Friday, April 27, 2012

Cat Chat: Body Language

Last post I talked about the meaning behind your cat’s chirps and meows.  In this post I will examine how cats communicate a variety of different messages using body language.   My two cats get their whole body into the act when communicating.   

A cat that lies with its stomach and back exposed is conveying trust and comfort with you (of course if your kitty has put on a little extra weight around the middle, then this position tends to be more comfortable).  If she is lying on her back growling, then she is upset and ready to defend herself with all four sets of claws. 

Does your cat arch up its back to meet your hand when you pet her?  This is a sign that she is enjoying the contact.  Back arched and fur standing on end means she is frightened or angry.  A scared or surprised cat may puff up its fur and turn its body sideways to the apparent threat in order to appear larger. 

Touching noses or giving a “head bonk” is another friendly greeting.  Rubbing against you, the furniture, her toys, etc. is a way of marking her territory with her scent and claiming her stuff.  Kneading is something cats do when very happy.  Kittens massage their mother’s teats to make the milk flow.  Cats also paw to mark their territory.  There are scent glands on the underside of the paws which release small amount of scent onto the object being pawed. 
The tail is often used as a signaling mechanism.  An erect tail with fur flat means that the cat is alert, inquisitive and happy.  Straight up and quivering means excited and really happy.  When the tail is held low or tucked between the legs it indicates insecurity and anxiety.  Cats will twitch the tip of the tail when hunting or irritated.

Have you ever noticed times when your cat will open her mouth slightly, curl back her lips and squint her eyes while sniffing something?  This is called the Flehman response.  It is your cat’s way of gathering more information about the object she is sniffing.  The cat has an extra olfactory organ which is called the Jacobson’s organ.  It is located on the roof of the mouth, behind the front teeth and connects with the nasal cavity. By opening the mouth and inhaling, the odor is intensified allowing the cat to obtain more information about the object in question. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cat Chat: The Meaning of Meow

The kitties we adopted a few months ago have settled right in.  They quickly endeared themselves to our two dogs, and we humans are getting much better at understanding the meaning of “meow”.  Did you know that adult cats meow to people, but not other cats?  The only meowing in cat language is done between a momma cat and her babies.  Kittens “mew” to solicit care and attention from mom.   Adult cats communicate through scent, facial expression and body language.   Vocal communication between cats includes chattering, hissing or shrieking.  

So, why do cats meow to people?  Cats depend on us.   It doesn’t take them too long to realize that we aren’t picking up on the scent messages and body language.  “Meow” is a multi-purpose word.   It can be a greeting, a request or demand, an objection, or an announcement.    A short meow or mew is the standard “hello”!  Multiple meows or mews.... an excited greeting. “I’m so very glad to see you!” The mid-pitched meow is usually a plea for something. “Feed me, please!”  The drawn out meow is a demand.  Finally, that high pitched RRRROWW is anger or pain. “Ouch!  That’s my tail you just stepped on!”

What about some of the other vocalizations?  Chirps or trills are how a mother cat tells her kittens to follow her.  If you have more than one cat they may communicate with each other this way.  If kitty is chirping at you then it’s a request for you to follow….perhaps to the food bowl.    The purr is a sign of contentment.  Our kitties purr loudly when they are eating.  Sometimes cats purr when anxious or sick.  They do this as a way to comfort themselves.   Growling, hissing, spitting  “Leave me alone”!  Enough said….  The yowl or howl usually indicates some kind of distress.  Looking for you, stuck in a closet (a frequent occurrence in our house), or in pain.  Elderly cats sometimes howl because they are disoriented.   Chattering  is the noise that your cat makes when he is sitting in the window watching the birds.  Some experts think that this is an exaggeration of the “killing bite”, when the cat grabs its prey by the neck.  

If you watch what you cat is doing when he meows and listen carefully, you will soon learn the meaning behind “meow”.   Next month I will explore how cats communicate with body language.  Stay tuned….

