Feline communication: Integrate the sign into a strategy
The final column in this series on feline communication focuses on integrating all the signals we have discussed and in reviewing their roles given the context of the specific behavioral environment.
First, notice the similarity in body postures for these cats; they are almost mirror images of each other. Second, notice that both cats appear to be taking great pains to signal that neither is a threat. Their ears are forward, showing that they are alert. Their coats are smooth; they are partially hunched down without rapidly lashing tails, and they are both looking off into the distance. When you combine these behaviors with the fact that each cat is positioned so that each has his or her neck turned away from the other, which is a deferential behavior in all social species under examination, and that they are looking toward the floor, it becomes clear that neither cat wishes any overt challenge or contest to occur.
The black-and-white cat has full control of the box. The tabby has signaled that she, too, would like to use the box. These signals are not lost on the rest of the cat colony: Most of the cats are watching these two. In short, when the black-and-white cat signaled a potential change in posture and decision, the tabby asked for information about whether she could occupy the box.
When humans ask questions, they do so in words. We also often put ourselves in physical positions that get us more information. When dogs and cats ask questions, they do so by a series of behavioral changes that are sometimes provocative. Sentient species always act to gain information that will allow them to make decisions about how to use their time and other resources. If we wish to understand cat signaling, we must accept fully what this means.