1973), produced by Pedigree Petfoods/Peter Way Ltd compared the different vocalisations of several popular breeds: Siamese, Burmese, Longhair (Persian) and British Shorthair. Siamese cats were well known for talkativeness, but were often simply dismissed as noisy, yowling cats. Siamese vocabulary included "A longish mew of medium pitch is often emitted soon after the cat is let into a room. This is possibly purely conversational, serving to inform people that it has arrived and is passing the time of day. A far more plaintive sound is made whet cats wish to be let in or out, or to attract attention to themselves if they feel they have been unjustly ignored. Very occasionally, Siamese may be heard ‘speaking’ in the middle of a yawn which would appear to signify that they wish others to be made aware of their boredom or fatigue. There is also a lowish stuttering sound, used to make complaints of a rather general nature. This is by no means an exhaustive list of Siamese ‘phrases’ but rather a random selection." "Burmese are likewise given to oral communication but, as a result of having a slightly narrower range of pitch than the Siamese, they rely on variations in length and volume of their mews to provide a large number of different ‘remarks’. In contrast, British Shorthairs tend to show the reserve traditionally attributed to their human counterparts; they vocalise a lot less than the Orientals and their mews, when uttered, are usually brief. A range of pitches can none the less be detected. Sharp sounds generally signify distress or impatience, while those of medium pitch are used for less urgent situations such as polite request for food. A mew emitted whilst purring usually means the animal is contented. Long-haired breeds, on the whole, have rather high-pitched voices, and unless they are extremely upset the volume of their mews is fairly low. To see a small, fluffy kitten quietly requesting attention almost makes a human being - who is in no place to translate his feelings to the cat - think the kitten realises that the appeal of its face makes noisiness unnecessary."
These general findings are repeated again and again - Siamese cats and their relatives are highly talkative while longhaired cats, not only the Persian Longhairs, tend to be quiet. I have not found the native cats of Thailand and Malaysia (the Thai/Malay equivalent of moggies) to be particularly talkative, so possibly it is something which was bred into the modern western Siamese breed at the same time that its colour and conformation were being refined. CAN CATS TALK PEOPLE-TALK? "Language", by definition, is not merely a collection of words strung together. It is a collection of words strung together in a particular and meaningful way so that the words have meaning in relation to each other and can frame an overall concept. Language is more than just words. Language has grammar (basic rules) and syntax (sentence structure).There are many excellent books about language; my personal recommendation is "The Language Instinct" by Stephen Pinker - it is both informative and clearly written. Humans have an instinctive need to communicate with fellow humans and to receive communication in return. This drive is often extended to our interaction with non-humans. Just as we look for recognisable sounds when babies learn to talk, we look for recognisable sounds in our cats' "vocabulary". Rather than simply distinguishing a "feed me" miaow from a "let me out please" miaow we try to interpret some of these sounds as words and are remarkably good at self-deception, so if the "I want more grub" noise sounds a bit like "keow" we think our cat is calling us a cow for not giving it a big enough helping in the first place. Cats which "talk" are probably making native feline sounds that sound a little like human words and which, if delivered under the right circumstances, are interpreted as words by beings geared to verbal communication. I say probably, because here there is a slightly grey area. According to American vet Dr Michael W Fox cats can learn behaviours through observation. My own observations suggest that some cats learn to imitate certain sounds as well. Cats can make sounds and work out which sounds elicit suitable responses from humans (positive feedback). Can cats therefore learn to make certain sounds i.e. imitate certain human sounds if they know it will get a favourable response? Here I will have to give cats the benefit of the doubt. It may be that, in spite of lacking the apparatus for speech, some cats do indeed make the effort. Equally, it may be that owners are over-compensating for the cat's inability to talk and are hearing what they want to hear, regardless of what the cat has really said! Another feature of human speech is that it comes in bursts; a mix of different sounds and pauses between sounds, plus inflection and intonation. Tone of voice probably means much more to a cat than the actual words used, although many owners maintain that their cat understands every word they say. Cats certainly manage intonation and can miaow in a questioning manner, a demanding manner, a forlorn manner or simply as a statement. By observing our response they adopt the various tones of miaow for appropriate circumstances. Puss probably isn't thinking "I want to go out so I shall ask nicely," he is more likely to be thinking "I want to go out and I know that this type of noise usually does the trick." In their attempts to communicate with us on our own level, some cats put together full "sentences" of noises and pauses. They might simply be inviting us to talk back to them (most cats like this sort of attention from their owners). It is interesting that such cats string together a series of different sounds into a single burst of communication, with pauses between "words", which an owner likens to a sentence. Scrapper (one of felinity's brighter sparks) could hold his own in a conversation with me although I haven't a clue what he was saying, he just liked to talk and liked me to talk back. If he did understand what I was saying to him he could have taken the Business Studies exam with me (if he was trying to enlighten me on a particular aspect of management structure then I'm afraid it went right over my head). Some owners say that their cats do much the same and are right chatterboxes, with Siamese and Oriental cats being particularly vocal. Norman Barron's girlfiriend's cat Coco is also a conversationalist. Norman has identified 23 distinct phonemes in multiple combinations that significantly diverge from the familiar "meow". These include sounds like a coyote howl, one like "meeeyr-laackh" (she shakes her head after using a clicking phoneme) and various mumbled words and phrases, some of which sound similar to English - including one that resembles "iloveyou"! Coco also makes a cute surprised/interested sounding "oooh". Like Scrapper, Coco enjoys holding conversations with her humans, responding to their speech with patterns of sounds that mimic the sounds and cadence of human speech.
I doubt very much that cats, those from C S Lewis's Narnia excepted, can truly speak, although catsounds are more diverse and more meaningful than Lewis Caroll suggests. What I don't doubt is that there are a number of cats having a jolly good attempt - whether in Turkish, Cantonese, Mandarin or any other tongue. What is worrying though, is when I am doing the evening shift at a cat shelter and I am convinced that I can hear someone talking, even though there are no other humans, only cats, in the vicinity. So far none of the cats have owned up! HAVE CATS EVOLVED TO COMMUNICATE WITH HUMANS? While not claiming that cats have acquired the power of human speech, in 2002, a Cornell University researcher investigated whether cats vocally manipulate their humans. Nicholas Nicastro, a graduate student working under psychology professor Michael Owren at Cornell University's Psychology of Voice and Sound Laboratory said that cats were obviously very dependent on people for their needs and that they may have evolved to become better at managing and manipulating people. While domestic cats may not know language, his study suggested that cats, which have lived alongside humans for thousands of years, have adapted their "meows" to better communicate with humans. One way Nicastro attempted to prove his theory was by analysing a range of domestic cat vocalisations, playing these back to humans and then screening people's reactions to each type of sound. He did the same using the calls of wild cats in order to compare domestic cat and wild cat "speech". He recorded more than 100 different meows from 12 domestic cats (2 of them his own), soliciting various sounds from the cats by placing them in different situations (with their owners' help since cats rarely co-operate with strangers). These situations included delaying feeding time, before feeding them, putting them in empty rooms with the recorder, brushing them beyond the animals' patience for brushing and simply recording the contented meows of cats in a good mood. Nicastro played the recordings to two sets of people. The first group of 26 people was asked to rate each meow in terms of how pleasant each sounded. The second group of 28 people rated the sounds in terms of urgency. He compared people's ratings with acoustical analysis of the meows and found a clear pattern. "Pleasant" meows were shorter in duration, with higher frequencies and tended to descend in pitch (change from high to low notes). "Urgent" meows were longer in duration, with lower frequencies and ascended in pitch (began on low notes and escalated to higher ones). Rarely was a meow classed as both "pleasant" and "urgent" at once. The highly urgent calls tended to be the least pleasant-sounding while the highly pleasant ones were rated less urgent. Nicastro suggests that cats may therefore have developed different kinds of calls to "hook into human perception tendencies" and alert us of their mood and needs. He points out the animals have certainly had time to adjust for people since their domestication in Egypt over 5,000 years ago [Note: cats were domesticated simultaneously or earlier in Pakistan]. With their shorter life spans than people, cats have had many more generations to evolve ways of manipulating their owners through their calls. This theory is flawed because in order to pass on the meow-manipulation skills, those cats more adept at manipulating humans would breed and those less adept would fail to breed. The proliferation of feral cats around the world shows that cats can co-exist with humans very well without manipulating people through their "speech". Does the ability to communicate with humans provide a clear survival advantage so that good communicators/manipulators survive longer and produce more offspring than poor communicators? Probably not since it is only relatively recently that cats have become house-pets rather than utilitarian animals (rodent controllers). Other researchers admit that it is possible that cats may have co-evolved with humans to better communicate with people, they caution it's easy to jump to conclusions. Douglas Nelson, a professor of bio-acoustics at Ohio State University reminds us that cats have evolved different calls to communicate with each other. The communications with humans are modifications of the noises they use among each other. As well as recording pet cats, Nicastro went to a zoo in Pretoria, South Africa to record the calls of the wild desert cats from which modern domestic cats evolved. These are still being analysed and have not been tested on humans, but his preliminary findings reveal very different vocalisations. The wild cats have cries which are harsher and less musical-sounding than domestic cats or, as other people have commented, "like cats on steroids".
