Your Cat Is Trying To Communicate With You Through Meows, Yowls And Blinks

Your Cat Is Trying To Communicate With You Through Meows, Yowls And Blinks

LOS ANGELES (AP) - When it comes to cats, those meows mean ... well, a lot of things.

With each purr, yowl or even blink, felines are saying, "Hello," ''Let's snuggle" or "Beat it, Mom." For the increasing number of pet owners who want to connect with their often-aloof fur babies, experts say there's something to gain from those attempts at communication.

dr gary weitzman
Dr. Gary Weitzman, author of the new book, "How to Speak Cat," observes Pepper the cat.

Cats are very independent, and so they are easily misunderstood, says Dr. Gary Weitzman, president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA and author of the new National Geographic book "How to Speak Cat." He aims to unravel the mystery by helping people discern what cats are trying to convey.

Crafty kitties can make 16 different meow sounds and usually only unleash them when people are around, he said. Meows can be their way of saying feed me, pet me or let me out, and hardly ever get exchanged between cats.

dr gary weitzman
Weitzman with Thorton the cat.

That's because cats learn they can get something desirable from people if they meow, said Dr. Bonnie Beaver, executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and a professor at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine. She also wrote the 2003 textbook "Feline Behavior."

The meaning of a scratch or a hiss is pretty clear, but cats can talk in more subtle ways - with their eyes and tails. A slow blink from a feline, for example, is like a wink between friends, Weitzman said.

"Blinking is like a kitty kiss," he said.

And extending their tails straight up equates to a human handshake, he said. A cat perks up that appendage as it approaches to show it's happy to see you.

Susan McMinn, 55, of Tryon, North Carolina, was eager to try the slow-blinking exercise with her Siamese cat, Jade, after reading the book.

"I sat and blinked slowly at my cat, and she blinked right back. I know she loves me, of course, but now I feel I understand her communication even more," McMinn said.

McMinn has owned Jade for 10 years and has had six cats over her lifetime, but she says it's clear she still has a lot to learn. "And I thought I was an expert!" she said.

Even ear and whisker movements signify something worth listening to. If a cat's ears are flat, don't get close because it's scared or facing a fight, Weitzman said.

A kitty is happy, calm or friendly when its whiskers are naturally out to the side. Twice as thick as a human hair and rooted three times as deep, the whiskers guide them, help them with prey and show how they are feeling.

Learning to communicate with cats becomes even important for those who adopt a pet based only on the color or breed they want versus a connection with the animal.

At Happy Cats Sanctuary in Medford, New York, a potential owner might ask for a "white cat with fluffy fur," said Melissa Cox, director of communications and development.

She tells them not to go by looks alone because the true indicator of compatibility is spending time with a cat and getting to know it.

For McMinn, she says she isn't done with the book and plans to use some of its training tips. But now she knows "what to look for in her (cat's) tail and ear movement, whisker positions and in her eyes."

Before You Go

The Amazing Acro-Cats
The Amazing Acro-Cats consists of 14 cats -- of which all but two are female.

There's also three performing rats (all female), one groundhog (male) and a hen named Cluck Norris, who plays cymbals in the Acro-Cats' house band, the Rock Cats.

Cluck Norris also lays eggs. "We eat them," says Samantha Martin, the Acro-Cats creator and ringleader.
The Amazing Acro-Cats
The Amazing Acro-Cats and their human helpers -- Martin, as well as publicist Polly Smith and fearless assistant Seunga Park -- travel about 10 months of the year on a "purr-fect" 35-foot tour bus that is kitted out for the cats' maximum comfort. For example, the cats get the on-board master bedroom.

"The cats have more room than the humans," says Martin.
The Amazing Acro-Cats
Samantha Martin's first traveling animal circus specialized in rats.

"The Amazing Acro-Rats," she says. "I couldn't make a living on just rats."

About a decade ago, Martin switched to that other misunderstood, often underestimated breed of animal: cats. She'd put on cat shows at art galleries and other small venues, and began realizing this might be a more sustainable venture.

"People started showing up in droves," Martin says.
The Acro-Cats
The group contains a Guinness Book of World Records record-holder!

Alley the cat, who was rescued as a kitten from a Chicago alleyway, now holds the record for longest jump by a cat.

She earned that recognition by jumping 6 feet on October 27, 2013.
The Amazing Acro-Cats
The cats and other performing critters are taught their tricks using only positive reinforcement, like clicker training and food treats. They're never scolded or punished.

"No one protests after they've seen the show," Martin says. "It's not cruel in any way."
The Amazing Acro-Cats
You may not be able to run off with the cat circus, exactly. But you can definitely participate!

Volunteers in each city help out with the box office and wrangling cats between shows. Or if you've got a pad where the kitties can crash for a couple of days between gigs, that's also very welcome.

As are folks who have some bus-fixing skills they want to donate.

It's an "old bus," says Martin. Here's where to get in touch.
The Amazing Acro-Cats
The Rock Cats are (as far as we know) the world's only feline rock band.

Tuna the cat is on cowbell. Sookie plays the chimes. Nue's on keyboards. Dakota hammers away on the drums. And, of course, Cluck Norris pecks away at the cymbals.

The result: a little dada. A little daffy. Completely delightful.
The Amazing Acro-Cats
The Amazing Acro-Cats often travel with foster kittens, who are available for adoption. In fact, since Martin has a special fondness for the teeniest kitties, the tour bus travels with an incubator.

All these babies get basic clicker training, Martin says, and most are able to high-five by the time they are dispatched to their forever families.

So far, 157 cats have been fostered and then adopted into permanent homes, Martin says. That should be 158 soon -- an adoption application has been put in in for a sweet little orange guy named Opie.
The Amazing Acro-Cats
The Acro-Cats aren't just here to entertain you (though, certainly, they will do that). Samantha Martin is also using her feline circus to show you that cats are really, really fun and trainable.

"I want to help people build a better relationship with their cat," she says.

To that end, Martin has devised a cat training kit. We can't promise your cat will do leaps like this one on command after using the kit, but we can promise you all will have a good time.
The Amazing Acro-Cats
The cats can sometimes be a bit persnickety. As well-trained as they are, as much fresh tuna as they're rewarded with, feline performers don't always feel like doing their tricks.

Cluck Norris, on the other hand, never misses her mark.

"You don't see cat circuses around because people can't stand the humiliation," says Martin. "Cluck is a total professional. Has a good work ethic."
The Amazing Acro-Cats
Home is an apartment in Chicago with a big screened-in yard, where, Martin says, she and the cats pretty much do the same things as what they do on stage, in front of an audience.

The jumps and tightropes are spread out across the living room, and the Rock Cats' instruments are set up in the kitchen, where they like to play while Martin cooks.

"This is what I would do at home," she says, wearing a cat ear headband, and gesturing toward one Acro-Cat who's climbing up a tower, and another seated at a set of drums, while several more sit on scraps of purple carpet -- their "marks" -- and other perches, waiting to be rewarded for their efforts. (Cluck Norris is napping in her carrier, and Garfield the groundhog is running laps around the room, pausing only occasionally to be petted.)

But as fun as it is being home -- and it is fun, for those couple of months a year -- getting back on the road is also a good time, for Martin and the rest of the gang.

"I love to travel. I love to see the countryside," she says. "And I get to be with my pets 24/7."

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