Ever wondered if the love you have for your cat is reciprocated? Behaviourist Anita Kelsey shares top tips on how to ensure you and your cat have the perfect bond.The cat has travelled a long way and endured many ups and downs to win the hearts of the nation. According to the recent BBC documentary 'Cat Wars', our cheeky felines are now the most popular companion animal in the western world.Originating from the big cats of Africa, domesticated and idolised in Egypt, vilified throughout Medieval Europe and presently enjoying a devotional status by millions of cat lovers in the western world, so it is only right that we try to give them the best care and attention.This can be achieved by understanding how they communicate with us. Cats have paid a high price to remain in our favour, so what can we do to understand them bet
Show a little love
Cats communicate slightly differently with us, compared with how they communicate with other cats. For instance, a cat has learnt to vocalise to get food or attention from us, and this vocalisation we recognise as the much loved miaow. Cats do not vocalise in the same way to other cats - a cat will vocalise as a threat to warn another cat not to come closer, or vocalise during fighting or sexual activities. It's easy to adopt an anthropomorphic view of animals but let us learn the language of cat and look at some tell-tale signs your cat may give out.
A happy cat will greet us with his tail high in the air, which may shake in excitement. He will rub against us, depositing his scent and may weave in and out of our legs, making it impossible to walk. Confi dent, outgoing and relaxed cats will greet visitors in the same way as they love attention and being stroked. Cats with this personality usually don't mind being handled or picked up and are generally lap or beside-the-lap cats.
However, many owners obtain cats with the opposite personality. They are shy of strangers, do not appreciate the feeling of confinement in a human's arms and may lash out when stroked for longer than they wish. This doesn't mean this type of cat cannot be affectionate and doesn't love you back. Their contentment is merely shown in more subtle ways and at a time when they choose to express it.
A cat that keeps his tail close down to the body or tucked under him is usually feeling insecure and on guard. His body may be crouched to the floor in a hidden spot that's hard to get to. This type of cat needs to be given space in a safe area and not constantly bothered. A cat usually comes out in his own time and, with patience and gentle encouragement, such as a slow blink from a human, a cat (especially a new cat) will eventually begin to settle. The slow blink shows the cat you are a friend and not a threat. Cats communicate to other cats in this way as a greeting and to show they have friendly intentions. A cat that blinks back at you is giving a positive sign - it means the cat has understood and communications are on the right track. Using healthy treats is a great way to encourage shy or nervous cats to relax, while a wand or fishing rod-style toy can also be a good way of getting a cat to deflect from his habitual fear responses.
Different strokes for different cats
As much as humans love holding their cats like babies and stroking them to the point of baldness, this may not be as enjoyable for your cat as you would like to think. A cat's stomach is a vulnerable area that should be respected when a human is shown it. A cat that lies on the floor in front of his owner, displaying his stomach area, feels relaxed and unthreatened. This doesn't mean he is inviting you to suddenly start stroking him there - and many cat owners have been given a warning nip or scratch when they try. A cat being held like a baby, with his stomach on full view, will feel very vulnerable and many cats get very frustrated when being held this way. Plus, it's hardly the most comfortable position.
It's also important to note that a cat will go into the ultimate defensive posture when feeling threatened, so he can protect himself by all means necessary - using all 18 claws and teeth. That posture is on his back. It would be a very brave animal indeed to take on a cat in this position. This is one of the main reasons a human will get scratched when holding a cat on his back. If your cat loves a good old tummy rub that's fine, but if he doesn't, then you may need to stop trying to convince your cat that it's good for him!
If you wish to show your cat just how much you love and respect him, then hold him with his stomach against you, with your arms supporting his back legs and around the body area.
Set aside some kitty time
Newsflash! Cats do not sleep all day long. Ok, so cats do sleep for long hours during the day and night, but cats will also sleep out of boredom. Many people make the mistake of assuming that cats do not play when in their adult years. They assume that their cats just sleep because that's what cats do. I visit them with a car full of toys and suddenly their cat is jumping in the air and doing back flips to catch the toy!
Depression and boredom in a cat can manifest itself in many ways from over-grooming, constant vocalisation and eliminating outside of the litter tray, through to sleeping all the time. Some cats will display unwanted behaviours because they know attention will be forthcoming. Cats require stimulation - it's no good coming home, patting your cat on the head and then proceeding to watch a barrage of soaps. Your cat will have been looking forward to the precise moment you walk through the door.
Now it's kitty time and you'd better be prepared to put aside anything you had planned to give kitty at least 15 to 20 minutes of focused playtime and cuddles - and that's after dinner has been served! Cats get bored quickly so 15 to 20 minutes should do the trick before they wander off, or settle down to take another well-earned rest. If you're lucky, they might just choose your lap to settle down on.
The warning bite
Now, this is where it becomes tricky. Your cat has settled down, he appears happy, has been fed his favourite meal and is purring like he's the luckiest cat in the world, showing you signs he wants stroking and... bam! You get a warning bite out of nowhere. This can be very frustrating and can leave any well meaning owner utterly confused and a little hurt. This type of behaviour is fairly common in cats that become overly stimulated or annoyed at being stroked for too long.
Not all cats like being stroked all the time and they will very happily let us know when we have overstepped the line. The warning signs can be subtle so try to look out for them. You may find your cat's back start to ripple when touching him in a specific area, his ears going slightly flatter to his head, and his tail starting to twitch or thrash. These are all signs that it's time to stop touching him. If you know your cat has a low tolerance level to stroking or touching, keep it to a minimum. Your cat will love you just as much and even more so because you are respecting him and understanding what he does or doesn't like.
For owners whose cats will bite without warning when stroked for longer than they appreciate, I would suggest that the cat is left to make all the moves. For example, let your cat rub and head butt you when he wants attention and leave the stroking to an absolute minimum.
Don't rely on treats
So, how else can we show our cats just how much we love them? The obvious answer for many may be treats, but it's imperative that we don't show our cats how much we love them through treat giving alone. A healthy treat every now and then is perfectly ok, especially when training or rewarding good behaviour, but too many could result in an overweight kitty. And he certainly won't love you too much when he's being taken to the vet to take part in a weight clinic. Show your cat you love him through play and providing plenty of stimulation, not through food.
So, we have stopped holding our cat like a baby, stopped stroking him to death, and stopped ignoring him because he doesn't play and generally sleeps 24 hours a day?. congratulations! You're now showing your cat just how much you love him, and he'll certainly love you for it.