Strangely, it does not appear to have occurred to Nicastro to record the cries of feral cats - cats which are domestic cats in all but their habits. If feral cats have the same range of meows as their fully domestic counterparts then cat language probably evolved for inter-cat situations and is merely modified for the cathuman situation. My own experience with rescue cats leads me to conclude that Nicastro would do well to analyse inter-cat communication (particularly that between mother and kitten) for its pleasantness and urgency - and compare their use of body language in cat/cat and cat/human situations - before jumping to any co-evolutionary conclusions! THE ENIGMATIC PURR Although not strictly a vocalisation, the purr is an important means of communication and, depending on the cat's situation, it can convey contentment, pleasure or be placatory behaviour (i.e. "I am not a threat to you"). As well as purring when happy, cats also purr when severely injured, frightened or giving birth. A cat may even purr when close to death. The Pedigree Petfoods book discussed the familiar purr and noted that cats being restrained for veterinary procedures (blood samples or X-rays) frequently purred. The inference drawn from this behaviour was that the cats were indicating that they were tractable and cooperative and would not need to be forcibly handled. The purr was therefore likened to the obsequious behaviour of a submissive cat when avoiding conflict with a larger, more powerful animal. It also noted that some cats, both male and female, gave low growllike purrs as a warning when a stranger entered their territory. This is inaccurate, the "growl-purr" is in fact a low growl. Purring is caused by vibration of structures in the throat, though previous explanations have attributed the sound to the noise of blood turbulence in the chest! A truly ecstatic cat sometimes vocalises (uses its vocal cords) while purring, resulting in a shrill noise. Purring is also found in the cheetah, puma and most small cats such as the serval and ocelot. Big cats such as lions, tigers, jaguars and leopards cannot purr because their throats are built for roaring. Conversely, the small cats, puma and cheetah, screech or yowl rather than roar. Although there are a few reports of purring-type sounds (a breathy groaning sound rather than an in-and-out purr) from lions and tigers, it seems that a cat can either purr or roar, but not both! Since purring uses energy and has been passed on through many generations of cats, it must have some function. One puzzle was why a sick or injured would expend energy on purring, when it needs all its energy for healing? Researchers believed that suggestions that the cat's purr evolved solely to communicate self-contentment goes against evolutionary theory. The fact that cats purr when injured suggested that it had some survival value, for example a healing function. Cats close to death may also purr, suggesting a pain relieving function. Since many cats purr when on their own, the purr cannot merely be a form of communication - why would a cat purr when there is no-one around to communicate with? Though this sounds far fetched, research in humans has shown certain frequencies of vibration relieved suffering in over three-quarters of test subjects suffering from acute or chronic pain. Ultrasound is often used alongside physiotherapy. Effects include (depending on the patient) generating new tissue growth, augmenting wound tissue strength, improving local circulation and oxygenation, reducing swelling and even inhibiting bacterial growth. Vibration at low frequencies and low intensities can aid bone growth/repair, tendon and muscle strength/repair, joint mobility, reduce inflammation and reduce breathlessness. I have had ultrasound treatment on damaged tissue in a broken foot and one curious effect was a hot feeling at the fracture site! The soothing effect of a purring cat is well-known to cat lovers. Researchers believed that vibrating (purring) cats were communicating more than just a sense of well-being to their owners. Fauna Communications and ENDVECO initiated a research project recording and analysing the purr to see if it was linked to healing. Cats are reputed to have nine lives. Their bones tend to heal rapidly and relatively easily. I came across the case of Didi at the Chelmsford CP shelter - Didi's back legs had been so badly broken he should not have been able to walk. He had been found as a stray with his fractures already healed, albeit not entirely straight, showing the amazing self-healing capacity of cats. There are cases of feral cats surviving accidental limb amputations without human intervention. The ability of a large percentage of cats to survive a fall (High Rise Syndrome) is legendary. It is little surprise that a veterinary saying goes "If you put a cat and a sack of broken bones in the same room, the bones will heal." Compared to dogs, cats have fewer orthopaedic problems or muscle injuries and though attributed mainly to their flexible skeleton,
self-healing might also play a part. Researchers wondered if the purr provided therapeutic vibrations to speed this healing. To investigate this theory, scientists recorded and measured the purring of relaxed cats. To measure purr frequency and how purr vibrations spread throughout the cat's body, an ENDEVCO Model 22 accelerometers was used. These are little bigger than a match head and could be fixed to the cats' skin using washable glue and medical tape. About 6-10 minutes of purring were recorded. The cats' purr frequencies were within the therapeutic range of 20 Hz (hertz) to 200 Hz (actual frequencies were 25 Hz, 50 Hz, 100 Hz, 125 Hz, 150 Hz). The most therapeutic frequency ranges are 25-50 Hz and 100-200 Hz which speed bone repair. Though to humans, the purr is most often considered a sign of contentment or of a cat reassuring itself, the researchers concluded that after a strenuous activity (hunting, defending territory etc), a period of purring could act like a massage session and alleviate sprains and strains as well as speeding the healing of any wounds. The sense of relaxation many owners feel when cuddling a purring cat suggests that the therapeutic function of the purr can extend to humans. ADAPTING THE PURR TO COMMUNICATE WITH HUMANS In 2009, researchers at the University of Sussex wrote in the journal "Current Biology" that cats use a "soliciting purr" to manipulate their owners. Unlike regular purring, the "soliciting purr" incorporates a "cry" with a similar frequency to a human baby's. Cats produce a low frequency purr by activating the muscles of their vocal folds, causing them to vibrate. Vocalisation is due to the vocal cords held across the airstream snapping shut at a particular frequency. Purring and vocalising use different mechanisms so it's possible for the cat to embed a high-pitched cry into an otherwise relaxing purr. The more energy that goes into the cry, the more urgent and unpleasant the purr becomes. The cry normally occurs at a low level in normal purring, but cats learn to exaggerate it when it proves effective in getting a response from humans. Other studies found similarities between a domestic cat's cry and the cry of a human baby - a sound that humans are highly sensitive to. Some people have even mistaken the overheard cry of the Siamese cat (a particularly vocal breed) for that of a baby. Lead researcher Dr Karen McComb said the research was inspired by the insistent early morning purr of her cat Pepo. Research discovered that the pestering purr was more likely to get owners out of bed to feed the cat while simply meowing got the cat shut out of the bedroom. "Soliciting purrs" sound more urgent and less pleasant than ordinary "non-soliciting" purrs. The relative level of an embedded highfrequency sound could increase the annoyingness of the purr and hence the likelihood of the owner responding. The "soliciting purr" is more common in cats that are highly attached to a single person. SPECIAL THANKS My thanks go to Prof Mark Woodroffe, lecturer at Anglia Polytechnic University, Essex, for stimulating my interest in linguistics. I don't think he believed me when I told him that cats could talk! Although this web article is now a long way removed from my linguistics assignment, it was Mark who challenged me to write the original version. DO CATS HAVE EMOTIONS? Copyright 2001, 2003, Sarah Hartwell "Emotion" is the term we use for feelings, some of which are instinctive and some of which are learned from those around us as we conform to society's expectations and norms. Human emotions range from "primitive" feelings such as disgust, rage, fear and lust to "complex" emotions compassion and jealousy. Recent studies, especially in fields such as neuropsychology, show that the more "primitive" or basic emotions have a physiological basis and may be caused by chemical stimuli (such as sexual attractant scents called pheromones) or visual stimuli. Basic emotions appear to cause chemical changes in the body in response to a stimulus. This article looks at feline feelings. In places it compares or contrasts human and feline responses or makes references to other animals for illustrative purposes. TWO POLARISED VIEWS
Do cats (and other higher animals) have feelings? Can they respond emotionally? According to many pet owners, the answer is "yes". Cats display a range of feelings including pleasure, frustration and affection. Other feline behaviour is attributed to jealousy, frustration and even vengefulness. Owners base their answer on observation of feline behaviour, but without an understanding of what makes a cat tick, they risk crediting a cat with emotions it does not feel as well as recognising genuine feline emotions. Owners who veer too far into the "Did my ickle-wickle fluffy-wuffikins miss his mummy then?" approach may not understand (or not want to accept) that a cat's emotions evolved to suit very different situations to our own. Cats and humans are built much the same way and share many of the senses - sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch - as well as having additional "senses" which are adaptations to our particular environments and lifestyles (e.g. the Flehmen taste-smell reaction in cats). Though humans have better vision, cats have better smell, taste and hearing. Like us, cats feel heat, cold, pain and other physical sensations. Physical stimuli may lead to physiological responses, some of which are termed emotions. If humans and cats have similar responses to, for example, the smell of enticing food, they may share certain emotions e.g. happiness at the prospect of a satisfying meal. According to many scientists, however, the answer is "no". They argue that humans like to anthropomorphise (attribute human qualities to non-human animals) and regard pets as surrogate children. We interpret their instinctive behaviours according to our own wide range of emotions. We credit them with feelings they do not have. Some scientists deny that animals, including cats and dogs, are anything more than flesh-and-blood "machines" programmed for survival and reproduction. Others, such as pet behaviourists, credit animals with some degree of emotional response and a limited range of emotions (limited in comparison to humans, that is). Many researchers' scepticism is fuelled by their professional aversion to anthropomorphism, but others have a more sinister motive. Those who deny animals any feelings at all may do so in order to justify animal experiments which others consider inhumane. This denial of animal emotions allows them to conduct experiments with little regard for their subjects' physical or mental wellbeing. The denial of animal emotions is their own hidden agenda rather than a conclusion based on study of behaviour. Some religions teach that man is superior to animals and, by extension, animals do not have feeling. Some cultures do not recognise animals as thinking, feeling entities, for example the Chinese term for animal equates to "moving thing" and animals in food markets are treated as though they are no more than unfeeling, moving, vocalising vegetables. Politicians and those opposed to "animal