Wish you had a secret decoder guide to cat language and behavior? Here’s a primer to things your cat wishes you understood.
Please do not disturb my nap on your laptop or keyboard
You people talk and talk about how much you need to work on the computer so you wake us up and push us off, but we know what you’re really planning to do on them: watch videos of cats. Weird. Don’t you humans realize that cats must get an average of 12 to 16 hours of shut-eye a day, or we’re just useless? Also, our delicate cat bodies need the warmth from your computer: Our ideal temperature is 20 degrees higher than that of you humans. If we are looking to cool down, check that it’s safe for us to drink milk.
Quit taking photos of me (I’m not a Kardashian)
You humans can’t seem to stop snapping pix with your phones when you’re around us, but you resort to sneaky tactics like waving around fun toys to get our attention but dropping them as soon as we turn around. This is cruel. If we cats are willing to let you capture us on film, the least you can do is provide us with a bit of play time in exchange—or let a cartoon cat amuse you instead. There is one thing that you don’t have to worry about when it comes to photography: Camera flashes do not harm cats’ eyes. But they will frequently produce a spooky glow caused by the tapetum lucidum, a layer of ultra-reflective cells in feline eyes which helps us see in low light. Your cat will use those eyes to give you a glare if they are secretly mad at you, along with these 15 other things cats do when they’re mad.
Hands off the belly, ‘kay?
You assume that when we show you our stomachs, we’re being friendly. Yes, in some cases, this is a normal cat behavior that signifies chumminess. But at other times, it’s the opposite—it’s cat language for “You wanna fight? Bring it on.” Displaying the belly is a defensive move that shows potential enemies that all of our limbs and claws are primed and ready to go into attack mode. And there’s one other common reason we flash our tummies: we’re simply trying to stretch. And please keep me well-fed. This is the best diet for me.
I am cat … let me scratch
Just like you clip and file your nails so they don’t reach Guinness Record lengths, we cats must maintain our claws. One cat behavior is by scratching, which helps us remove dead nail growth. There are two other important explanations behind why we scratch: We do it to mark our territory (we’ve got scent glands on our paws—how cool is that?) or to stretch (how do you think we stay so graceful?). Sadly, when a sofa or rug becomes our favorite spot to scratch, some of you resort to declawing us. We beg you not to—it would be comparable to your having the ends of your fingers cut off. Instead, get us a nifty scratching post (you might have to experiment with different models until you find one we like), rub it with a little catnip, and give us a treat whenever we use it. If you notice a change in our active behavior, it could be one of the 11 cat cancer signs you need to look out for.
I’m perfectly capable of bathing myself, thanks
Some scientists speculate that today’s cats do not like to swim or get wet because ever since they were domesticated some 5,000 to 10,000 years ago, they’ve been protected from the rain and snow by human companions. In addition, it’s true that cat hair “doesn’t dry quickly and it’s simply uncomfortable to be soaking wet,” Kelley Bollen, the director of behavior programs for the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University told Live Science. Bollen added, “I also think because cats are control freaks and like [to have] four feet on a solid surface, they do not appreciate the sensation of floating.” Who needs baths and showers anyway? Cats are born complete with the essential grooming tools: paws, a rough, barbed tongue, and saliva. But even though we hate being dunked in water, you must ensure we have enough to drink, especially if our diet consists of dry food (canned food is about 78 percent water). Regardless of what we eat, always provide your cat with a separate water bowl and change and clean it daily. If you want to bathe me, here’s how to do it without getting scratched.
Don’t freak out when I bring you dead animal or insect “gifts”
Animal behaviorists have uncovered a few reasons for why we do this. We may be imitating what our mama cats did for us. You fill our food dishes every day, and since we’re not ingrates, we are returning the favor. Or, we might have caught, say, more crickets than we can consume so we thought you might like the leftovers. Finally, we could be giving our catch to you so that you can help us store it for later. Like scratching, bestowing such gifts is natural cat behavior on our part so if you don’t like it, you might need to put a bell on us to prevent us from snaring anything. But don’t try to freak us out, especially with scary cucumbers.
I meow at you to tell you something specific, but when you meow at me, you’re not speaking cat language
Scientists have identified more than a dozen different meows that cats make, each with its own meaning. In general, kittens use meows to communicate with their moms, but grown cats employ them solely to communicate with humans. (We use hisses, growls, squeals, and other sounds to talk to each other.) More perceptive owners can probably tell a cat’s “I’m hungry” meow apart from its “I’m bored” or discern “I’m hurt” from “I’m scared.” When you meow at us, we do recognize your voice but you may as well be squawking like a Charlie Brown teacher for all the sense you’re making. Here are more mind-blowing pet secrets you never knew.