The Cheshire cat explained to Alice in Wonderland “A dog growls when it is angry and wags its tail when it is pleased. Now, I growl when I am pleased and wag my tail when I am angry. Therefore, I am mad”.
All cat owners will be familiar with the warning sign of a swishing tail when “Puss” is displeased and the purr of contentment when everything is going “Puss’s” way, but there are many other ways in which the cat expresses its emotions or communicates with its owner.
Owners may notice that when the cat is sitting on their lap it slowly blinks and momentarily shuts its eyes. This is a cats way of saying “I feel safe and I trust you” and has sometimes been described as a “cat kiss”. If the owner gives a soft smile and blinks slowly many cats will respond by blinking back. When the cat is in this mood it will often appear mesmerized and knead the owner’s lap or arm with its front paws, often with the claws extended which can be quite uncomfortable for the owner. Nonetheless, it is a sign of affection and contentment – for the cat!
Cats also pat with their paws. In contrast to the defensive or angry swipe with claws out, the gentle pat with claws retracted is the cat’s way of getting attention or inviting play. Many cats will gently tap their sleeping owners eyelids when the cat believes it is getting up time!
On returning home a dog owner will be greeted with joyous bounds, barks, and wagging tail. The cat owner will be greeted by a “meow” which with a little imagination may sound like “Hello”. This particular meow will be quite distinctive and used only as a greeting. It is quite unlike the “meow” as a reminder that it is meal time. The cat will also rub around the owner’s legs and purr and the tail will be carried flag- like in greeting.
The owner who has upset the cat will also be familiar with the rear view of their departing cat with the erect tail stiff legged haughty walk which very clearly demonstrates the disdain with which mere humans should be treated.
Although grooming is an important part of the cat’s toilet it is also used to express contempt – who hasn’t noticed the cat sitting just out of reach of a dog and washing behind its ears with a look of total disinterest!
The cat is a most complex creature which has learned that there is mutual benefit in living with a man who will provide food and warmth and comfort. Man gains the benefits of companionship and entertainment from a pet which is quiet, clean and undemanding in terms of cost and exercise.