rights" believe that according animals emotions would accord them rights (possibly rights equal to humans), changing the whole human/animal relationship and making pet-keeping, farming, hunting and experimentation unacceptable (many people already argue that hunting and experimentation are unacceptable on grounds of unnecessary cruelty). They argue that humans would be reduced to animal status with all that entails: culling, enforced sterilisation, selective breeding etc and pretty soon the word "Nazi" gets bandied about (ironically Hitler banned hunting). Are either of these polarised views correct or do cats also share certain emotions, perhaps a limited subset of the emotions we feel? To find out, we must observe our own and our cats' responses to situations and analyse what an emotion is. THE EMOTIONAL BRAIN Charles Darwin concluded that animals do indeed have emotions. He went on to explore the extent of animal emotions and found there to be emotional and cognitive continuity between humans and animals i.e. there are not enormous gaps between animals, but rather a continuous range from unintelligent, unemotional "primitive" creatures through to highly emotional and intelligent humans. Where there were gaps, these were differences in degree rather than differences in the kinds of emotions. While Darwin accorded animals varying degrees of emotion, many scientists have avoided the issue of animal emotions by putting quote marks around words such as "nervous" or "fearful". This indicated that the animals acted as if they felt those emotions, but they did not actually have those emotions and the attribution of emotions was therefore anthropomorphic on the part of the scientific observer, hence the quote marks. In order to understand emotions, scientists have studied how emotions are formed, and how they relate to the rest of the body and to the outside world. To do this, they have looked at how the brain works, often by looking at how the individual brain cells are linked together and how they interact and by looking at what happens when parts of the brain are deliberately or accidentally damaged. The brain contains neurons
(nerve cells) which communicate across synapses. The communication takes the form of electrical impulses from one end of a nerve cell to another, and chemicals across synapses between the nerve cells. By measuring electrical impulses and levels of certain chemicals, and by interfering with these, researchers investigate how the brain works. Electrodes placed in certain locations in the brain to can be used to trigger specific emotions. Continual stimulation of part of the amygdala to induce terror eventually results in the animal's death. These methods are invasive and stressful to the animal (which ends up terminally damaged in the course of experimentation or is killed when no longer required) - little wonder scientists thought animals could not feel happiness. Even after death, the animal's brain could be dissected or sliced and stained for microscopy to see whether certain emotions (such as prolonged terror) caused permanent changes in the brain. Other methods look at how the brain operates as a whole, viewing it in action rather than dissecting a dead brain. Brainwaves can be measured using electroencephalographs (EEG) and scalp electrodes; there are other techniques such as MRI scans (magnetic resonance imaging), CAT scans (computerassisted tomography) and PET scans (positron-emission tomography). Some of these can be used when the person or animal is in its natural environment. Psycho-pharmacologists use medication to study the changes in animal behaviour. The test subjects are injected with drugs and their behavioural and emotional changes are measured. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is linked to both information processing and to emotion; chemicals that interfere with REM sleep lead to increased irritability and anger (and ultimately in death). Not all tests are conducted for the express purpose of researching animal behaviour/emotions - findings sometimes fall out of tests where animals are used to model the effect of drugs on humans. Behaviour geneticists have selectively bred or genetically modified animals to find out which genes are associated with which emotions and whether how those genes (and their effects) are inherited and can be manipulated. As a result, there are laboratory strains of laid back mice and highly strung mice. The same can be seen in cats - from laid back Ragdolls and placid Persians, through to "hyper" Siamese. Geneticists have further investigated how emotions are affected when certain bodily characteristics are changed. It turns out that emotions involve the interaction of sensory organs, nervous system and other parts of the body. In experimental psychology, there are 3 main schools of thought regarding emotions. The categorical approach assumes that certain emotions (fear, joy etc) arise from inside the brain and can be measured through biological changes. The social-constructivist approach focuses on how animals use emotions to communicate or relate to other animals. The componential approach considers emotions to be comprised of rewards and learning. Studies, in fields as distant as ethology (study of behaviour) and neurobiology, support the argument in favour of animal emotions. Even the most sceptical scientists agree that many creatures experience fear. This is because fear is considered a simple instinctive feeling that requires no conscious thought. Hardwired into the brain, fear is essential for escaping from predators and tackling other threats. Fear underlies the fight or flight response as can be seen when some young birds freeze at the sight of a hawk-shaped silhouette overhead, but not at the sight of a pigeon-shaped silhouette, even if they have never seen a real hawk. Fear also raises the heart-rate and blood-pressure. Fear is hard-wired and requires no conscious thought, but the existence of more complex animal emotions that involve mental processing is harder to demonstrate. Because complex feelings are intangible and hard to study under laboratory conditions, many researchers regarded the field of studying emotions as unrewarding. Modern, media-friendly ("How the brain works!") disciplines of neuroscience and neuropsychology have changed this. Scientists also recognise the importance of field observations, as long s those observations are recorded carefully, impartially and there are enough observations. One of the most obvious animal emotions is pleasure. It is evident when your cat snuggles up purring and when it plays. Although play is an important part of learning and honing life skills in youngsters, it is quite obviously also fun otherwise adult cats wouldn't bother playing. There is some evidence that playing, or at least the physical exertion aspect of play, releases "feel-good" hormones in the brain, giving a sense of wellbeing. When rats play, their brains release dopamine, a neurochemical associated with pleasure and excitement. When a rat anticipates a play session, dopamine is released, making it active, vocal and excited (the effect of this can be seen by dosing rats with dopamine-blockers). Happy rats also produce opiates, another feel-good neurochemical.
Grief has also been observed in many wild species following the death of a mate, parent, offspring or pack-mate. Feline grief at the death of a long-term human or feline companion can include severe mental disturbance. Grief varies according to the individuals and some cats show little grief while others can be deeply traumatised. This variability leads some scientists to insist that observation of grief in cats is anthropomorphism on the part of the owner. Such scientists forget, or ignore, that fact that humans are equally variable in how they express grief. In humans, the hormone oxytocin, is associated with sexual activity and maternal bonding. Experiments with monogamous prairie voles shows it affects attachment among animals. Oxytocin injections trigger mate choosing behaviour in female prairie voles, while blocking oxytocin prevents those females from choosing a partner at all. Oxytocin causes prairie voles to "fall in love" (or more accurately, to "fall in lust"). Emotions are therefore accompanied by biochemical changes in the brain. Fear is accompanied by the production of brain chemicals that cause alertness and readiness to flee; pleasure triggers the release of "feel-good" brain chemicals. Long-term production of stress hormones can damage the hippocampus (the part of the brain central to learning and memory) and experiments show that stressed-out mothers have more problems producing healthy offspring. Other emotions are not so biologically clear-cut, for example "shame" and "embarrassment" are "social emotions" - the result of attaching emotional meanings to, respectively, unacceptable or inappropriate behaviours. While emotions such as fear and pleasure are common to humans and animals, researchers cannot agree on how great a role social emotions play in non-human animals. The limbic system is the part of the brain associated with many emotions; experiments show it is active when an animal or person is frustrated while damage to that area produces aggressive-impulsive behaviour. In evolutionary terms, the limbic system is an ancient part of the brain and is not exclusive to humans: animals have emotions, but only humans rationalise those emotions and agonise over their feelings. The amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the centre of the brain, is closely linked to fear. Brainimaging studies in humans show that the amygdala is activated when the person experiences fear. Stimulating a certain part of the amygdala with an electrode induces a state of intense fear. Animals, including ourselves, whose amygdalas are damaged do not show normal responses to danger and seem unable to be afraid when placed in dangerous situations. The amygdala is implicated in other emotions as well. The question of whether animals have emotions is often confused with whether or not animals are conscious. Though cats have some self-awareness, they do not have consciousness in the same way as humans. Cats will play with their mirror reflections even though they know that there is no cat inside the mirror, however, cats do not recognise the mirror images as being themselves. Human language also confuses the issues of "emotion" and "consciousness"; often when we talk about how we feel it is unclear whether we are referring to our emotional state or to self-awareness. IN THE LAB AND IN THE FIELD Laboratory animals and animals in a wild (or domestic) environment behave differently. They have different surroundings. Their interaction with other animals and with humans are very different. Laboratory animals may have little opportunity for social contact with others or their responses may have been impaired through experimentation or genetics . Some animals are selectively bred for specific traits and they may not exhibit "typical" or representative behaviour. Emotions cannot exist in a vacuum - they are (in part) a response to external factors. Many laboratory animals show aberrant behaviour (e.g. self-mutilation, faeces-eating) due to their sterile environment. These are signs of stress and depression, but are often not termed as such for reasons mentioned earlier. It is recognised that animals suffer in these conditions, for example animals in some of the worst zoos show behavioural/emotional problems: repetitive pacing/rocking and psychological problems. Animals respond to their environment. It is not possible to accurately assess the normal psychological responses of a creature which is treated as an unfeeling biological machine and kept in an unstimulating or highly abnormal environment. This is just as dangerous as anthropomorphising animals in a cutesy fashion. Animal rights/animal welfare campaigners are often accused of inappropriately attributing emotions to animals. To recognise animal emotions would cause problems for experimental laboratories who do not wish to make potentially expensive changes to the environment in which their disposable living "tools" are stored.
