Communication between cats

Those of you who have more than one cat will know that the way which they communicate with each other is very different to how they do with us, and often very hard to read. Following the success of their 2013 study, BBC’s Horizon recently aired the findings of their Cat Watch 2014 – a scientific study to track cats’ behaviour and language. This included looking at how cats communicate with other cats, a language which contrasts greatly to the one we have with our feline friends.

It’s been known for some time now that meow sounds have been developed as a result of the domestication of cats. Kittens have been proven to meow to their mothers after birth as a cry for attention, but adult cats do not use these sounds for each other – only to us humans! It seems the clever creatures recognise the effects of certain meow noises, depending on their pitch and sound, and use these to manipulate our actions, be it for feeding or petting. When it comes to other cats, however, the noises they exhibit are much different, with sounds such as yowls and chattering to acknowledge the presence of other cats and mark their territory.

Body language is another way in which cats communicate to one another; just like humans, they use physical affection for familiar felines, which can include touching noses and rubbing the sides of their faces and bodies together as a greeting. The posture and position of their tail is another way of communicating their disposition. A very upright, straight in the air tail is a welcome sign to other cats, and most will feel comfortable approaching as a result. Whereas, all fluffed up with an arched back and raised bent over tail is very hostile body language and would immediately make other cats cautious and alert to possible conflict. With their extraordinary sense of smell, the other main way that cats communicate is through scent messages, something we’re unable to pick up on. They do this during contact with each other, through which they’re mixing their scents and leaving a trail of their own; likewise, cats leave scent messages for other cats in their ‘areas’ as a way of marking their territory.

So next time you see your cat with another, it’s worth spending some time observing how they act and speak to each other. It will remind you what a fascinating species they truly are, and may make you more aware of the ways they communicate with you too as a result.

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Does your dog have the winter blues?

With the dark nights and cold, miserable weather, winter is not everyone’s favourite time of year; and the change in seasons can have a dramatic effect on us, with a reported increase in cases of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in recent years. It’s not just humans that experience this though – it’s widely believed that our pets can suffer from the winter blues too, exhibiting many similar symptoms to ourselves. A study by the PDSA (The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) found that approximately 40% of dog owners saw a considerable downturn in their pet’s moods during the winter months. So, if, as the nights draw in, you notice your furry friend doesn’t seem quite their usual self it could well be a reflection of what’s happening outside.

The reason behind this change in mood is due primarily to the impact the decreased light has on the production of two hormones: melatonin and serotonin. Produced in the light sensitive pineal gland, melatonin is key in helping to regulate our sleep cycles; so the reduced hours of daylight means higher levels are produced which can leave us feeling tired and lethargic. Serotonin, often thought of as the ‘happy hormone’, is directly linked to our type of mood, and is reliant upon exposure to sunlight for its production. With less sunlight, and even daylight, in winter, both cats and dogs can become less playful and active, and many pet owners report them as sleeping for significantly longer over the winter months. It’s important, therefore, to take steps to minimise the effects of this as much as possible. Take your dog out for a walk earlier in the evening, or later in the morning, to catch some of the brighter hours if you can. It’s also a good idea to move your pet’s bed or blanket near a window that gets the light, and even turning up the inside lighting around the house can help.

Does it seem that your pet has an increase in appetite compared to usual too, craving treat related foods in particular? This can be a case of them mirroring the symptoms we experience in winter, with an increased desire for comforting, unhealthy foods which are associated with the release of serotonin – therefore making us feel good in the short term! If you find this is the case, a treat once in a while won’t hurt, but be careful to maintain a healthy diet and not to overindulge your pet (or yourself!). Likewise, you should be keeping up their usual exercise schedule with walks and games outside and toys for inside; if they are seeming less active then engage in extra play together, which will be beneficial for you both.

Our pets bring us endless joy, so if you do find either of you are suffering from a case of the winter blues, then don’t forget that each other’s company can be a great mood booster and cosy nights in are a great excuse to spend some quality time together.

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Keeping your pet happy on Bonfire Night

It comes around every year and Bonfire Night may mean fun and fireworks, but it can also be a source of worry for pet owners. With bonfires and firework displays increasingly spread out before the night itself and for several nights afterwards, it can now mean almost a week of trying to keep our pets calm and happy. Fireworks can be a source of fear for many animals due to the sudden, loud noises, so here are some tips to help minimise the stress for your furry friend:

  • Keep your dog or cat inside when you hear fireworks nearby being let off, and whenever possible stay at home with them at night so as to not leave them alone and scared.
  • Take your dog for a nice, long walk in the late afternoon before dusk, to help tire them out so they find it easier to relax later, and also avoid any early fireworks displays.
  • Keep the TV, radio or music player on to help mask the outside noise. Closing all windows and curtains can also help to hide the sound of the fireworks.
  • Having lots of lights on in the house can help to mask flashes of lights from fireworks outside.
  • Be careful not to fuss too much over your pet if they show signs of fear because this may confirm to them that something is wrong. Act like everything is normal, and if they rush off to a safe place, let them and calmly follow at a distance to provide some company.
  • Moving their toys and favourite items to somewhere you think is a safe and good hiding place a few weeks before Bonfire Night will help them to associate it as such, and give them a sanctuary to go to if they do get scared. Fill it with cushions and blankets for comfort, and for cats a high place is ideal.
  • Try to distract your pet with treats or toys to keep them occupied; play with them to help reassure them that it’s just a normal day and ensure they’re focusing on something else.
  • If your pet reacts especially badly, it can be useful to contact your local council to find out the dates of any organised displays to allow you to take the necessary precautions and make arrangements.
  • If you are having your own bonfire party make sure you inform your neighbours of the date and timings of your party so that they will afford you the same opportunity to take measures to protect your pet from any nearby events.

 

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