In our previous article, Nonverbal Communication – the Face, we discussed how to read the behaviors in your cat that may show kitty’s thoughts or moods.
In part two, we will talk about some behaviors that may show your cats’ feelings based on reactions of the body instead of the head.
When a group of cats get together, they groom each other to bond. Since we choose not to lick our kitties to groom them, we use our hands to pet them; this is interpreted as grooming and therefore bonding. It is not uncommon for your cat to reach back and groom you as well with a head nudge or even a lick. This is perhaps one of the most loving gestures your cat will show you.
When you are petting them, perhaps you will notice they twist and turn. Often they are just leading you to the place they want to be pet the most, but they typically will lead you to their tail. There is a great spot on their back, right above the tail that cannot be scratched enough.
This is nostalgic for them of their mother licking them just in that spot. They may even raise their rear end and turn their hind quarters towards you. Once lifted, their mother would lick their rear to get them cleaned and sanitary. This was seen as a very caring and doting act, so when you pet your kitty in just that spot it reminds her of her mother’s loving touch.
Speaking of the tail, there are so many movements of the their tail that can give away mood and interest. The tail is composed of small bones and is very flexible so it can easily contort into several positions. For example, being straight up in the air except for the top which is tilted at an angle shows interest and curiosity, but being completely straight shows a greeting of love and friendliness.
A wagging tail shows confusion but twitching shows playfulness, and when their tail is between their legs it shows submission and fear. However in surprise or deeper fear, the hairs on the tail stand straight up and become fluffed. At this time the tail resembles a bottle brush and the cat is fully spooked, a dead give-away of your cat’s mood.
Often coupled with the fluffy tail is the arched back – this happens for a few reasons. When scared or surprised their back would arch to give the appearance of looking bigger to an attacker. If the cat appears larger by arching their back and fluffing the fur, they are hoping to scare away whatever it was that scared them!
Your cat might also arch its back to rub against your legs which stems back to attempting to be taller in order to greet you. If your cat is a little taller and touching you then you are more likely to pay attention to what they want at that time.
Quite the opposite of arching and looking taller is trying to look as flat as possible, which of course can happen for a few reasons. When stalking prey or about to pounce in play, your cat will crouch really low so as not to be seen. This stems from their wild days of hiding in long grass so prey wouldn’t see them. Also, your cat does not have collar bones so they are able to easily flatten to sneak under a door perhaps or between tight spaces. This is just about motivation and getting where they want despite boundaries.
Another reason your cat may flatten is due to heat. If you have ever seen your cat lying on a tile floor with all limbs outstretched then you know its hot! Cats do not sweat, and they do not pant as dogs do. It is easier for them to overheat, so you may see them trying to cool their body by pressing against a cooler surface such as tile or a counter.
Have you ever noticed how much your cat jumps? Of course they jump from one location to another; such as the floor to your couch, but they also jump on the ground. When a cat is hyper active and just cannot control their energy you may see them jump in place or even sideways. This is adorable to us but can be frustrating to them. Their bouncing around is similar to your throwing your arms in the air and just shaking off some frustration or unused energy – plus its just fun!
Another unusual jump is the “straight-up in the air” jump. If you have had kittens perhaps you are familiar with this sight; adults do it as well, but it is more common in kittens. Your cat comes racing around the corner and something catches his eye and he goes straight up into the air! This happens because something in their line of vision moved and they did not expect it.
Cats are excellent at adjusting their path to move around an object, but when no correction is made, the next best move is to jump over it to avoid collision. This unexpected change often scares the cat and they may let out a meow, hiss or even come back down to the ground will all hair on end. It is even more hilarious if you have 2 kittens scare each other and they both jump up in the air!
A good tip to communicate with your cat in their nonverbal language is to discipline them as needed, like their mother would. As a kitten, their mother would nip the back of their neck or even move them away from something by carrying them by the back of the neck.
As adult cats, they still use this method to tell each other to stop the problem behavior. If your kitten or cat is within arm reach and needs to be gently disciplined, you might use your thumb and pointer finger to give a firm but gently pinch on the skin on the back of their neck to get your point across.