We must remember that interactions are a dance with roles for both partners, who each give and request information. This is
why we see pauses in so many interactions. Pauses give time to observe and process information, and then respond appropriately
to it. Such interactions, driven by rules specifying clear and predictable communications, are important aspects of normal
signaling behavior in all social species. Cats are no exception.
The importance of integrating various visual signals is depicted particularly well in Photo 6. Again, we have two kittens
approaching each other in a kitten class. They are unknown to each other. The black and white cat has a tail up, ears forward
and eyes focused on the orange tabby. These are all signs that he is willing to approach and interact. But his weight is all
on his left forepaw and his back is arched: signs of both uncertainty and formulating a contingency plan. The arched back
indicates a willingness to flee. The raised forepaw indicates that a change in behavior will follow (you'll see this in dogs,
too), but that the cat will swat if the interaction doesn't proceed at a different pace and if this option to move away is
Note that the yellow tabby has a curved, elevated tail as seen in most of the earlier illustrations, but he is sitting back
and down into it. His ears are up and forward, and he is watching the black and white kitten. The tabby, too, is willing to
interact, but is slowing down the pace of the interaction by engaging in partial and then full (off-camera) sitting. It helps
to know that sitting is a "stop" signal in dogs and cats.
In the next article in this continuing series, we will look at some of the complexities of tail signaling, and then focus
on other body parts and postures. I hope that these pieces serve to help us better understand and appreciate our feline companions
and patients so that we can pass on the excitement of understanding signaling to our clients. Clients who watch their animals
and allow their animals to teach them their feline or canine signaling language have better relationships with their dogs
and cats, and are less likely to relinquish them. This is absolute justification for all veterinarians to make understanding
behavior one of their priorities.
Dr. Overall has given hundreds of national and international presentations and short courses and is the author of more than
100 publications on behavioral medicine and lizard behavioral ecology. She is a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary
Behavior (ACVB) and is certified by the Animal Behavior Society (ABS) as an Applied Animal Behaviorist.