Animal experimentation scientists argue that animals are not fully capable of suffering because they cannot anticipate future events. While cats cannot anticipate irregular events or far future events in the way that we can, cats have an excellent sense of time and can anticipate regular and near future events such as the owner's return from work at a similar time each day. Ironically, the feline sense of time and ability to anticipate regular events (such as food being delivered) has been tested in laboratory experiments. Cats are equally capable of anticipating unpleasant regular events, such as daily experimental routines, and display fear or aggression when approached by the experimenter. Even in the less invasive techniques, scientific methods do not like to have too many variables. Scientists prefer to measure one variable at a time. Unlike inanimate properties such as temperature or pressure which are individually controllable in laboratory conditions, emotions cannot be isolated. Environmental factors must be manipulated in order to produce an emotional change. Individuals may react in different ways to the same environmental change. This makes the study of emotions in laboratory conditions frustrating. Many scientists claim it is impossible to prove animals have emotions using standard scientific methods: repeatable observations that can be manipulated in controlled experiments. Hence they conclude that animal emotions must not exist. This is a drawback of scientific methods. Many humans do not display typical emotions in lab conditions due to the unnatural methods use and the invasive methods, yet no-one denies that humans have emotions. To properly assess animal emotions, scientists and animal behaviourists must study animals in the field or in the home. The environment can be manipulated, but cannot be controlled absolutely. What is important is how the animal behaves in its own environment and how it interacts with its environment and with others. The observer must interpret the behaviour and decide whether the subject is fearful, apprehensive, angry etc. To ensure a consistent approach, the animal's behaviour may classified according to a shortlist of likely emotions or on a sliding scale for a particular attribute e.g. fearfulness or curiousness. Similar methods are used in assessing the behaviour of very young children. A growing number of farmers, particularly those in the organic sector, are recognising the need for animals to express instinctive behaviours. Although some stress is unavoidable in farming, animals which suffer minimal stress may be more productive, have better immune systems, be less prone to disease and have a lower mortality (wastage) rate. This is even more apparent in zoos and wildlife parks where environmental enrichment and encouragement of natural behaviour has led to "happier" (less stressed) animals more likely to breed successfully in captivity. Recognition that animals have emotions can be taken too far and is prone to misinterpretation. The human tendency to project human-style thoughts, motivations and desires into animals can result in pets being treated as small furry humans who ought to love us and show gratitude. While our cats probably do love us and feel gratitude (in the feline sense of love and gratitude) they may suffer the consequences of our unrealistic expectations because they don't show gratitude in a human sense or in sufficient quantities (based on the amount a human would show) - they display gratitude by being happy cats, not by fawning. Pet cats have traits that humans find desirable: friendliness, playfulness, cuteness and dependence. These are retained juvenile (kittenhood) characteristics, since wild and feral adult cats are wary, independent and more solitary in nature. Despite selective breeding for physical traits and friendliness to humans, cats are behaviourally the same as their wild ancestors, but they have adapted their innate behaviours to suit a domestic situation. Owners rely on feline behaviour and body language for clues about its emotional state. In this respect, dogs are considered to be more expressive than cats. Dogs evolved elaborate systems for social communication in a pack; the human household is a surrogate pack, therefore dogs communicate with owners as they would other dogs. Dogs transfer their dog-to-dog social behaviours into dog-to-human communication. Many dog owners misinterpret the submissive or juvenile behaviour of a lower-ranking dog (towards its higher ranking owner) as affection. Cats are more solitary than dogs and have looser social structures (most often colonies centred around food sources). Like dogs they apply this to the household, but the feline social system is not based on pack hierarchies hence cats appear more aloof than dogs. Cats don't display the same range of submissive or appeasement behaviours because they don't live in hierarchical packs. Feline affection takes the form of rubbing, purring, head-butting, lap-sitting and interaction with the owner. It's easy for humans to misunderstand feline behaviours and intentions. Urinating on the bed is often thought to be "anger", "spite" or "vengeance" to punish an owner who has gone away for a few days. The
same is believed if a cat sprays the owner's suitcase when the owner returns from holiday. The suitcase carries lots of new smells, possibly smells of other animals, and the cat is simply over-spraying those smells with its own scent to reassert its ownership of suitcase. Some cats become nervous when the owner is away; urinating on the bed or the owner's favourite chair mixes the cat's scent with the owner's scents and is the cat's attempt to create a combined smell to deter possible intruders who might take advantage of the owner's absence (regardless of whether there is a cat flap or not). This is one reason the cat needs to meet a pet-sitter before the owner goes on holiday - otherwise it may regard the pet-sitter as a threat. The predatory instinct is hard-wired into the feline brain (electrical stimulation of a particular brain region triggers pouncing behaviour). Pet cats sometimes take prey home, either as a food gift for its surrogate family (in this respect the cat is relating to owners in the way a mother relates to kittens) or because the house is its den and hence a place to eat in safety and at leisure. THE FOUR BASIC BEHAVIOURS There is much argument as to whether animals experience emotions or are merely showing behavioural changes in response to their environment. Animal behaviourists recognise four basic behaviours which are found in most animals. These are termed "The Four Fs". These are the four basic instinctive responses which aid survival. Fight Flight (or hide) Feed (predation or foraging) F*** (mate or reproduce) - the crudity helps psychologists with the mnemonic (the polite mnemonic is fight, flight, feed, breed) The hormone adrenaline is a key player in these reactions. On encountering someone or something, the most immediate instinct is "Do I run away from it or stay and fight it?". This is a self-preservation reaction. If neither of those reactions is triggered, the next instinct is "Do I eat it? Do I mate with it?". If none of the 4 Fs apply the animal may exhibit curiosity or simply ignores the stimulus as irrelevant.
These behaviours can be modified through learning or conditioning. Cats will often ignore one another to avoid conflict. A cat raised alongside a rabbit may no longer have a "feed" response to that particular rabbit or to all rabbits. Pavlov demonstrated conditioning (learning) in his famous experiments where dogs
were taught to associate a sound with the presentation of food. After a while, the dogs reacted to the sound even when food was not presented. In humans, and probably in cats, these responses have two parallel routes through the brain. The "quick and dirty" route gives an instinctive, almost instant reaction. The "thinking" route takes slightly longer and modifies the animal's reaction. Learning affects the thinking route. For example most animals will bolt (flight reaction) at a loud noise close by; gundogs and police horses are trained to stand their ground though they may still show instinctive startlement. Four basic responses are sufficient for primitive animals. Humans, cats, dogs and other more advanced animals need more than four basic instincts if they are to cope with a rich and varied environment. A complex environment requires a greater complexity of response. Emotion contains both innate (hardwired) and learned (acquired from experience) components. Over a period of time, a cat might modify the innate fight/flight response to an initially threatening situation; for example, instead of fleeing from the vacuum cleaner, it might simply remove itself to a vantage point on a book case. The study of animal emotions generally defined in terms of an animal's adaptive and integrative functions (types of learning) rather than the physiology of emotions. This looks at how an animal's emotional states interact with its day-to-day functioning. Mental responses, in ourselves and in other animals, do not necessarily follow physiological reactions. For example, fearful rats have measurably higher levels of epinephrine levels; but injecting epinephrine into non-fearful rats does not make them fearful. Therefore there is a mental component involved and emotions are not induced by physiological changes alone. THE SIX BASIC RESPONSES What is the role of emotion in an animal's life? In the wild state, all behaviours and emotions improve the individual's chances of surviving and breeding, and therefore improve the chances of the whole species surviving. What we term "love" could be unromantically considered a type of attachment that bonds a breeding pair together (sometimes for the duration of the mating act, sometimes for a longer period), and bonds one or both parents to the offspring until the offspring can survive alone. "Love" therefore improves the survival prospects of the individuals (who look out for each other) and the species. Animals must adapt to a changing environment - the rate at which they need to adapt might be several lifetimes (in which case adaptation is through genetic variation) or a single lifetime (in which case learning and intelligence are essential). Evolutionary psychology is used to measure emotions that have changed over time and can be used to measure emotions that will help animals to survive in the future. Cats, like us, come into the world pre-equipped with a number of emotions that help them adapt and survive. In humans, there are 6 basic responses i.e. emotions which are rooted in our physiology (there were initially believed to be just 3 basic responses - fear, sorrow, joy - but recent research in humans has expanded the number to 6). These "primary emotions" involve lower brain stimulation and do not require cognition. They are hard-wired survival mechanisms for a very good reason - if we had to spend time learning these, we might well be killed before perfecting them as skills. These basic responses, or primary emotions, cause an instinctive response in our brains and bodies, not just in our minds. For example, when an object flies towards our faces we duck, even though we haven't identified the object. These emotions are linked to particular brain areas in humans or to hormonal or chemical responses. They are survival responses to protect us from adverse conditions and to make us seek out favourable conditions. Most are linked to our perception of comfort and discomfort. It is likely that cats have equivalent physiological responses to the same, or similar, stimuli. FEAR A self-preservation instinct. Fear leads to alertness, caution and possibly to flight. It prepares the body for flight or defence. Fear is the recognition of a potential danger rather than the instinctive (and possible energy wasting) flight from potential (rather than actual) danger. Fear allows the animal to assess how real or immediate the danger is and to take appropriate action (flight, freeze, hide, disregard etc). In the human context, originally this prevented us from eating contaminated food or coming into contact with filth. In modern humans it is also applied to other stimuli (the thought of doing something, an image
or a situation). It is an avoidance mechanism. In cats, whose livers are not good at dealing with toxins, the avoidance of stale food is probably caused by a similar mechanism. Cats rely on smell, taste and "disgust" to avoid tainted food. DESIRE (LUST) Associated with the basic mating urge without which we would not breed. Desire is associated with pheromones and body language; and causes chemical reactions in our own bodies when we experience it. It is associated with mate-seeking, assessment of a potential mate's suitability and courtship behaviour rather than just with copulation. A form of psychological discomfort experienced in non-ideal situations; it helps us to avoid non-ideal conditions. Humans have a wide range of sadness-emotions varying from grief, transient upsets and some forms of depression (a chemical disturbance in the brain) have symptoms like sadness. Cats exhibit depression in some situations and some cats have been reported as "inconsolable" when a close companion dies. Separation anxiety in cats and dogs may be partly due to the sadness mechanism. A form of psychological comfort/satisfaction experience. It helps us seek ideal conditions or repeat beneficial behaviours (eating, sex); chemical reactions are involved - feelgood chemicals are released in the brain. In cats it is most often seen as "contentment" and is also evident in cats and kittens during play. Play is a self-fulfilling behaviour which produces "happiness" by release of feelgood chemicals. A reaction to a non-ideal situation when we intend to fight; chemical reactions occur in the body as part of the fight or flight response. It can also result in displacement activities such as self-mutilation. Cats which are handled against their will exhibit obvious anger. Most vets are familiar with sheer feline fury though it is hard to distinguish "anger" from the "fight" reaction. "fight" is relatively transient; anger (a bad mood) does not pass so quickly (a cross cat will stay angry even when the stimulus is removed).
