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You and Your Cat

The time you take to get to know your cat will reward you with a precious relationship full of understandings that break the species barrier. And every cat you love throughout your life will carve his or her own place in your heart.

  HOW TO PICK UP A CAT

Invite the cat to investigate your hand. Scratch the cat between the ears and across the cheekbones.

Approaching the cat from the side (most cats don't like to be approached from the front), put one hand firmly under the armpits of the front legs, and lift. As soon as the hind legs start to leave the ground, scoop them up from beneath with your other hand, giving your cat a sense of reliable support.

Don't pick up a cat by the scruff of the neck. Only mother cats can do that safely with their kittens.

While every cat is different, there is still a common code of expression—a set of signals—that you can learn to read easily. Pay attention to the look in the eyes, the tone of the voice, and the position of the ears. Cat body language is largely universal, with some variations from cat to cat. There are ways to bridge the gap between human and feline understanding.

Cat Talk

For instance, you can talk to your cat. Some people feel silly speaking to cats, because they think animals can't understand them. These same people may feel comfortable carrying on long one-sided conversations with infants. Cats do receive information from your conversation: praise, comfort, and a sense of security.

You can get information, too. The more cats are spoken to, the more they will speak back. You will learn a lot from your cat's wide vocabulary of chirps and meows. You will know when it is time to get up (at least in your cat's opinion), when your cat is feeling affectionate, or when your cat is feeling critical or threatened, or is in pain. Your cat doesn't necessarily have something urgent to tell you; a passing meow in the hallway may be a simple hello.

Cat Body Language

You can also tell a great deal about what cats want or how they are feeling simply by the look in their eyes or their reaction to things. Are your cat's ears twitching in your direction like satellite dishes when you are speaking? He or she is absorbing everything you are saying. Does your cat's back rise up to meet your hand when you pet him or her? This means your cat is enjoying this contact with you. Does his or her back seem to collapse away under your slightest touch? Your cat is on his or her way somewhere and doesn't want to be held up, even by a favorite person.

THE POWER OF TOUCH

Touch is one of your most important communication tools. While every cat has a different set of purr-zones, there are a few spots on which most cats enjoy being petted. Gently scratch the skin at the top of the head between the ears, or gently twist and pull the ears. Be very careful not to hurt the cat or pull too hard. Ear-oriented cats also like to have a knuckle lightly rubbed inside their ear. Scratch backwards along the cheeks from the whiskers toward the tail, or try scratching under the jaw and along the neck. Cats have been known to fall over with pleasure when you scratch under their collar.

Like humans, cats enjoy a good rubbing under the forelegs and around the shoulder blades. Many cats like to have their backs scratched and even to have their fur brushed backwards briefly. Use some enthusiasm while scratching the base of your cat's tail. It can make the cat feel great, and it's a good way to detect the presence of fleas. Don't overdo it, though—too much of a good thing in this area can overstimulate a cat and cause him or her to want to bite.

If your cat crouches low to the ground, he or she is feeling uneasy. If your cat stands on his or her toes, you are probably being asked to pick up your cat. Raised hair on the back and a puffed-out tail are universal signs of hostility or defensiveness. But how about a quivering tail? That is the greatest expression of adoration any cat can bestow upon a human. But a thrashing tail shows the mood has shifted to intense agitation.

Teaching Your Cat

Most kittens are eager to learn how to please you. You can easily correct behavior in a young cat with a gentle but firm tone and a demonstration of the proper way to do things. Praise your kitten when you point out the litter box and scratching post.

Depending upon how happy and peaceful their former lives were, older cats may be a little more difficult to teach, but they are well worth the effort. Patience and kindness, with perhaps a firmer tone of voice, should help maintain most ground rules. Hitting your pet is cruel and accomplishes nothing—it will only teach your cat to be afraid of you. A good discipline tool is a spray bottle filled with water. Catch the cat in the act of scratching the sofa or jumping on the sink and spritz the culprit with a gentle spray of water. Your cat will associate the behavior with the unpleasant experience of water, but will not associate you with the unpleasant experience.

Behavior Changes

Cats are not spiteful creatures—that's one of the most refreshing things about them. Contrary to popular assumption, a cat who has a lapse in remembering ground rules or stops using the litter box is not trying to get even with or punish his or her owner. Your cat may be feeling out of balance, and these signs should alert you that your cat may be unwell or that something else is amiss. There probably is a good reason for this behavior, and it's up to you to figure out what it is.

A cat who stops using the litter box, for example, may be getting a bladder infection. Cats will associate the litter pan with the pain they feel upon urinating and avoid using the litter, or the cat may not like the brand of litter you've started using, or the cat may not feel comfortable using the box where it is kept. Other things that may disturb your cat may have to do with your behavior: have you changed your routine or are you under stress or feeling sad? Cats' behavior may alter with any alteration in their routine or environment, such as a new cat or a new home. If abnormal behavior persists, have your veterinarian check your cat for any medical problems. If no medical problems exist, your veterinarian may suggest an animal behaviorist.

Source: The Humane Society of the United States