As I sit at my desk typing this, my feline “office assistant,” Scout, has assumed her usual spot - curled up to the left of my laptop. I like to think it’s because she likes to keep me company while I work, but in reality it’s probably because she enjoys the radiant heat of my desk lamp which she is directly under.
Cats are definitely perplexing creatures, there’s no doubt about it. They are also quite possibly the most misunderstood pets. At the risk of being called a “crazy cat lady,” I could probably write a book on the subject. That said, I’ll try my best to dispel all those misconceived notions about our feline friends in this blog post.
One common misunderstanding is that cats are solitary creatures. Untrue! Maybe I should clarify: domesticated cats are very capable of having best friends be it a human, another cat, dog, or other animal. In fact, not only can cats come to rely on the companionship of humans, some have been known to develop separation anxiety if their owner is gone for a long period of time.
Full disclosure; cats prefer to be the only feline in a home. That’s not to say they can’t be social and form relationships with other cats but they just don’t feel the “need” to. Cats are quirky creatures. They don’t like sharing or waiting for anything. In order to keep the peace in multi-cat households I recommend having more than one litter box, multiple feeding areas, many cozy sleeping spots, etc. Minimizing the need to feel they must compete for resources can help curtail any drama!
The other challenge is the long-standing debate over cats and dogs. You cannot compare cats with dogs. Period. It makes about as much sense as comparing a dolphin to a starfish. Hands down there are more “dog people” in the world, but I chalk this up to a stellar public relations campaign. I’m not knocking dogs -- I love dogs! -- but I don’t think it’s fair to compare. Domestic dogs do tend to need (and want) constant social interaction. They have no issue with inserting themselves in whatever activity is going on (invited or not). Cats are just more particular about what activities they engage in. When you think of pets performing tricks cats aren’t the first thing to mind, but guess what? Cats can be trained! I taught one of my cats to play fetch. No joke! I’d toss a hair tie across the room and he would retrieve it (sometimes catching it mid air) and bring it back to me. Granted this game would only last a few minutes before he’d lose interest, but I digress.
I’ve heard people describe cats as “aloof.” To that I say they’re simply just discerning of people they’ve just met. Nothing wrong with that, I am, too! Anyone who thinks cats are standoffish has obviously never come home from a hard day to have a kitty cat greet them at the door and jump into their lap. Purrs are great therapy -- I speak from experience. I will say that kittens are much more interested in shiny, bouncing objects than snuggling and cuddling, but once a cat gets older and your connection with them grows you’d be hard pressed to fall asleep at night without a furry body slumped over your legs (or on your head as in my case).
Another misnomer? All cats hate water. While I’m not recommending you spontaneously give your cat a bubble bath, they don’t all hate water. Granted they’re less “waterproof” than dogs because of their perpetual grooming which help keep their coats oil-free (which means they get cold more easily if they get wet), but some cats are downright intrigued by water. A favorite pastime of my office assistant is playing with the running faucet in my bathroom or dipping her tail into my tub full of water.
Most people don’t realize that cats have very sophisticated body language and interpreting this language is the key to understanding their moods. Dogs are easy. Unlike that famous painting would lead you to believe, dogs would be horrible poker players. I think it is physically impossible for them to hide their emotions. Cats, on the other hand, need to be understood. Learning the distinction between meows can let you know if your furry friend is asking for dinner or crying in pain. While purring is usually the sign of a happy cat; it can also be a comfort seeking mechanism. Growling and hissing are obvious warning signs to stay away while high pitching “chatting” implies affection.
All this being said no signal is guaranteed so your best bet when interacting with your feline friend is to exercise caution. While an exposed belly is the ultimate indication of trust, it is by no means an invitation for a belly rub. Many people have fallen pray to the “Venus Cat Trap!” Cats can say a lot with their tails as well. Flicking or twitching tails are a warning sign. The faster the twitch, the less happy (or over-stimulated) the kitty. A quivering tail, on the other hand, is often a signal of cheerful excitement. Context is everything when decoding your kitty’s body language.
Cats can be wacky and easy to misread. So the next time you come home to your kitty’s nonchalant glance from the couch or a lazy yawn before going back to sleep, in their own way they're letting you know they're happy you’re home!