Watching the cues will help unlock clues to feline communication - DVM
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Watching the cues will help unlock clues to feline communication


DVM360 MAGAZINE



Photo 2: The kitten's ears (open and forward) and wide stance indicate a willingness to interact.
In Photo 2, we have a signaling situation that overlaps what we have deduced in Photo 1. If we work on assessing the cat's signals from right to left, we can see which signals are informative. Here, the tail is piloerected to some extent and elevated off the ground. From the hump at the base end of the tail, we can assume that the carriage off the ground is associated with movement. So, we have an aroused cat who is willing to move. But in this photograph the cat is going to do so in a friendly manner. The clues are apparent in the body stance and face. This kitten's ears are open and forward, the face is intense but showing no signs of agonistic behavior. The feet are broad-spread with toes flexed — an action often associated with getting better traction. It makes sense here to scan the cat's postures from right-to-left. The cat's right paw is elevated, and it's clear that the cat is going to swat at something. We would expect that the swat would be playful given the facial signals. In fact, this kitten is playing with a toy. This type of detailed examination of a depicted behavior in a stepwise or directional manner can be a useful tool to minimize bias in interpretation.

Exaggeration


Photo 3: Recognizing patterns that are stable or change with age is also an important concept in applying behavioral evaluations.
In Photo 3, we see an exaggerated form of the situation previously discussed in Photo 2. The cat's tail is slightly piloerected. (You can see this by looking at the edges at the bend). The cat's back paws are flexed and dug into the carpet. The cat's ears are far forward, and the animal's face suggests that this is an intense, alert, inquisitive cat. The left paw is stretched out and flexed against a hard surface, suggesting that this cat either just has (or soon will) swat at something. Again, this kitten is playing. We see that these patterns are retained throughout many ages of kittenhood. The bigger and more athletic the kitten, the more he can stretch out. It's important to recognize which patterns are stable and which change with age so that we can school our clients to look for deviations that may indicate a problematic behavior.

The earlier we convince our clients to attend to their cat's behaviors, the more attuned they will be to behaviors that indicate behavioral or physical change and/or pathology. All pathologies are more easily treated when they have been detected early. This is especially true for behavioral concerns because with practice, animals learn inappropriate or pathological behaviors by retaining information about those behaviors encoded as molecular changes in their brains.

Signs of concern


Photo 4: The cat's curled paw and raised head are the first clues that it might be anticipating activity, but he does not look overly aroused offensively or defensively.
Photo 4 shows a cat who is part of a blood-donor colony, relaxing in the middle of the room with other cats. This photo shares many similarities with those we have already discussed, but it's the differences that are important. The big difference is that this cat is lying down on his side. The other cats are all upright. Upright animals have to go through fewer behaviors to move or to act.

A cat like the one in Photo 4 would have to right himself before he moves. The positioning leaves the animal more vulnerable should a threat arise. This cat shows no signs of concern. Therefore, the alternate interpretation that he is comfortable is more likely. What specific behaviors allow us to draw this conclusion?


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Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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