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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Pet Talk: Nuances of cat communication

  • I have been reading a book by Bash Dibra called “Cat Speak: How to learn it, speak it and use it to have a happy, healthy, well mannered cat.”
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  • I have been reading a book by Bash Dibra called "Cat Speak: How to learn it, speak it and use it to have a happy, healthy, well mannered cat." Dibra is widely recognized for his unique ability to communicate with dogs and cats. His term "cat speak" suggests more than vocal interactions. It also refers to feline facial expressions and body language.
    The author states that cats are just as trainable as dogs as long as the owner has the knowledge and ability to interpret their signals. He says "With dogs, an owner commands: with cats, the owner suggests." Dibra believes that cats do not consider their owners as "leaders" but as loving humans who will provide for all the cat's needs. Cats may conform to their owner's requirements, not because they feel submissive, but rather because they want to continue this comfortable life.
    Most aspects of feline body language are well known. We all understand the more dramatic postures. We have learned that flattened ears, narrowed eyes and swishing tail accompanied by a low growl mean, "leave me alone or I am going to have to bite or scratch to make my point." Other signals are subtler and necessitate evaluating the total picture of vocalization, facial expression, ear and body posture to learn the message.
    Cat's whiskers show mood and emotions. A relaxed cat will have whiskers held together loosely and fanned straight out at the sides. Whiskers that are held flat to the face and pointed back indicate an annoyed or frightened cat. The same is true for ear postures. Cats have a special ability to swivel their ears sideways in order to capture what they hear. Because cat hearing is many times more acute, humans may not hear anything.
    All beings communicate feelings through eye expression. Cats have some special indicators to cue us in on their mood. A contented cat may blink their eyes slowly while looking at their person. I have found that if I do the same while staring at my cat, she seems to respond and I interpret this as meaning that we have communicated our love for each other. Sometimes a cat will stare at you, almost blankly, for a few moments when you first approach them. This is because their ability to focus takes longer and at first, they do not recognize you.
    Feline body posture reflects a wide range of feelings and mood. A happy and affectionate cat will curve their back and rub up against you. They will butt you with their head and wind their tail around your legs. They are showing love but also marking you as their property with scent glands situated in their cheeks and tail. Cats will belly flop on the floor and expose their stomach to you, seeming to want a belly rub. While some cats enjoy a belly rub, many do not and, despite the apparent invitation, they will grab your hands and try to bite you.
    Page 2 of 2 - Cat breeds vary in the amount and intensity of vocalizations. Siamese, and other Orientals are known to be very vocal, sometimes to an annoying degree. They will chatter a lot and call for attention whenever they want attention "now!" by loud howling, sometimes in the middle of the night.
    A few unusual feline vocalization patterns should be noted. If a cat is inside at the window and spots "prey", they may rapidly chatter their teeth and make a small moan in excitement and frustration. Cats sometimes will give a long, low moan just prior to vomiting up a hairball. Cat purring can indicate illness or pain rather than contentment. They are showing submission, indicating a need for help.
    The book "Cat Speak" goes into detail teaching owners how to understand and speak cat language and goes on to help them use this wisdom to maximize their relationship with their pet. Information is included on correcting unacceptable cat behaviors and on teaching them tricks. Dibra claims that cats can be taught not to: scratch furniture, chew on houseplants, tread on forbidden surfaces and indulge in unacceptable behavior. That alone should be a strong motivation to study this book.
     

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