The feline sniff-and-sneer reaction is the Flehmen response to "taste-smell" something. A cat has an excellent sense of smell and can detect food which is stale or contains medication. Though the sneer looks like disgust (humans wrinkle their noses when disgusted), it is simply the way the cat's mouth is set to pass scent molecules over the Jacobsen's Organ. After flehming, the will take the appropriate response. Cats show fear and lust in response to the appropriate sights, sounds and smells, but love requires a degree of abstraction which cats probably do not possess. Lust is the mating urge, love is the emotional baggage which surrounds and tempers that urge in most humans. Humans have a wider range of emotions and the emotions which we share with cats are more refined in the human species. Physical and emotional pain have been studied in terms of an animal's body language, vocalisation, temperament, depression, locomotion, immobility, and clinical changes in cardiovascular, respiratory, nervous, and muscular systems. Awareness of these factors allows vets to administer pain relief to their patients appropriately. Veterinary procedures are ranked as having minor, moderate or severe effects on animals. RAGE
The "rage" network is closely connected to centres in the prefrontal cortex that anticipate rewards. The rage and reward circuits turn out to be intimately linked. Experiments in cats have shown that stimulating a cat's reward circuits gives it a feeling of intense pleasure. When the stimulation is withdrawn, the cat bites. This is a response to unfulfilled expectation and is known as the "frustration-aggression hypothesis". This might also explain why some cats lash out when being pleasurably groomed. This is usually explained as an anxiety response, but it is possible that pleasurable sensations overflow into the rage circuits and the cat automatically lashes out. FRUSTRATION Frustration is what happens when a basic emotion cannot be, or is not, fully expressed. It is generally viewed as an emotion in itself rather than a displacement of the initiating emotion. The build-up of physiological effects demands some sort of outlet. In territorial animals and birds there may be displacement activities such as shrieking, stamping, tearing vegetation (humans may cry in frustration) etc. These give alternative outlets for pent up energy. Frustration is what we feel when we cannot fully express ourselves or when the situation makes full expression impossible, impractical or unsafe. For a cat living in a human world there are many frustrations which it resolves as best it can. Many are resolved through modifying other behaviour through the learning or conditioning process. Cats are highly adaptable but they retain many wild instincts which need to be expressed e.g. hunting, territoriality. Frustration is often associated with a state of agitation or high emotion. Feline frustration is obvious when a cat watching prey from behind a window chatters its teeth. The teeth chattering is a frustrated form of the neck bit the cat would have used to kill the prey. A cat which has lost a fight to another cat may lash out at its owner or may flee from a familiar person. The cat's body is still full of adrenaline and primed for fight or flight. Any approach from even a familiar person may trigger a fear or fight response. Similarly, it may attack other cats in the household. Female cats with a frustrated maternal instinct may abduct and protect another cat's kittens, other small animals or kitten-like inanimate objects such as slippers. Cats are wild creatures at heart, designed and programmed for outdoor life. In modern indoor cats, an owner must provide a stimulating environment to reduce feline frustration. Playing provides an outlet for predatory behaviour and produces satisfaction in return. OTHER BASIC EMOTIONS Secondary emotions involve higher brain responses as they must be evaluated and the appropriate response determined. Secondary emotions are therefore more flexible. There are a number of other basic emotions which are recognised in humans and in cats. These produce physiological responses and are varying degrees of , or combinations of, the six basic emotions. These include (but are not limited to): STRESS Stress results from continued unhappiness where there is no escape from the stimulus. It affects the immune system, reducing the immune response. Continued elevation of adrenaline adversely affects other organs. Different animals have different stress levels. Some cats are nervous and more easily stressed than others. Also a form of continue unhappiness including unhappiness due to pain. The chemical effects in brain can lead to withdrawal to the point where the animal loses the will to live. Depression can override survival instincts. It is hard to think of euphoria in cats unless you have witnessed the effect of catnip. Not all cats are susceptible to a catnip high, but those that are exhibit a sort of drugged euphoria due to its effect on the brain.
ABSTRACT AND COMPLEX EMOTIONS At present, the more abstract emotions are believed to be human only. However, what we define as altruism, relief etc, may be our rationalisation of a emotion or a mixture of one or more basic emotions. When owners say their cats are jealous, they are trying to rationalise a feline emotion into human terms. Feline "jealousy" may be a response to any number of stimuli - the cat seeking to better its place in the household hierarchy or an opportunist or stronger cat competing for food or attention. The cat does not rationalise it in terms of "I am jealous of the other cat" or "I covet what the other cat has"; its feelings will be more along the line of "I am stronger or fitter than the other cat, I deserve to be dominant cat around here." Cats are not as strictly hierarchical as dogs, but where several cats live in a single household, they will establish a pecking order. Is kitty really being bloody-minded or mean (in the American sense of mean-spirited, in Britain "mean" means "miserly"!). Is he really sulking or punishing you? If you have been absent, your cat may take a while to become reaccustomed to your presence - your return has altered the hierarchy again and he is not certain of its own position until the owner-cat (a sort of cat-kitten) bond is re-established. Is he punishing you? Very unlikely - that is a human interpretation of the cat's actions. Sulking? That may be as good a description as any - he may avoid interacting with you until the household has settled down into a pattern of behaviour again. Look at it from the cat's viewpoint: Trigger: Fight or Flight Response Do I run away? No. Unless I am a very nervous cat or my owner has unusual scents about him or makes unusual sounds. No. Owner has returned.
Do I fight? Food or Mate Response Do I feed? Do I mate with him/her?
No, my owner is not a food item. No. I have been neutered and in any case, s/he doesn't smell like a suitable mate for me.
Learned responses My surrogate parent/surrogate littermate has returned I am curious I will greet enthusiastically with submissive actions (rolling on back) or play actions appropriate to my status as a kitten. I will investigate and greet him/her. Interpreted as "pleased to see me" by owner. No action is required so I shall do nothing. Interpreted as sulking/punishment by owner.
S/He is no threat, is not food and is not a mate.
AFFECTION Cats show obvious pleasure in company of a familiar person, often a modified cat/kitten relationship. The presence of a companion/caregiver (surrogate parent) produces happiness (a basic emotion).. In the
domestic setting, most cats adopt a kitten role, allowing us to groom them, play with them and provide food and warmth. By demonstrating their happiness (which we term "affection") they reinforce the catowner bond and ensure a continued supply of companionship and care. Mother cats show affection towards their kittens. This is part of maternal care. Male cats have been known to show affection to their mates and towards their own kittens - this is similar to the behaviour of lions towards their own cubs (but not towards unrelated cubs).. There is little doubt that most pet cats enjoy the company of their humans and give affection in return. Those who deny that cats can be affectionate should analyse exactly what it is that makes humans affectionate. The underlying causes of affection are actually very similar! GRIEF Grief is the result of abrupt or unexpected severing of attachment. Cats are aware that a familiar person/cat is absent and may search for that person/cat. It may change an established hierarchy as well as being the absence of a familiar companion. It might not be grief in the human term, but the sudden absence of something familiar is distressing to many cats. Mother cats whose kittens were taken away and destroyed often looked for their kittens for many days, all the while pacing and crying out. As well as the physical pain of engorged mammary glands, the cats displayed mental pain. The absence of a familiar part of the environment causes sadness. The continued absence of that person or thing can lead to stress. In the context of a bereavement, this stress is termed grief. Humans often have elaborate or ritualised ways of dealing with their grief. Cats may become withdrawn or, at the other extreme, over-attached. As with affection, humans must analyse exactly what causes and sustains human grief before arguing that animals do not feel a comparable emotion. Grief is a reaction to the sudden absence of something or someone which caused happiness/satisfaction. The major difference is that cats show grief for someone who has been a close companion while humans show grief for a distant relative or at the death of a public figure. Cats simply lack the abstraction (and the memory capacity) that allows humans to grieve for someone we have never met or who has been absent from our life for a prolonged period of time. I have personal experience of a pair of cats whose owner had died. The cats refused to eat while in the shelter. To reduce stress, they were fostered in a household and the vet prescribed appetite stimulants. One cat recovered but remained withdrawn for a long period of time. The other continued to pine and became critically ill until it had to be euthanized (prolonged fasting results in hepatic lipidosis or fatty liver disease). Its behaviour was so severely affected that the foster carer considered force-feeding unsuitable; the cat had no interest in life. Post mortem showed no sign of disease except for that caused by failure to eat. There is one instance where a streetwise cat was believed to have committed suicide by deliberately walking in front of a truck a few days after the owner had died; however the cat's motives cannot be verified. Humans have long been believed to be the only creatures that cry in sorrow or grief. There is some evidence that other animals form tears when in physical or emotional distress. Cats may express grief through nightmares (quite possibly a dream of the missing person has been replaced by wakefulness and the abrupt realisation that the person has gone). One of my cats, Sappho, had repeated nightmares after the traumatic death of the owner in the cat's presence. Sappho woke up whimpering and fearful from sleep and required physical reassurance from me. If this happened at night, she actually climbed into bed and hid as far down the bed as possible, crying out (initially at a rate of one vocalisation per second) until her fear and grief subsided. COMPREHENSION OF DEATH (BEREAVEMENT) Cat appear to comprehend a state of someone not being alive - body temperature changes, smell changes etc. Whether they make the link between a corpse and someone previously alive is not certain, but many cats stop looking for an absent companion after being shown the body of a deceased companion. Therefore cats probably have some comprehension that something dead cannot become alive again. The display of grief in cats is due to the absence of someone familiar. In humans it is, in part, due to the realisation that we will never see that person alive again i.e. to our understanding of the permanence of death.
