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When your cat twitches its tail and fixes you with a cold, glassy stare, it means:
A. I want a tickle.
B. Let me out.
C. Could you please die now, so that I can eat your remains.
Kitties are notoriously inscrutable beasts, but now a video posted by Cat Protection, the leading nonprofit organization in the United Kingdom devoted to feline welfare, can help you decode some of your cat's mysterious behaviors.
According to Cat Protection's research, humans display a "worrying lack of knowledge" about the body language of cats, and particularly, their distress signals. Forty-nine percent of cat owners don't know that licking the lips indicates that a cat is stressed, and 38 percent don't understand that flattened ears are a sign that a cat is frightened and needs a place to hide.
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"Cats are often considered to be independent and able to look after themselves, whereas dogs are usually perceived to 'need' their owners," says Cat Protection behavior expert Nicky Trevorrow. "The reality is that while cats are pretty good at surviving without us, they do, of course, have needs. If these aren't met, it can lead to stress and behavioral problems."
Read on for more feline-to-human translations.
Other key signals:
Approaching with tail up: This is a cat's way of greeting you. Trevorrow suggests that you respond with affection.
Rubbing objects (including you) with its head: It's not a sign of adoration but a way of spreading its scent. If you have been out all day, your cat might want you to smell more familiar.
Slowly blinking: This is a sign of a happy, relaxed cat. To communicate with your pet in cat language, you can slowly blink back and turn your head to the side in a relaxed manner to show you are at ease and aren't a threat. You might get another slow blink in return.
Lying down, belly exposed: This is not an invitation for a belly rub. The cat is showing that it trusts you, and if you touch its belly, you are betraying that trust; that's why cats will often respond by grabbing your hand and wrist with their claws. Just give it a little pat on the head instead.
Purring: It can mean your cat is content, but it can also be a signal of pain, so look for other signs of distress.
Now, go apologize to your cat for your ignorance (especially for those years of tummy rubs) and hope for a slow blink in return.
–Sarah B. Weir