I love trying to observe and learn in cat eye communication (and other animals), so I was thrilled about this article and will definitely be trying out the exercise. Do you have any experience/success in this field? I would love to hear about it.
Article by Stephanie Davies
Locally known as "The Cat Whisperer", or alternatively "That Cat Lady", I have a lifetime of experience studying and analyizing cat behaviour and what I call "cat-speak". Cats do not have the proper vocal cords to speak English, but they have a highly complex vocal and gesture system which allows them to communicate in great detail with both humans and each other. This article focuses on cat's eye gestures.
Have you ever paid attention to the movements of your cat's eyes? Cats use their eyes to communicate with each other in many different ways that most people wouldn't even notice. Let me give you one simple example. Have you ever called to your cat to get it to come to you and it acted as if it were not only of disproportionately low intelligence but also completely and utterly deaf. Next time, try this simple exercise with your cat. When you want your cat to come to you, or jump up on your lap, make eye contact with your cat for about 2 seconds, then shift your eyes to look at where you want the cat to end up (be it on your lap or beside you). Then immediately shift your eyes back to making eye contact with your cat, hold for one second, then look somewhere else. You may have to do this two or three times before your cat understands that YOU understand the whole "eye thing". Pretty soon you will be able to do that without any hesitance on your cats part.
In the above exercise, what you did, in the easiest form for your cat to understand was to:
1. Make eye contact with the cat (i.e. "Hey, you there, I want to talk to you")
2. Shifted your eyes to a spot where you wanted him/her to go (i.e. "Look at this spot!")
3. Shifted your eyes immediately back to the cat (i.e. "See that spot I just showed you.. It involves you...can you go there please"), and finally:
4. Look at something else besides the spot or the cat (i.e. That's all my request is for, I don't have anything else to say besides come sit up there).
It makes perfect sense when you think about it like that, but most people - having the relative ease of vocal cords that allow us to say and understand "Please come here" - don't think in terms of nonverbal language.
Other things that a cat's eye signifies are:
- Eyes wide open and looking at you: "I'm listening" or "Yes You need me"
- Eyes half closed: "I trust you and everything around me, I'm secure." or "I'm sleepy"
- Eye pupils in slits: "I'm feeling alert and confident"
- Bug-eyed: "I'm frightened" or (if looking at another cat with this) "What in HADES are you doing!"
- Blinking and winking: "I'm talking to you, I like you"
- Eyes clouded: "I'm ill" or, "I'm relaxed"
- Eyes staring at a person: "Stay away. I don't wish to be disturbed"
- Eyes staring at a wall: "I thought I saw something move!"
- Looking at you then turning away "Oh, it's just you"
If you wish to make "friends" with a cat, the best thing NOT to do is to stare at it. Cats take staring as a personal challenge, as well as a confrontation. Much like you would with an aggressive dog, the best thing to do is to look away, or look downward. If a cat "allows" you to pet it, then if you close your own eyes, you are showing the cat that you are trusting him/her and want to be friends.
Cats read our own eyes for signals they use themselves and therefore recognize (it's a heck of a lot easier than that human-speak stuff). So when around a furry feline, monitor your own eye movements and what they are saying to the kitty, kitty might just surprise you and start "talking" back!
Image © via pictopia.com