PLEASURE Pleasure appears to be an abstracted form of happiness/satisfaction which persists after the original stimulus has gone or which is felt in anticipation of an event. In many contexts, pleasure is a synonym for happiness/satisfaction. Pleasure can also occur through memory and through anticipation. SENSE OF HUMOR This is a tricky topic. The "smile" on a cat's face is due to conformation of its muzzle. A cat "smiles" with its eyes and with its tail. Observant owners soon learn to distinguish a cat's "happy face" from its "sad face". Cats do not tell jokes (certainly not that we know off) but they do engage in clownish behaviour. A cat can suspend its adult behaviour and revert to kitten behaviour . Scientists used to believe that a cat playing with its own reflection in a mirror or with a TV image is unable to distinguish an image from reality. Many still think that way. Pet cats learn very early on that reflections and TV are "not real". This doesn't stop them making use of them as play objects. Batting a moving object is instinctive. Batting a picture on a TV is a safe outlet for hunting behaviour, but the cat doesn't expect to catch the object (unless it has never encountered the TV before). Inexperienced cats and kittens expect to find the reflection cat behind the mirror. When the image puffs its tail and hisses (albeit silently) back at them, they may become startled. After a few unsuccessful checks behind the mirror (and the lack of any scent of the "other cat"), they accept the image as a plaything. Even experienced cats will occasionally search behind a mirror or TV in case the pretend prey has emerged from it. It doesn't really expect to find anything, but it is always worthwhile checking just in case! Suspension of disbelief in this way is sometimes considered to be the feline sense of humour. It is an outlet for predatory behaviour and it results in happiness. Whether it is genuinely humour is debatable. Some of the play tactics are interpreted as a sense of humour e.g. jumping out of hiding at the owner or onto a cat companion. This is play and is practice of the cat's ambush hunting technique rather than a practical joke. A cat which engages in clownish behaviour has learnt that its behaviour results in a reward from the owner - food, attention, physical contact etc. This reward leads to happiness/satisfaction for the cat, therefore the behaviour is repeated. If it is a sense of humour, it is one which has been conditioned (albeit unwittingly) into the cat. EMBARRASSMENT At first this seems like another tricky abstract emotion. A cat which clumsily falls off a shelf and acts differently according to whether the owner is watching or whether the owner is believed to be out of sight is thought to be showing embarrassment.. Embarrassment in humans is associated with potential loss of face, loss of status or loss of respect (these are all related, but modified by culture and circumstances). The loss of status may be permanent or temporary. A cat is not only a predator, it is also prey for larger animals. In addition it is programmed to fight other cats for its territory and for mates. If it shows any indication of weakness, it may be challenged by a younger or fitter rival and ousted from its territory. For this reason, many cats hide signs of illness, injury and pain. A cat which has fallen off a shelf in plain sight will pretend the event has not happened i.e. that it has not shown any weakness. A human may make excuses for why a similar human mishap happened (the ledge was icy or slippery); this is simply a human way of saving face. Cats speak with their bodies and an "embarrassed" cat will most often sit down and wash nonchalantly - cat speak for "nothing has happened"! JEALOUSY "The cat will be jealous of the new baby and harm it!" "My cat is jealous of the kitten and keeps urinating on the bed!" "Tiddles sulked and moved next door." Jealousy and sulking are human emotions. A cat is protective of its territory and defends it. Unless a newcomer is carefully introduced so that it is accepted as a "family member", a territorial fight/flight
response is triggered. Few cats respond to a new arrival with enthusiasm. We must understand how a cat views the world about it and to understand how it is responding rather than interpreting feline reactions as human-like emotions. When a newcomer arrives, the owner's attention is suddenly divided. The cat receives less attention. The newcomer may receive a disproportionate amount of attention. There are new smells and sounds and a bewildering change in routine and environment. Its relationship with the owner changes. Things become unfamiliar or stressful and the cat may become unhappy or depressed. Urination on the bed (or elsewhere) is an attempt to scent mark territory in an attempt to repel an intruder. By mixing its scent with the owner's scent, the cat is saying "My clan own this territory". When a child gets scratched it is rarely an attack by the cat. Most often the child (who is unable to read cat body language) has made a "threatening" move (grabbing fur, pulling tail) and the cat has responded to the perceived threat. After one or two such encounters the cat usually gives the child a wide berth until the child learns to behave more considerately. The owner's reaction confuses the cat. The child has molested it. The cat has swatted the child. The child cries. The parent consoles the child and chastises the cat. The child's behaviour is reinforced; the cat's behaviour is punished. In feline terms, the newcomer is ousting the cat from its territory. The "defeated" cat may remove itself from the situation; this is interpreted as sulking or the result of jealousy. Some parents are so over-protective that a curious cat which sniffs a baby is interpreted as a jealous cat about to attack. With a little consideration for feline behaviour and emotions, introductions can be managed carefully to avoid these cat/human misunderstandings. Cats respond to the situation according to their more limited range of emotions; jealousy and vengefulness are human, not feline, emotions. SO - DO THEY HAVE FEELINGS? Cats and other animals have feelings. However their feelings must be interpreted in the context of their own physical needs and their own environment. They have a more limited range of feelings than humans and their reaction to environmental stimuli is different to humans, but they show many responses indicative of emotions. Although I have used the term "programmed", to reduce cats to little more than pre-programmed machines with a finite set of available reactions would be wrong. Those who deny that cats, or other animals, are entirely lacking in feelings do this to justify their own treatment of animals rather than through any true understanding of those animals. Rather than attribute full human feelings to cats, it is better to understand how cats perceive the world and to adjust our behaviour to accommodate their physical and emotional needs as best we can.
Can Cats Feel Emotion?
Many cat enthusiasts have long believed that their pets feel emotions. Six behaviorists share their opinions.
Based on feline physiology, it's probably realistic to assume cats feel emotions, John C. Wright, Ph.D., said. Cats are mammals, they have brain structures, and the way their brain works is similar to the way the human brain works, he continued. Wayne Hunthausen, DVM, believes cats feel emotions. Although there is no way to tell for sure without talking to the cat, he says that in certain situations, their behaviors might be similar to how we would behave in that situation. Cat therapist Carole Wilbourn said cats definitely have emotions. "They can express different moods happiness, sadness, rage that let me know. A cat acts the way it feels."
Cats feel every emotion humans feel, animal behaviorist Warren Eckstein said. "They may not react the same way, but they definitely feel the same emotions we feel." On a less definitive note, Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D., said cats probably experience emotions, but we can only infer from their behavior. Cats feel emotions "but not necessarily in the same way we think of them," Debra Horowitz, DVM, DACVB, said. "There are emotional aspects to their behavior." "A lot of problems arise," Eckstein said, "when owners don't realize the cat has a range of emotions and don't know how to react to the cat when it might be feeling anxious or depressed." These are emotions that he feels are common in cats. "When you take a cat into a home, you have to treat it like part of the family." One of the hardest things for cat owners to understand is their pets' behavior. Wilbourn said certain behaviors express a cat's happiness, such as purring and relaxing their bodies. Dr. Hunthausen said fear is expressed through opposite actions, such as withdrawal and avoidance. Cat owners are prone to ascribing human emotion to their cat's behavior. Dr. Hetts urges owners to use caution when doing this, because the interpretation of the animal's behavior may lead to punishing animals because they are convinced the animal acted out of spite, which is most likely not the case. Wilbourn noted that a cat isn't a person, but people and cats share emotions.
Cats and Emotions
Cats feel five basic emotions: Fear, Grief, Jealousy, Anger and Love. This is being proved by neurobiologists and behavior observationists in current research studies. What does this mean for the cat owner? As cat owners, we experience these kitty emotions first-hand. Science is just finally proving what we've always known.
When there is a storm or our cat awakens suddenly, she experiences fear. When a stranger comes into our home, when a dog chases our cat, she experiences fear. Every time the carrier comes out, Princess used to run for cover. She had such a traumatic trip to me, that she was totally traumatized each time she has to go to the vet. It's still hard to take care of her medical needs, but she is a lot better than she used to be. While a visitor cat was here last week, the carrier was in the living room in case he needed a place to hide or to find solitude. He never used it, and Princess stayed in a chair the whole time he was here. I'm sure she ate, used the litter box and such, but she wanted nothing to do with that cat or the carrier, so she hid. When I found her, I stroked her and scratched behind her ears while saying soothing, loving things to her. She still wouldn't move. She was afraid. She is afraid of thunder, fast moving feet, my recliner, strangers or friends who come to visit, being in the kitchen with me and many other things. She is terrified if I pick her up. She was damaged both physically and emotionally during her trip to me. I don't know all the things that happened, but I know enough that I give her a lot of space to heal. A cat I know is grieving for his deceased person. That person was quite elderly when she passed. The cat seemed to do fine for a while, and then stopped eating; seeming to will himself to die. He is grieving. Cats become very attached to their person, and that person is as unique to the cat as the cat is to the person. There is a bond between them that is not
duplicated by the best possible care. Cats grieve. When I brought Princess into my home, Beasley was extremely jealous. He still is. Since my last trip out of town, he seems to be better, but he used to leave whenever she was getting scratches and cuddles. It even got so extreme for a while, that if he was on the bed and she jumped up, he would immediately leave. Now, he just turns his back so he doesn't have to watch. I think it has to do with a visitor cat we fostered for a few days on his trip to his new home. Beasley and Princess now know that we will occasionally have other cats come to visit, but that they are my family. They also missed me a lot, since I left with that cat, was gone overnight and came home late the next day - without the cat. In fact, the carrier is still in my car. I see no reason to bring it in.
Beasley and Princess feel love. So did Napoleon, Oscar, Squeaky, Simone, JinJin and Curious, Toni, Midnight, Scunch, Cabbit, Capone, Fatty Cat and Rugrat. These are just some of the cats I've known in my life, and they all loved me in their own way. The hardest to lose for me was Oscar, because he had been with me for thirteen years, and was so sickly his entire life. The other one I really miss is Squeaky. I felt such a responsibility to him because of what his life had been like before he came to me, that I really hated to give him up. In some ways, it was harder to give up Squeaky than to put Oscar down.
Cats get angry. They get vengeful and get even. Cats think. They are possessive, territorial, very emotional beings. They are usually pretty smart. I've met some not-so-smart cats, but they all survived kittenhood and made it into cathood. They learned how to eat, use the litter box, fight their littermates, clean themselves, and cajole humans into providing all the cuddling they wanted. So cats have some pretty neat mental skills. They are hard-wired and soft-wired to do some amazing things. I know that cats have emotions. I know that you as a cat lover, know that they have emotions. Cats also dream. They whimper, hiss, twitch and growl in their sleep. I think that science hasn't caught up to this, yet. But, in all fairness, they have to satisfy objective empirical tests; and as cat lovers, we do not. We can take our subjective experiences and proceed as if things were the exactly perfect the way they are. I, for one, prefer my way to science in this instance. While I do like being validated by science; with cats, it is not really neccessary.
Cats manipulate your emotions with their purring
July 13, 2009 You know that special kind of purring your cat does in the morning that clearly says “Hey, get up NOW and feed me!” A scientist in the UK wondered about that special type of purring, and did a study.
The results of the study? Turns out that cats are able to identify the kind of purring sounds that elicit the best response from their humans. It’s the kind that sounds most like a crying human baby. And once your cats figure out what sound you respond best to, they use that type of sound. This probably isn’t surprising to animal lovers. But it’s always nice when researchers confirm these things. So we aren’t crazy and just projecting onto our pets… …It’s true: our pets actually ARE manipulating us.
Cat owners may have suspected as much, but it seems our feline friends have found a way to manipulate us humans. Researchers at the University of Sussex have discovered that cats use a "soliciting purr" to overpower their owners and garner attention and food. Unlike regular purring, this sound incorporates a "cry", with a similar frequency to a human baby's. The team said cats have "tapped into" a human bias - producing a sound that humans find very difficult to ignore. Dr Karen McComb, the lead author of the study that was published in the journal Current Biology, said the research was inspired by her own cat, Pepo. "He would wake me up in the morning with this insistent purr that was really rather annoying," Dr McComb told BBC News. "After a little bit of investigation, I discovered that there are other cat owners who are similarly bombarded early in the morning." While miaowing might get a cat expelled from the bedroom, Dr McComb said that this pestering purr often convinced beleaguered pet lovers to get up and fill their cat's bowl. To find out why, her team had to train cat owners to make recordings of their own cats' vocal tactics - recording both their "soliciting purrs" and regular, "non-soliciting" purrs. "When we played the recordings to human volunteers, even those people with no experience of cats found the soliciting purrs more urgent and less pleasant," said Dr McComb. How annoying? She and her team also asked the volunteers to rate the different purrs - giving them a score based on how urgent and pleasant they perceived them to be. "We could then relate the scores back to the specific purrs," explained Dr McComb. "The key thing (that made the purrs more unpleasant and difficult to ignore) was the relative level of this embedded high-frequency sound." "When an animal vocalises, the vocal folds (or cords) held across the stream of air snap shut at a particular frequency," explained Dr McComb. The perceived pitch of that sound depends on the size, length and tension of the vocal folds.
