One of the very best things you can do to assist you in working through any cat behavior problem is to learn how to read cat body language. The vast majority of ALL cat communication occurs visually in a host of non-verbal body language. Humans are most familiar with the verbal expressions – hissing, spitting, yowling and growling. Or the physically threatening methods of expression – lunging, slapping and swiping with claws, biting. But in reality the majority of feline communication is missed if you do not understand the bulk of the basic cat body language that usually precedes all the more obvious displays.
Cat are also very adept at reading human body language. They can watch your small micro expressions and the adjustments of body language that you make subconsciously and get a wealth of communication from you without a single word passing from your lips. They can tell you are about to head toward them before you ever make it up out of your seat!
This expert human body language recognition by cats is often behind the commonly expressed, “They KNOW they are not supposed to do it. They look guilty!” Or “They did it and then looked at me and took off running!” They are not guilty. But before you said a word, when you first saw the problem, your body language immediately changed. They ‘read’ that like champions and they react before you can even speak or move. Because they communicate with one another in a host of subtle quiet changes. If you want to communicate better with your cat, then you need to study cat body language.
In situations where cats are fighting or behaving aggressively, understand that by the time they are verbally expressing themselves or actually attacking one another (which is when most people first recognize there is a problem), that a HUGE wealth of non-verbal communication has been going on. You missed the majority of the cats’ attempts at communication if you waited for all the obvious drama to occur. So understanding what you SEE and not just what you HEAR is vital in learning to improve your communication and understanding of cats.
If you have multiple cats and one or two are not using the litterbox, often there is a huge amount of very subtle, very quiet bullying over resources going on. You need to become an expert at reading cat body language to decipher the real root causes. Many times when an owner things they witnessed the ‘bully cat’ flying into a rage out of nowhere….. what they actually witnessed was the constantly bullied victim cat finally trying to stand up for themselves. Understanding cat body language is crucial to help yourself help your cats.
Do you have a cat that bite when you pet seemingly oot of nowhere? If you learn to read cat body language better, then you can usually prevent that from occurring by recognizing the rise of their discomfort or excitement!
Cats that are ignored, will escalate their communication attempts. They always start with visual body language attempts (which most people miss entirely), then tend to add verbal protests and only finally progress to physical attacking. Cats do tend to escalate up their ladder of aggression more quickly than most dogs once they move past the body language attempts. The feline ladder of aggression visual is always useful to understand.
If no one pays attention (or notices) their routine cat body language ‘tells’ then they may stop trying those and go straight to what worked best – biting or attacking as their first choice in the future. Learning their subtle non verbal ‘tells’ is extremely valuable in helping you to help your cat get past stressful periods.
So it is always helpful for you to spend time learning more about the early stage subtle visual cues which abound in feline communication! This is an extremely helpful skill to assist when trying to manage any cat fear/anxiety/stress (and thus often litter box issues) or irritation/aggravation/communication issue. Learning to ‘read’ those subtle, most commonly used visual communication tools is vital. And learning to read your cat(s) in particular is one of the very best tools for your feline problem solving toolbox!
Earlier recognition of feline stress makes a world of difference in ANY anxiety, stress related, or aggression problem. Earlier recognition leads to earlier intervention and de-escalation. Earlier is always better and easier to deal with!
Cat Body Language Learning Resources
Below we have accumulated some great initial resources for you to start your journey in learning to better communication with your feline companions by understanding cat body language:
- Tuft and Paw: The Definitive Guide To Cat Behavior and Body Language
- Pure Wow: Cat Body Language
- Cats Protection: Cat Body Language – article with videos
- Cats Protection: Cat Body Language video – great videos and explanations
- Alley Cat: Visual Guide to Cat Body Language
- Purina: Understanding cat body language
- Winnepeg Humane Society: Reading a Cat’s Body Language
- Jackson Galaxy: Cat Body Language 101 Video