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1 The Cat's Meow
Cats are capable of making as many as 20 meow sounds. Each conveys a distinctive message that can easily be misinterpreted by humans. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that anyone will ever publish a Berlitz Guide to Cat Chat. But you can flatter your feline by learning Catspeak.
Here are some translation tips to prevent you from committing any feline faux pas.
Mew. Tiny sounds spoken by young kittens, usually seeking food or warmth.
Chirp. This musical trilling sound seems to end in a question mark and usually means a friendly greeting, such as "welcome home."
Meow. Your cat is commanding your immediate attention. She may be declaring, "You're late with breakfast" or "Come see me play - now."
Hiss. Plain and simple, this sinister sound means "back off."
Purr. Some cats craft noises that sound like distant thunderstorms. Others deliver purrs that resemble full-throttle Mack trucks. No one is positively sure how a cat purrs, but cats have a knack for breathing in and out while purring with their mouths closed. Strangely, cats purr when contented and, occasionally, when faced with a stressful situation, such as a vet visit.
Cats are good at understanding us. Your cat understands voice tone much better than any specific word. Although my cats seem to know the word treat even when I spell it out!
2 Whisker Lessons
Interpreting cat vocals gets you only partway across the bridge of communication. To truly cater to your cat's needs, you need to understand her body language: how she moves, how she smells, what she sees, how she hears, and why she needs whiskers.
Why does your cat rub her cheeks against your leg? She is marking you - it's her way of declaring to others, "Hey, this is mine." Don't worry; this isn't the same type of mark that some cats make when they spray urine. Only other animals can pick up the scent.
When two cats give each other full-body rubs, the action translates into: "There's strength in numbers; let's create a group odor for identification."
Learn Other Cat Cues
The tail is used for balance, and it also acts as a mood barometer. When it's held loosely upright while the cat is walking, it signals confidence. A tail that flicks toward you means "hello, my friend." Whipping the tail from side to side or thumping it on the floor signifies agitation. A lightly twitching tail conveys relaxed alertness. When the tail puffs out, it means total fright.
The nose is an important organ to cats, who constantly sniff out chemicals called pheromones, which are produced in the glands in their cheeks, between the digits of their feet, in anal sacs, and in urine. Each time a cat sniffs another cat's scent, he learns a minibio: the cat's gender, whether it is intact or neutered, its age, and its health status.
The eyes are also key. Cats can't see in total darkness, but they can see much better than we can in dim light. They also have a pair of third eyelids that unfold when needed for protection. If your cat sports dilated eyes, give him some space: He's nervous.
3 Make Your Home Fit for a Cat
Your home can also be your cat's castle - without a lot of renovation or expense. When you think about it, cats spend more time inside the house than you do. So they deserve some dScor-pleasing perks.
Cater to Your Kitty
Open a drawer in your dresser as an invitation for a catnap. If you're worried about getting clothes dirty, place an old towel on top of the items.
Satisfy your cat's curiosity by letting her explore closets while you're deciding what to wear.
If your cat likes to hang around when you're in the kitchen or bathroom, let the sink faucet drip lightly so he can take a drink. Stop the drip when you exit.
Grow some potted cat grass to fulfill your cat's plant-chewing instincts. Bonus: Chewing on cat grass will reduce hairballs.
Install a catwalk on brackets 2 feet below the ceiling. This gives your cat a purr-fect opportunity to explore the upper strata. Make sure that the catwalk is 6 to 12 inches wide and securely attached.
Provide different-sized and -shaped kitty houses in various rooms. Try a multilevel cat structure featuring scratching areas, hanging toys, and feathers in the living room.
Strategically place some rugs on hardwood or tile floors to cushion the ground for napping cats.
Place a cat bed in a tucked-away area of the living room. The bed is your cat's refuge, but it also keeps him within sight of family activities.
Open the blinds to allow sunshine in and to give your cat a lookout point for outdoor action.
Widen narrow windowsills with plush perch extensions that attach securely to the wall under the sill.
Treat your cat to a floor-to-ceiling scratching post. Or, wrap colorful rope around a column.
Drape throw blankets or cotton sheets over sofas and recliners so that your cat can snooze without depositing a mountain of hair on your upholstery.
Keep a toy chest for all your cat's play things. Bring out a few at a time to keep your cat occupied but not overwhelmed by the selection.
Remove temptation by stashing kitchen garbage in heavy lidded containers or inside a latched cabinet.
Did you inherit Aunt Dottie's antique vase? Display it in a safe place, out of the path of a dodging, darting cat.
Place special stickers on your windows indicating the number of cats you have. These signs can alert police and firefighters in an emergency.
4 Is There a Veterinarian in the House?
You can shield your cat from disease and injury. Many problems can be treated - if they're discovered early. Observe your cat, looking for changes in appearance or behavior. What you discover could save his life.
Between vet visits, practice these simple checks.
Weigh your cat weekly. Substantial shifts - gains or losses - can be a clue to an underlying problem. Record the weights and report a deviation of two or more pounds to your vet.
Give your cat a thorough head-to-tail checkup at least once a week. Don't forget to check his eyes, ears, and mouth. Your observations may help catch a disease during its early stages.
Cats detest taking pills, but you can make the medicine go down easier. Insert the pill into a ball of moist cat food and give it to your cat as a treat. Follow this with a soft treat to make sure that your cat swallowed the pill.
If your cat keeps spitting out the pill, try plan B: Open your cat's jaws wide and pop the pill on top of his tongue as far back as possible. Then hold his jaws closed and massage his throat to induce swallowing. Try blowing a quick puff of air into his face. When he blinks, he also swallows.
Never give your cat an aspirin; her physiology can't tolerate it. Ditto for acetaminophen. A single dose of either can kill a cat.
Here's an easy way to make liquid medicine go down without a fuss. Tilt your cat's head slightly to one side. Place a plastic dropper - don't use a glass one in case your cat bites down on it - in the side of the cat's mouth at the cheek pouch. Deliver the liquid in small, steady amounts. This pace allows your cat to swallow each time.
Is your cat fond of eating wool or other fabrics? He may be suffering from pica. This condition is defined as repeated craving for and ingestion of non-food objects. It's hard to say what causes pica, but experts theorize that cats are prone to the syndrome if they lack fiber in their diets, were prematurely weaned, or have separation anxiety and compulsive behavior. If you find a cannonball-sized hole in your sweater, have your cat examined by your vet.
Prevent inappropriate fabric chewing by cat proofing your house. Store clothing in closed closets or laundry hampers and not on the floor. Stow wool or knit blankets in closets until you're ready to use them. Drape and tuck a cotton bed sheet over the couch to prevent your cat from eating the material.
The number for the National Animal Poison Control Center is (900) 680-0000. You will be billed $45 per case to your phone bill, with no time limit. Or phone (888) 426-4435, which bills the same fee to a major credit card. The hot line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When you call, provide the name of the poison your animal was exposed to; the amount of the exposure and how long ago it occurred; the species, breed, age, sex, and weight of your pet; and his symptoms. Signs of poisoning include listlessness, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle tremors, lack of coordination, and fever.
The national pet emergency hot line at (888)738-7911 will refer you to a pet clinic if your cat needs emergency care or becomes lost.