Impossible to resist: Cats use sounds
that humans are "highly sensitive" to
"But cats are able to produce a low frequency purr by activating the muscles of their vocal folds - stimulating them to vibrate," explained Dr McComb. Since each of these sounds is produced by a different mechanism, cats are able to embed a high-pitched cry in an otherwise relaxing purr. "How urgent and unpleasant the purr is seems to depend on how much energy the cat puts into producing that cry," said Dr McComb. Previous studies have found similarities between a domestic cat's cry and the cry of a human baby - a sound that humans are highly sensitive to. Dr McComb said that the cry occurs at a low level in cats' normal purring. "But we think that (they) learn to dramatically exaggerate it when it proves effective in generating a response from humans." She added that the trait seemed to most often develop in cats that have a one-on-one relationship with their owners. "Obviously we don't know what's going on inside their minds," said Dr McComb. "But they learn how to do this, and then they do it quite deliberately." So how does Dr McComb feel about Pepo now she knows he has been manipulating her all these years? "He's been the inspiration for this whole study, so I'll forgive him - credit where credit's due." Pet ownership is at an all time high Nearly 50 percent of pet owners consider their companion animals to be a part of the family Pet ownership is at an all time high. Nearly 50 percent of pet owners consider their companion animals to be a part of the family. Many people report that their pets sleep with them. The human-animal bond field has gained momentum in recent years. In fact the University of Denver announced in January of 2008 the establishment of an endowed university chair dedicated to studying the bond between humans and animals. It has not always been this way. Historically, animals served primarily a utilitarian purpose in people''s lives. Mules pulled plows, and dogs protected the farm. Cats lived in the barn, ate rodents, and drank milk. However, over the past century, in the United States, animals have entered our everyday life. How does the bond with a cat actually form? The bond can be formed in weeks, months, or years. It evolves and changes over time. Sometimes a connection is made in just days. Have you ever agreed to take care of a stray cat for a couple of days until the owner is identified? Or have you ever fed a stray cat in your backyard thinking the cat will probably disappear in a day or two? Or have you ever rescued a kitten off the streets with the intentions of taking it to a shelter the next day? What often happens (fortunately for the cat and for you!) is you become connected in a short time. You and other family members become emotionally involved. Maybe you spend time and energy picking out food, toys, and litter. You do everything to make the cat comfortable in your home or yard, especially if the cat has been traumatized. You look forward to coming home to see the cat. You have cat names going through your mind. Maybe you even let the cat sleep in your room or in your bed.
With the first mention of taking the cat to a shelter, the family disagrees. Perhaps the conversation never even reaches that point, because everyone forgets about giving up the cat. That is because the cat has touched you on some level and is becoming part of you. It will be impossible for you to give up a cat that is becoming family. Here are five specific ways the human-animal bond can evolve with your cat through your time commitment: 1. Fun Loving Time ? Playing with the cat, paying attention to her, and playing her games help establish a connection between the two of you. My cat, Lexie Lee, has many toys for playtime, but her favorite one has three brightly colored feathers suspended on a string from the end of a flexible pole. Lexie Lee is a natural for this game. My role is easy. All I have to do is hold the pole and swing it around at varying speeds and heights while she feverishly tries to catch the feathers ? which she does quite often. Sometimes, she grabs the feathers in her mouth and pulls them to the floor. Other times, she uses her paw to capture them. She leaps high in the air, spins around 360 degrees, and turns summersaults! I store the toy in the pantry and whenever I open the door, she suddenly appears and is ready for playtime.
2. Quiet Time ? To contrast from the fun and games, you can build quiet time into your relationship with your cat. You can curl up in your favorite spot, and it probably won''t be long until your furry friend joins you. You can snuggle together, talk softly, and caress the cat. Maybe you will take a catnap together! For example, one of my beloved cats, Tatianna, loved to crawl in my lap the minute I sat down in the living room rocker to enjoy morning tea. She would stay there for as long as I remained in the chair. That moment is how we started and shared the early morning together for sixteen years. 3. Affectionate Time ? A pat on the head, a scratch behind the ears, or a jubilant welcome home are appreciated gestures to show your cat affection. I play this wacky game with Lexie Lee each time I come home. It goes like this. We greet each other at the door where I drop my bags. I rub her on the head. Then we proceed up the stairs. She zooms past me, passing quickly through the kitchen on the way to the living room. She pauses for a moment for me to catch up; then we race simultaneously to the couch. I flop down on the couch at the same time that Lexie Lee flies onto the coffee table, rearranging the tablecloth. I pat my chest and she jumps onto my chest, stretches out flat, and gazes into my eyes. We look forward to this affectionate moment every day. 4. Consistent Time ? An established routine can foster the feline-human bond. Being fed at a certain time, getting up at the same time every morning, or being groomed every evening provides consistency and stability for your animal. The cat quickly catches on to what is supposed to happen when these times of the day roll around. Another one of my beloved cats, Katarina, always waited patiently until I got out of bed. But the moment my feet hit the floor, she started wildly meowing and knew exactly what to expect. Morning after morning for almost seventeen years, we headed to the kitchen for her breakfast. She could always count on it! 5. Concern or Crisis Time ? When your cat is hurt or sick or dealing with a terminal illness, you can grow closer. You can often tell by the way the cat looks at you that she senses you are trying to help. Being the caregiver of six cats in my life has given me numerous opportunities in times of trouble to develop the bond more deeply. I remember a stray cat appearing on my property and slowly working its way into my heart over several months. But one afternoon when I came home from work, the black cat met me at the front door limping. Upon closer examination, I discovered she had been in a fight. Well, that was just the beginning of the story! She was taken to the veterinarian, and I medicated the sores until she was healed. This moment of concern accelerated the intensity of our bond. Shortly thereafter, the black stray moved
inside and was named Marnie! Each cat passes your way leaving a series of unique influences and impressions. By regularly committing time to engage in fun loving games, quiet moments, affectionate gestures, consistent routines, and critical care, you will build a deep and meaningful relationship with your cat. Linda A. Mohr is the award-winning author of Tatianna ? Tales and Teachings of My Feline Friend and Catnip Connection blog for Seattle Press-Intelligencer, a professor at Northwood University, and the cofounder of Pet Apothecary. She is a member of Cat Writers? Association with human-animal bond expertise. Visit Linda Mohr or Catnip Connection.
Why is the bond so strong and what goes wrong when cats become overdependent or under-attached? Vicky Halls - a report from FAB Conference 2000
We all know someone who we think is slightly 'over-the-top' in the way they behave towards their cat (not counting ourselves of course!) but it is usually harmless fun that gives pleasure to both the cat and the owner. However, occasionally these relationships can cause problems, particularly when either the cat or the human or both become 'over-attached'. Over-attachment could be defined as 'having an emotional bond with a pet that is so intense that it is detrimental to the physical and psychological wellbeing of either the human or the animal'. These are mainly 'behind closed doors relationships' that many of us will never fully appreciate or understand. Veterinary practices may see the aftermath of over-attachment problems when the animal dies or is euthanased and the owner is unable to cope. Some people exhibit extreme emotion and tend not to progress through the stages of grieving in the usual way which leads to acceptance of the loss. The over-attachment may itself have been a result of an unresolved emotional trauma in the owner's life. These relationships are sometimes not about the cat at all. My job as a cat behaviour counsellor means I see a lot of cases on referral from vets in the South East of England. The bulk of my work involves indoor urination/defecation, urine spraying, aggression etc, and only about 10 per cent of cases relate to behavioural problems caused by over-attachment. The most common presentation is unusual cat/owner responses on both sides. For example, a slightly incompetent and nervous cat goes to live with a caring, solicitous, emotional owner the result can be learned helplessness in the cat and over-attachment. The other scenario tends to be highly intelligent, sensitive cat (eg, Siamese, Burmese) meets caring, solicitous, emotional owner resulting in undesirable attention-seeking behaviours and over-attachment. Is there a particular type of person that finds themselves in this predicament? In my caseload of over-attachment problems there are elements that these cases have in common. Of course all of us will recognise something of ourselves in some of the categories and that is only to be expected. However over-attachment problems occur when many of the elements occur together. Common elements in over-attachment cases • • • • • • • • Owners are women. Owners live alone or with a partner or companion with whom they spend little time. Owners have been or are on Prozac or similar psychotropic drug or have been treated for a psychological problem, or experienced a bereavement or divorce. Owners are anthropomorphic about their cats (refer to their cats as if human). Many conducted the consultation by talking to the cat rather than make eye contact with me. Owners didn't go on holiday or visit friends or family overnight because they didn't want to leave their cat. Cats are kept exclusively indoors or allowed restricted access to outdoors under supervision for reasons of 'safety' owners worry that their cat would be exposed to unacceptable dangers if he or she were to go outside. Many referred to themselves as being perfectionists, eager to please and desperate to do the right thing. Lives often revolved around the daily requirements of their cat. If working, owners made incredible provisions for the wellbeing of their pet during their absence and they couldn't wait to return home.
This information is volunteered to me. It may or may not be relevant. However, knowing the intensity of emotional dependence is vital if a behaviourist needs to tell a person that she needs to change her relationship with her beloved cat. Often on initial discussion where a bonding problem is suspected, owners will be asked to keep a diary of interactions and of the problem for a couple of weeks before the appointment. This can be very helpful in highlighting the issues.
These are a few genuine examples: • One lady left the heating on all night in case the cat got cold and stayed awake for most of it because it was too hot to sleep. One lady placed seven bowls of food down every day with different varieties in case the cat wasn't in the mood for one particular variety on that particular day. Many of these owners kept their cats in 24 hours a day for fear of some harm coming to them, even though they desperately wanted to go out. One lady got up at 3 am to cook fish because that was when the cat asked for it. One lady put an Elizabethan collar on her cat permanently and kept it in a tiny 10 foot x10 foot room because it had scratched its ear 18 months previously and she was concerned that it might hurt itself if it got out of the room or out of its Elizabethan collar and started scratching again.