Monday, January 30, 2012

Cold Weather Tips for Dogs and Cats

Winter is here and in the Northeast this means cold temperatures and lots of snow.  Here are some tips to help keep your pets safe when the temperature drops. 
  • We are all guilty of sitting around a bit more during the coldest months of the year.  Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise, even if it means playing indoors.   When playing outdoors in the snow do not let your dog off leash.  It is easy for dogs to lose their scent in the snow and get lost.  Make sure your dog is wearing an ID tag.  When you are outside with your pets in the winter watch them for signs of discomfort.  If they whine, shiver, seem anxious or slow down it is time to get them inside and warm.  If you are cold then they are probably cold too.  Remember most of our animals are accustomed to living indoors.  They have not adapted to the cold temperatures.
  • Salt and other chemicals used to treat roads, as well as the bitter cold, can cause irritated, painful paws.   This can result in licking, biting and possible cracked, bleeding pads.  Your dog will may also ingest salt and other potentially dangerous chemicals.  Make sure to wipe off your dogs feet, legs and stomach when he comes inside.  Try soaking your pet’s paws in warm water if they appear irritated.   Be sure to use pet safe ice melt on your property. 
  • Never leave your dog or cat alone in the car.  A car can act like a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold.  An animal that is not used to cold temperatures could freeze to death.  Very young and old animals are more vulnerable to the cold.
  • Don’t shave your dog during the winter months.  A longer coat will provide more warmth.  If you own a short-haired breed consider getting him a coat or sweater to wear outside.   When you bathe your dog make sure he is completely dry before taking him out for a walk on those chilly days. 
  • Antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats.  Be sure to clean up any spills from your vehicle and consider using products containing propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol.
  • Keep your cat indoors.  Cats who are allowed to roam can become injured, lost or exposed to infectious disease from other animals.  During the winter cats often sleep under the hoods of cars.  When the motor is started the cat could be injured.  If there is an outdoor cat in your neighborhood, bang on the car hood before starting it to allow the animal to escape. 
  • Make sure your furry friends have a warm place to sleep that’s off the floor and away from cold drafts.  A cozy dog or cat bed should do the trick.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Introducing a new kitten to other pets

The two little cuties pictured here are our new additions.  Meet Luna and Maya.  They are 9 weeks old and full of life.  It has been 9 months since our older kitty passed away and we decided it was time to adopt a new furry feline companion -- or two!

Introducing two kittens into a house with other animals is not without some challenges. Even if your older dog or cat has lived peacefully with other animals in the house, there is no guarantee that he or she will welcome a new kitten with joy, or even tolerance!  When you bring a new kitten into the home, your older dog or cat will need lots of extra attention during the transition.  Here are a few tips to help with the introduction to the family dog.

A special place for kitty

When you first bring your new kitten home, it is important to isolate her from the resident pets. Choose a room in neutral territory (not where your older pet likes to sleep).  Set up the kitten's room with a bed, scratching post, litter pan, food and water dishes, and plenty of toys. Put the kitten in the room and let her explore a bit while you are still with her. Then leave her alone for a short time so she can become comfortable in the new surroundings. Keep the kitten and the resident pets separated, with the kitty in its own room, for the first few days.  


Pick a time when the dog is outside or crated, and let the kitten or cat begin to explore the rest of the house.  Animals get to know each other by smell. Your older pet will likely spend a lot of time sniffing at the bottom of the door to kitty's room. The kitten will do the same on the other side.  Rub the newcomer with a towel to impart her scent on it, then put the towel in the sleeping area of your existing pets, so they'll become accustomed to her smell.   Give the new kitty a towel or blanket with the scent of your other pets.

Once kitty seems comfortable in the house, you can begin introducing the dog. Take it slowly! Keep the dog on a short leash, give the command for a sit or a down/stay and allow the cat to come into the room. If the dog is remaining quiet and the cat seems interested, let the cat come over and investigate the dog.  The first time the two pets meet face to face should be brief, and hopefully calm.  Properly restraining the dog on a leash will prevent him from chasing and scaring the kitten. Don't force the issue. Let the animals go as close, or stay as far away, as they want. Repeat short introductions as often as necessary, until the animals are able to stay comfortably in the same room, with adequate supervision. 

Monitor the dog and cat closely and do not leave them alone together until you are absolutely certain they will get along well. Make sure there are safe retreats in the house where the cat can get away from the dog. A baby gate across the doorway of one room works well. Position the gate 4 to 5 inches above the floor for young kittens or older cats who cannot jump well. 
Remember to be patient with the process.  Take it slow and try not to rush things. Soon enough everyone should settle down and get along just fine.  We will let you know how things go at our house!  

Thinking about adopting? 

Are you looking to adopt a new feline friend?  Check out Homeless Animal Rescue Team of Maine (H.A.R.T), a non-profit, no-kill organization that takes pets that would be otherwise out on the street .  They have lots of wonderful cats and kittens looking for new homes.  That’s where we got our two little girls!