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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We cats have no problems with (our) nudity
Humans are filled with the merciless urge to inflict hats, ties, dresses, and other clothing items on us. But what do we look like to you … dogs? We hate to feel enclosed or confined, and while you may catch us kneading on one of your sweaters, we’re merely enjoying the texture of the knit under our paws; that doesn’t mean we want to wear it. We don’t need clothes to stay covered: our coats contain up to 130,000 hairs per square inch. Fun fact: Did you know that the surface area of a single cat, if you include all of its hair, is roughly the same as the surface area of a ping-pong table?
Quit blaming my hair for your allergies
Why are so many humans allergic to us? (Cat allergies are reportedly twice as common as dog allergies.) You don’t see any cats having allergies to humans, do you? And you humans are so quick to point to our hair as the culprit. But what actually causes your sneezes and coughs is a tenacious and super-adhesive protein found on cat skin called “Fel d 1.” And we’re sorry to break it to you people who went to the expense and trouble of buying a so-called “hypoallergenic” cat, but such a breed does not exist. Some breeds do produce less Fel d 1 than others, but all cats produce it.
You fill your home with enticing power cords but yell at me when I chew them. Unfair!
Most of us cats love the way a plastic cord feels under our teeth, so it’s best for you humans to be smart about your electric cords. Stow away the ones you’re not using, and cover the remainder in cord covers (you can find these at pet stores). You can also try applying bitter apple liquid (we detest this flavor) on cords but dab it on sparingly since consuming too much of the essential oils in it can make us sick. If your cat persists in chewing cords even after you apply the bitter apple, take him or her to the vet to rule out any dental problems.
We truly wish you’d find yourself another animal to demonize
If a black cat crosses your path, you’ll have bad luck. Don’t leave a cat around a sleeping baby; it will suck out the baby’s breath. Cats are the preferred companion of witches and villains. It’s taken centuries for us cats to rise above all this negative (and just plain false) publicity. Stop spreading these lies. Instead, you humans should stick to what your species does best: talking smack about each other.
Can you stop your species from shaming the humans who love us? Love, Cats
While people who like dogs are perceived as extroverted, good-natured, and active, the people who prefer cats are taunted with the offensive phrase “crazy cat lady”—i.e., an obsessive, antisocial shut-in. This hurts our feelings. And we have one other bone to pick: what’s up with using the word “catty” to mean malicious or spiteful?
Many cats live life like ‘Seinfeld’—that is, ‘no hugging, no learning’
Because we’re so soft and good-looking, you humans always want to pick us up and hug us. We say: Approach with caution. Some cats are OK with snuggling, but many do not like to confined in any way, including in your arms. Try us out, but as soon as we struggle or protest, put us (gently!) back on the ground. Never, ever pick us up when we’re sleeping or eating. When it comes to your kissing us, we cats are frankly baffled by your behavior. We wish you’d school yourself in the cat language of love: We like to show our affection with a head butt, a face rub, a rub on your legs, or a display of our butts.
We’re early risers, so deal with it
When we meow right before dawn—a time when you’re probably trying to get a little more sleep before your alarm goes off—we’re doing what comes naturally. And our circadian rhythms shift with the seasons just as yours do. When the days get longer and the birds and squirrels are up and at ’em earlier, so are we. You could feed us to stop our meows, but know that this will reinforce our cat behavior. If you’re serious about curbing our early wake-up calls, start by installing blackout shades or blinds in your bedroom so the sun won’t rouse us. Then, stick to strict feeding times for us: once in the morning (but not right after you rise because then we’ll associate your getting out of bed with getting fed) and once shortly before you go to bed (to try to delay our hunger). Finally, be patient: You are attempting to undo thousands of years (if not more) of ingrained cat behavior. You may have to accept defeat.
When we stop, drop, and roll, it’s usually no accident
Look at the time and location of our antics for clues about why we’re doing it, because it’s often a hey-look-at-me strategy. Does it happen when you’re on your phone? On your computer? Putting on your shoes before leaving the house? Remember, you humans hobnob with plenty of your kind every day. Most of us cats possess a much smaller audience—the people who live with us—so be generous with your appreciation.
When we meow nonstop, it may be our cry for help
Some cat breeds, like Oriental shorthairs or Siamese, are chattier than others. But if your cat goes from not-that-frequent to frequent talking, he may be ill so you should bring him to the vet. Still, there may be another, less ominous reason behind our multitude of meows: attention. You humans have come up with the sweeping generalization that all cats are solitary, aloof creatures. Wrong! Sure, we need our quiet time but we do like company, particularly if you’re gone all day.
When we do our business outside the litter box, we’re not just acting out
If we have a urinary tract infection (UTI), we often have trouble making it to the kitty commode in time. To find out if this or any other biological issue is the problem, bring us to the vet for a checkup. And if a UTI isn’t the problem, perhaps the box is. We cats like our litter to be like Kate Middleton’s hair: clean and plentiful. Please change the litter every day, and ideally, provide us with an open box to use; we prefer it to a closed one.