Watching the cues will help unlock clues to feline communication
The third column in this continuing series on feline communication will focus on overall body posturing and the behavioral information it provides. Because no signaling system can be removed from the context of the entire animal, using what we have learned from observation of behavioral cues from felines' faces and tails can be extremely useful when we look at the cat in its relevant social context. For other feline signaling columns refer to the September and November 2005 issues of DVM Newsmagazine.
Next, look at the cat's tail. It's slightly puffed, indicating a slight increase in reactivity. Notice the cat's tail is not lying flaccid on the floor; it's slightly elevated. Remember that still photos only represent a fraction of a second in what are likely to be complex and lengthy sequences. By learning about basic communication patterns and correlations among classes of behaviors, we can intuit that this cat is likely moving her tail a bit. If this is so, it's another sign of arousal, and one often signaling a willingness to move.Remember there are benefits and drawbacks to evaluating behavior through still images. The single best behavioral tool is a video camera.
So far, we can deduce this cat is aroused, is willing to move and shows some evidence of offensive aggression. Onto the next clue; look at the cat's back. Careful examination of the cat shows piloerection down the dorsum. This is evidence of heightened arousal and reactivity, and suggests that such reactions are not focusing on friendly, inclusive behaviors. Piloerection always goes with behaviors signaling a decreased affiliative tendency.
Accordingly, the dog correctly interpreted that the decision to further approach this cat or her food dish carried a degree of risk that he was not willing to assume.