Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I love cats in fact, they’re my favorite animals. But I’ve got two problems: I’m allergic and I don’t understand their body language. So I have a few behavior-related questions: Why does my cat lay at my feet or legs, then eventually move even if I don’t? Why is my cat so “talkative” around me and my mom but she barely is around other cats (especially if my mother and I are gone for awhile)? Why does my cat love the bathroom so much? I think that’s all. Sorry for asking so many questions–I’m very curious.
Thomas: Welcome to the world of cat guardianship, Chelsea! You’re starting out on the right paw by wanting to get information about cats’ behavior and body language, and we’re happy to share some cat behavior basics with you.
Bella: First of all, you asked about why cats settle in at your feet or near your legs and then move for no apparent reason. Well, that’s just normal cat behavior. We’ve got things to do and places to go! For example, I love to snuggle with Mama when she takes naps, but sometimes I’m just ready to get up before she is. Maybe there are some birds to watch, or I might just get the urge to play with one of my toys or visit with Thomas or Tara…
Tara: You don’t come and visit me for any other reason than to chase me, Bella. It’s not nice!
Bella: You don’t understand, Tara. I just want to play with you! Thomas is old and he doesn’t play as much as he used to, but we’re about the same age so I thought we could be play friends.
Tara: Oh, okay. I’ll try to remember to have fun with you instead of running away from you.
Thomas: As for why cats are so talkative with people but not with other cats, it’s because cats communicate with each other primarily through body language. The position of our ears and whiskers, the way our tails are moving, and the position of our bodies tell other cats all they need to know about how we’re feeling. The only time cats ever make noise at each other is when they’re having a spat: for example, a cat may hiss at another cat as a “GO AWAY NOW” message. Kittens may mew if their mother goes away from the nest and they get cold or hungry. Cats who are fighting often scream at each other while they’re trying to scratch or bite one another.
Bella: Yeah. We communicate vocally with humans because you all aren’t as good at understanding cat body language as another cat would be. Some scientists think we’re vocal with humans because we still retain that kittenish relationship with you and we make noises so you understand we need something.
Tara: And why do cats love the bathroom? Well, obviously, it’s because you humans spend a lot of time in there! And usually when you’re in there, you’re sitting on the toilet, which makes it a perfect time to get petties!
Thomas: Some cats are also curious about the shower or the bathtub. Poor, sweet Dahlia (may she frolic forever in the catnip-filled fields on the other side of the Veil) used to be fascinated by the sound of the water in the shower and she’d always cry to get in while Mama was showering. One day Mama finally let her in but she closed the door so Bella couldn’t come and go as she pleased. She howled and cried like she was being tortured, and I did the best I could to get her out, but all I could do was make comforting noises on the other side of the door and put a paw underneath so she knew she hadn’t been transported to a horror world in which rain poured constantly …
Bella: And, of course, if you have a litter box in the bathroom, it’ll definitely become Grand Central Station for cats!
Tara: There’s a fantastic book about cat behavior that we highly recommend to anyone new to living with cats, and that’s Think Like a Cat: How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat and Not a Sour Puss by Pam Johnson-Bennett.
Thomas: Fun fact: Pam Johnson-Bennett’s books taught Mama a lot about cat behavior, and she used the lessons she learned from Pam’s books while she started living with cats, too. Pam and another cat writer, Amy Shojai, were the inspiration for Paws and Effect! Pam also has a website with lots of advice on cat behavior and training issues. (Yes, you can train a cat, but we kitties tend to be a bit strong-willed so you’ll need to be patient and consistent.)
Bella: And if you want to see all the awesome books Amy Shojai has written about cat care and behavior, check out her website.
Thomas: Between us, Pam and Amy, you’ll get everything you need to know about cat behavior basics–and beyond the basics.
Bella: We wanted to address the allergy issue while we’re here, too. The primary allergen cats produce is in their saliva–it’s a protein called Fel d 1. Since cats groom themselves a lot, obviously they get a lot of saliva on themselves. The good news is that people who are allergic to cats and are consistently exposed to cats tend to find their symptoms improving over time. But you can also do things like buy an air purifier or use damp wipes to wipe down your cat to get the saliva and its proteins off. This post on PetMD provides some tips on how to reduce cat allergies.
Tara: And one more thing you should know as a new cat guardian: your cat needs annual vet checkups and vaccinations on a lifestyle-appropriate schedule as determined by you and your vet. Cats also need dental care; tartar can build up on their teeth and lead to gingivitis or resorptive lesions (sometimes known as “kitty cavities,” even though they aren’t cavities in the sense that humans get them), which can be painful and cause difficulty in eating or grooming.
Thomas: It’s really important that you find a vet you’re comfortable with and who knows how to handle cats. Some vets are better at working with cats than others. We’re lucky that our vet works at a cat-only clinic, so we don’t have to worry about giant dogs coming along and sniffing at our carriers or anything like that!
Bella: If you can’t find a cat-only clinic, or you don’t find a vet that’s a good match at your local cat-only clinic, look for a clinic that has separate waiting areas for cats and dogs, and possibly separate entrances, too. Clinics that are certified Fear-Free are a great place to start, because that means all the clinic staff from the vets to the techs to the front desk staff have been trained to make vet visits as comfortable as possible.
Tara: And clinics that are certified by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) have to adhere to a very high standard of care and are inspected every three years to ensure they maintain that AAHA certification.
Thomas: So, there you go! We hope we’ve been able to provide you with some helpful cat behavior basics information, and that the information on allergies and veterinarians also gives you the tools to make sure you and your cat have a long, healthy life together.
Bella: What about you other readers? Why do you think cats move away from you for random reasons? Do you have a cat that loves to hang out with you in the bathroom? Have you seen the differences in the ways cats communicate with one another and the way they communicate with you? Sound off in the comments! And, of course, if you have questions about cat behavior basics, feel free to drop us an email by using the contact form, and we’ll be glad to help you understand your cat better.