Many cats like to talk, and sometimes you may even understand what they have to say. Meowing? Probably hungry. Meowing by the litter box? Maybe it's dirty. But you might spend much of the time wondering what your feline friend is thinking and feeling, especially if they're behaving differently than usual. Often, expert cat behaviorists can help. These feline whisperers can help improve the lines of communication between you and your furry friend, which can improve your relationship and strengthen your bond. Here's how.
Ways Cats Communicate
Cats have several ways to communicate with their humans. According to Amy Shojai, animal behavior consultant and author of pet-related books including "ComPETability: Solving Behavior Problems in Your Multi-Cat Household," cats communicate mainly through scent marking and body language. "Feline vocalizations are a relatively small part of the repertoire," she says.
Understanding our feline friends involves taking into account all three methods of communication and the context of the situation. The main way an animal behaviorist helps humans communicate with cats is by understanding when behavior is normal for the cat and teaching them how to redirect unacceptable behaviors.
Understanding Feline Motivations
People tend to attribute human motivations for their kitty's behavior, without taking into account the feline point of view. For example, many pet parents think that "problem" cats eliminate on their possessions because these kitties are angry with them. Shojai states that pet parents need to realize that felines are not vindictive, especially when it comes to urine marking. "Cats seek out owner-scented items to mark because the cat loves the owner so much, the smell of where you sleep or your dirty laundry makes the cat feel comforted," she says.
A complaint cat behaviorist and feral cat specialist Shawn Simons of the Kitty Bungalow Charm School for Wayward Cats often gets is the "alarm clock" cat. This is a cat who attempts to wake up an owner in the wee hours of the morning wanting food and play. "There is a misconception that cats are nocturnal, but they are actually crepuscular, which means they are most active at dusk and dawn." So, this behavior is normal for cats and not a way to keep you from getting enough sleep.
Understanding that a kitty is simply doing what comes naturally helps prevent resentment between pet parents and their cats, leading to a better relationship.
Dealing with "Problem" Behaviors
The best way to communicate with your cat is to understand that most cat behaviors that cause problems for humans are natural for cats. Pet parents just need to better read the signs they are presenting and redirect unwanted behaviors in a positive way.
Simons deals with many cats who shy away from strangers or may only be attached to one pet parent. "There is a very easy way to help create a safe bridge for these cats, and that is food," she recommends. "Food is a terrific motivator, and I have people keep cat treats by the front door. When people come over, have your guests give the cat a treat." The treats help the cat associate visitors with something good. She also recommends all pet parents in the home feed the cat. This helps the cat bond with everyone in the home.
When cats appear to be regressing on their potty training, they may be telling you they need more litter box options or different litter, says Shojai. Have at least one litter box per cat in easily accessible spots, plus an additional box, and try out different types of litter to determine which one your cat likes best.
How Better Understanding Means a Better Bond
"Taking the time to understand your cat will absolutely lead to a better relationship with them," says Simons. After all, if you understand why your cat is doing the things she does and how to modify that behavior, the two of you will start seeing eye-to-eye.
If you're having issues with your feline, seek out the services of an animal behavior expert who can help you better connect with your kitty and interpret what her behavior really means. After all, communication isn't just the key to a healthy relationship for people, but for pets, too.