Experienced cat sitter and traveller Tiera St Claire shares her cat-whispering secrets about natural cat behavior and ways to win over any kitty.
By Tiera St Claire
Learn about natural cat behaviour from a seasoned pet sitter
Cats are marvelous creatures, and don’t they know it! Caring for a cat may take less energy than caring for a dog, but it can take more finesse. Knowing natural cat behaviors can help!
Many cats represent the height of secure living, from curling up in the sun, to slowly stretching one leg then the other, to sauntering over to their food bowl, fully confident in their place in the world. I often see this natural cat behavior in big tom cats, ginger cats, greys. And cat behaviour with humans is entertaining too.
Dealing with a skittish cat
Others are skittish, scared of sudden movements, and feel safer under the bed than in someone’s lap. These kitties take patience, a soft voice and an ability to tune in to when they need to be simply left alone or when they might prefer a little attention.
Luna, below, is showing that she is nervous by putting her ears a bit flattened to the side. At first she would not come to me at all. After the first week, she let me pet and massage her and then even rough-house with her a little, all the while purring and preening. You can see Luna relaxing during a vigorous massage in this video: Massaging Skittish Luna.
Talkers & Cuddlers
Some cats are talkers. I like it. We carry on conversations! I was recently with a Himalayan cat in Southend-on-Sea who loved to talk. I could hear the difference when he was telling me about his day, demanding food or missing his person – which is when I would pet him, with a gentle touch light as a feather. I could see his body relax, good cat behavior body language.
Some cats love to play with strings and balls and things to pounce upon. Tuxedo cats are known for having loads of energy and wanting attention in this way. This natural cat behavior can also be a prelude to eating, as feline digestion is often enhanced by play.
And then there is the wondrous Lap Cat. If you enjoy a cuddle, these are wonderful.
Natural cat behavior
Cats are natural predators as well as being prey to other larger animals. Many of the characteristics we see in them evolved for survival. The silent way they walk and the tendency to be up high are features that help them hunt. They have strong, flexible bodies, quick reflexes, sharp retractable claws, and teeth adapted to killing small prey.[Ed Note: By applying natural cat behavior, I once taught an adult cat to use his litter pan. Pouncer’s owner was annoyed that this tom cat would use her fireplace to do his “business,” so she would put him outside at night.
I realized that the placement of the litter pan – beneath a low shelf that was convenient for the other, smaller, female cat – was uncomfortable for Pouncer to use. He couldn’t cover his scat – a natural cat behavior to bury his scent – so he used the ashes in the fireplace!
I bought a second pan and placed it in a corner with nothing above it. I told Pouncer if he used the pan, I’d let him stay in at night. That first night at 10:00 pm, he meowed as usual. But instead of heading to the door, he beelined to the new litter pan to show me he was worthy of staying in that night! By applying natural cat behavior, I made both the kitty and the owner happier.]
8 Things that can alarm a cat
1. Direct eye contact, which can be seen as confrontational. In the wild, predators look directly at their intended prey which show they are about to attack.
2. Coming at them from above. Cats feel safer when up high so they can pounce on their prey – rather than be pounced upon!
3. Loud or sudden movements and sounds.
4. Being grabbed or hugged. This can make the cat feel restrained and unable to escape a threat.
5. Cucumbers. Have you seen those funny videos of people placing cucumbers near their cat who then turns around and, startled, darts away in humorous ways? Whilst this can make for a great laugh, it is actually alarming and scary for the cat. To the cat, the cucumber resembles a snake, which is a natural predator. Furthermore, putting a cucumber near the feeding area – which is supposed to be a safe space – is particularly alarming for the cat.
6. Petting their belly. Cats have sensitive and ticklish tummies, and it’s a vulnerable spot. Some cats love a belly rub once they accept you, others never do. Let the cat guide you with its natural cat behavior about where it likes to be rubbed.
7. A change in routine, which can make a cat feel insecure, particularly a move to a new place.
8. Strangers. It’s natural cat behavior to be wary of unfamiliar people and settings.
Meeting a cat for the first time
When I first meet a cat, I sit down on the floor and wait for his/her approach. I look at it and then slowly close my eyes, look back up and then away. I repeat this a number of times to show I am friendly, not aggressive. I maintain a soft and loving demeanor and my facial expression is passive. When the cat does a slow blink back at me I see I am accepted. What a great feeling!
It is fairly obvious to see what is going on with a cat by its facial expressions. Open eyes and ears up mean a cat feels safe.
This is Pumpkin and Peaches. You can see that Peaches, on the right, is more relaxed, ears up. Pumpkin a little more nervous with her ears flattened a bit.
Pet sitting has been a wonderful way for me to meet and bond with all types of cats. By studying natural cat behavior, I have learned to moderate my own behavior to support the cats I care for. I feel enriched and delighted with the bonds I have made and the love shared throughout my house sitting journey.
Tiera St Claire has been pet sitting full time for 18 years and learning about natural cat behavior all the while. Originally from the United States, she spends most of her time travelling in Europe and the UK where she loves caring for animals and the homes they live in.
She enjoys beautiful cities, walking the Camino Santiago in Spain, photography and train travel. She is a Human Design teacher. She vlogs about her house sitting travels on her YouTube channel.
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