Sometimes, we all wish our cats could talk. Then they could tell us where it hurts, where the annoying bug on the wall is, and what flavor of cat food they REALLY want for dinner.
Though we’ll probably never get cats to use more than a few words of human speech, we can talk to hem – and encourage them to communicate in return. Awareness of their communications styles can go a long way.
The number one thing you can do is talk to your cat, meaningfully. Cats are very intelligent and pick up on words fairly easily. At the same time, pay attention to their body language and look for signs of understanding. Make a fuss over them when they show they understand. Use relevant words when you are doing things – like talking about the kind of food you are setting down, pointing out the brush and talking about it when you are about to groom them, pointing out different body parts when you are petting them. “Here are your paws. Here are your ears. Here is your pretty tail.” Cats can be trained in much the same way you’d teach a baby.
Whenever possible, give your cat opportunities to communicate back. Demonstrate to them that they can make a difference in your behavior by communicating. For your part, pay attention – sometimes cats are very subtle. Look for significant glances, postures, gestures. Cats communicate a lot through body language.
I knew someone who encouraged her cat to communicate – she was in chimp language research and used the same techniques on her cat as she had with the chimps. By teaching her cat that communication mattered, and he could get what he wanted by communicating, she achieved a remarkable level of understanding. He even had modified sign language “words” he would use to talk back.
For example, my own cat will lick her lips and stare at me when she is hungry. That means “dinner.” So if I say “Are you hungry, Nezumi-chan?” and she doesn’t lick her lips at me, I know she doesn’t want to eat.
She’ll also reach up and pat my shoulder (from the surface of a table) when she wants my attention. Or she’ll boop my nose when she’s feeling playful. Sometimes she’ll gesture to things with her tail, using it like a finger. She’s learned more and more signals as she’s gotten older.
Rules of cat communication
Pay attention to behavior and non verbal cues – be aware in general.
Talk to your cat frequently, and listen.
Be creative and encourage the use of gestures.
Name things when you do them.
Let their communication make a difference in your behavior.
When you can, give them choices. Help them see that communicating properly will get them what you want.
Soon, you’ll find that there are many fine shades of meaning beyond “meow!”