• • •
Many such people are in desperate need of something to care for and something to love and they all have different life experiences and different genes that have made them all very unique individuals. To an extent we all have some similar, but perhaps not so extreme, elements such as these in our own relationships with other people or pets. A behaviourist is not there to judge but to try and help.
Here are a few examples of the sort of case I see and the techniques used to resolve the problem that the over-attachment or under- attachment has caused. Written down, the programmes themselves look relatively simple. However, the most challenging aspect is to get people to listen to you and trust you enough to change the way they behave towards their beloved pets. The cases can be very time-consuming because owners may need a great deal of emotional support after the consultation to fulfil the programme that is put in place. CHICHESTER It is not uncommon for cats to manipulate interaction with their owners by using various attention-seeking methods. Although usually seen as a territorial or anxiety-related behaviour, spraying urine is an extremely effective way of getting attention! This is seen mainly in Siamese, Burmese and other highly intelligent and sensitive Oriental breeds. Such as case was Chichester, a four-year-old male neutered Oriental. Chichester lived with three other cats and his owner, Lucy. He had a cat flap to allow access to outdoors but this was shut at night and when Lucy wasn't in `for safety reasons'. Lucy also fed a stray in the garden. Chichester had virtually nothing to do with the other cats in the household which were less reactive and more independent; they just tolerated each other without being particularly sociable. Chichester was fed a wide variety of proprietary sachet foods and Iams dried complete cat food and M&S chicken breasts cooked every day. He had an unremarkable medical history. He was Lucy's favourite cat, since she felt he needed her more than the others did. He slept in the bed with her every night. Problem behaviour Approximately 18 months previously, Chichester had started spraying urine indoors and this behaviour progressed until he sprayed all over the house and usually in front of Lucy. She felt it corresponded with him wanting attention from her. He had also developed a fussy appetite. Explanation The combination of a very loving, over-protective owner and an intelligent highly sociable and manipulative cat had created an intense relationship. Chichester constantly approached Lucy for all his interaction and stimulation. His requirements for attention had increased since she had shut the cat flap and deprived him of other activities. The stray cat had come into the house through the cat flap and it is likely that Chichester started spraying in response to that. However, his behaviour had then taken a sinister twist when he learnt that Lucy's response to his spraying was attention. He had also learned that his frustration was diffused when he sprayed, so if Lucy was talking to someone and her response was not immediate, a quick spray of urine would solve both the attention-seeking and the frustration. Behaviour modification programme Lucy had to try and control her concern for Chichester and understand that while he continued to be constantly focusing on her, it was just as disruptive and stressful for him as it was for her. She was asked to stop feeding the stray cat as any further contact could lead to an acceleration of Chichester 's problem. A magnetically controlled cat flap would prevent other cats coming in again. Chichester's spraying was more evident when the flap was shut at night or during the day, so we discussed leaving the flap open. Lucy always used to leave the flap open but he had got into someone's car one day through an open window and the driver had driven off before realising he was there. It was suggested that, if she was worried, she put a mailshot through her neighbours' doors to ask them to check
their cars. This seemed to satisfy her sufficiently to follow this instruction. Lucy was to feed all the cats twice daily and leave biscuits down all the time for ad lib feeding. There was a lot of food wasted in the household because she offered such a variety. A strict feeding plan listing actual quantities for all the cats was put into action. Lucy was asked to ignore Chichester if he sprayed urine or was overly demanding. All interaction in future would be on her instigation rather than his. When he was quiet and good, she was asked to reward with love and praise. She was warned about the frustration factor when Chichester didn't get what he wanted initially, he would try harder. Asking over-attached owners to ignore their pets is the most difficult task they will probably ever perform. There has to be no eye contact, no verbal communication and a closed body language that is unfamiliar to the cat so that the signal is clear and can be understood. Friends were to come round as regularly as possible and play with Chichester using a fishing rod toy. A cleaning regime for sprayed areas was advised; a surgical spirit wipe down and Feliway (a synthetic version of feline facial pheromones) sprayed over the site. Outcome Opening the cat flap had a profound effect on Chichester. There was so much to see and do outside that his approaches to Lucy reduced instantly. Although he was always around when she came home, neighbours reported that he had been out and about during the day. He was remarkably quick at realising that Lucy meant business with her withdrawal of attention. The key to the success of the programme was consistency in Lucy's non-reward of Chichester's behaviour. The occasional weakening and gesture towards him would have made it difficult to extinguish the behaviour since it would have represented a very tempting regime of intermittent reinforcement - gamblers will tell you how addictive random reward can be! Lucy started to go to Chichester when she wanted affection and not vice versa, she socialised more with her friends because she was not afraid of leaving him at home and she even developed better relationships with her other cats. GEORGE Under-attachment can also be a problem for some people, but it is a very subjective issue since one man's under-attached cat is another man's normal independent moggy. One case that was actually referred for an aggression problem illustrates this point. George was a two-year-old male neutered British Shorthair. He lived with his owners and two teenage children in a large two storey house. George had access to outdoors but would only go out if the family were out or it was warm. He had a good appetite and was fed Iams dry cat food and Whiskas tinned food four times a day. He loved to play with fur mice and the children threw these around the house for him. He was very unsociable with people and withdrew from any physical contact. He was wary of strangers and jumped at sudden non-verbal noises. Problem behaviour Ever since he was a kitten he had attacked people's feet, usually after playing with one of his fur mice. When he was young it was considered amusing, in fact the family were thrilled that the cat showed some interest in them and actively encouraged it. The pattern continued but his bites and scratches became painful as he got older and stronger. They had eventually stopped playing with him completely. Explanation George was very unsociable in character but he also lacked confidence which prevented him from filling his day with lots of challenging activities. When he did play a game he got over-excited and hurt people. This had become a learned behaviour as a result of the family rewarding it so much when he was a kitten. The family felt that George wasn't a member of the family and frankly they couldn't see what purpose there was in his being there and this was the main problem. He didn't interact with them at all now since they had stopped playing with him. The goal was for the family to get pleasure from him and vice versa in a positive non-harmful way. Behaviour modification programme The first change was George's feeding regime the idea was to make him work a bit harder for his food. The majority of his dry food was placed in various locations throughout the conservatory; quite obvious places at first so that he got the hang of it, and then in more hidden spots. The teenage children were enlisted to build a cardboard assault course with lots of hiding places for food and catnip. They re-assembled his old activity centre that they had stopped using when George was about six-months-old and added bits on to give him a high vantage point to watch the birds outside on the bird table. The games he so enjoyed would now take place on the end of a long bamboo cane so that the owners were remote from the game and their feet were so far away that they were no longer a target. George was fascinated by running water so they installed an indoor fountain in the conservatory which he loved. Outcome As he became more and more enthusiastic about life in general and all the new activities, George's confidence increased. After about three weeks, as instructed, his owners left the conservatory door open one day very casually and allowed him to make his mind up whether or not he went out. He did, tentatively at first and at his own pace with no intervention from his owners.
George improved enormously and the aggression disappeared overnight. The family felt more affectionate towards him because he appeared lively and relaxed in their presence. George was not being subjected to human contact against his will but discovering for himself how rewarding interaction with humans could be. It was just a matter of time before he explored the possibilities of direct tactile contact. BF The next case relates to a cat called BF, a sad example of overattachment/bonding problems on the part of the cat and not the owner and an illustration that not all cases have a happy ending. BF was a one-year-old domestic shorthair castrated male. He was taken in by the Cats Protection at 10-weeks-old along with a litter mate. At the age of five months he was rehomed with another kitten one month older to a couple who were out at work during the day. All was well until, at the age of nine months, he went missing for a week. When he returned he started to defecate when he greeted his owners in the evening. The owners returned him to the Cats Protection. He then lived at a Cats Protection foster home with the lady who socialised him originally and he spent his time partly outside in a cat pen and partly in the family home. Problem behaviour BF paced and vocalised continuously in his pen or when he was not with his owner and he defecated when he saw her, even on her feet. The faeces appeared to be voided without conscious control (no loose motions) and the act was proceeded by vigorous rubbing around the owner's legs. When he was close to her he hyperventilated and appeared overexcited. He even used to try and climb up her clothing to place his head inside her mouth! He never stopped actively seeking her company and he never appeared still or relaxed. His attentions were definitely focused on this one person. Explanation BF was suffering from a severe bonding disorder. Unfortunately it is not clear what his motivation was for this behaviour. It may have been frustration and fearful insecurity or a bizarre form of attention-seeking behaviour which had received inadvertent reinforcement from the owner. It may also have been a clinical problem, eg, a neurochemical excess or insufficiency. Behaviour modification programme His vet put him on clomipramine hydrochloride (licensed for use in dogs as Clomicalm to treat anxiety-related problems) at 0.5mg/kg bodyweight with no obvious effect. An increase to 1mg/kg coincided or caused an increase in the intensity of the symptoms. A programme of other people interacting with him together with stimulation and interesting feeding opportunities (he had a big appetite) resulted in his starving himself for two days rather than exploring the possibility of obtaining his food in a novel way. The next plan was to try and introduce a diet high in B6 and tryptophan, an amino acid that converts to serotonin, (a mood stabilising neurotransmitter) to try to reduce his reactivity by dietary means. We discussed a programme of clear signals of response should BF make a low arousal approach to his owner and a method of displaying non-reward for the high arousal approaches accompanied by defecation. A full haematology, serum biochemistry, thyroid function and neurological examination were planned to rule out a clinical cause. Outcome We were too late. The owner had had enough and requested euthanasia. This is a sad but important point about dealing with bond-related issues. The success of any programme to resolve the problem is dependent on the owner being emotionally able to comply with it. This particular over-attachment problem put an enormous strain on this very sensible and experienced cat owner and sometimes the outcome is not satisfactory for just this reason. Anyone who works with cats and their owners, whether in a boarding cattery, rescue centre or in veterinary practice, should be aware of the potential intensity of the human/cat bond. If anyone gets involved in helping owners with relationship problems with their cats it can be fascinating and rewarding. However always remember that not all of these problems can be resolved, sometimes these bonds are stronger than we are!
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