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Our Cats Rely on Our Emotional Cues, Report Claims

February 15, 2015

The next time your cats face a new situation, take a minute to evaluate your own reaction — it may help them deal with the situation too — or so claims a new study.

IMG_2698Researchers wanted to find out if cats use the emotional information provided by their owners about a new or unfamiliar object to guide their own behavior toward it. To test this theory, the researchers found 24 owners and their cats, and then allowed each cat to explore an unfamiliar room (that had a fan in it) with their owner. Some owners were asked to regard the fans with fear — to back away and use fearful expressions and tones, while the other half of owners were asked to use happy expressions and tones.

Nearly 80 percent of the cats looked between their owner and the fan before the experiment began, which proved that cats (like dogs in a similar experiment) rely on us when faced with unfamiliarity. Cats in the negative group were far more likely to look toward their way out of the room and started to move toward it earlier than the cats in the positive group.

While the researchers say more research needs to be done, it does provide us a good reminder that our cats rely on us more than we may think.

And, the other night, Matt and I decided to give this a try.

We were using a new kitchen gadget that buzzed when its timer was up. Neither of us knew that this would happen, but the moment it started buzzing, the cats became upset. Immediately, Matt knelt down to their level and used a happy tone of voice — I followed suit. CG, although a little frightened, remained in the room. Ellie ran to the living room, but after a little coaxing, was back in the kitchen doing fine.

While some things will likely always freak out the cats (like our overzealous smoke detectors), this is a great reminder that we play a role in our cats’ safety. In addition to reminding them that they’re safe and secure, reacting appropriately may also cut back on CH-related injuries while trying to escape a fearful situation. I can’t tell you how many times a frightening situation has lead to them leaping off furniture (and landing awkwardly) or running away (and into a wall) or trying to race upstairs (and losing their grasp and falling). But maybe, just maybe, minding our reactions will help cut back on some of these in the future.

What do you think? Do you think your cats look to you for emotional cues? Please share in the comments!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2015 9:53 pm

    I have to agree with you. Our Moose looks for reassurance at times… He is deaf and we make happy faces at him and he does seem to understand. He is an absolute joy.

  2. May 19, 2015 8:56 am

    Cats are so clever animals. Last month I moved to a new apartment with my cat and two weeks before we actually moved my cat was worried about something. She acted strangely and looked stressed. Now everything is all right. Thank you for the nice article!

  3. Patti permalink
    March 23, 2016 7:46 pm

    I am the proud Mama of CH cat named “Chuck Norris” we did not name him, but when we saw him at Animeals here in Missoula, MT we knew we would be a family. I work with children that depend on emotional ques all day long and I believe Chuck is no different.When he gets upset about things we just talk to him explain that he is safe and okay. He doesn’t like to hug or to be held for long period of times but we have adjusted to that. He likes to be hugged by rubbing him on each side as he stands there. I think because he knows he is stable that way 🙂 He climbs up our 5ft cat tree and lays on the top. We build a ramp to help him get up the tree but he prefers to climb. We also took milk crates with carpet glued on top and put them at different spots around the house ( by our bed, window sill and the couch) as he is very hard on our furniture. We have a 13 year old diabetic cat as well. Introduction is a whole different story for me to share LOL Thank you for a great blog!!!!! I will try to upload our video on your FB.

  4. May 30, 2016 10:58 am

    This is absolutely true in my home. When there’s a new person over, my cats look to me and then the new person, searching my face and tone of voice for the right cues of approval. When there’s a loud sound on the radio or I drop a dish in the sink, I always use a soothing tone of voice and say “Sorry about that! It’s okay, just a dish I dropped” (or whatever) and they immediately relax — even my CH boy who is the most skittish cat I’ve ever known.

  5. Colleen M Peper permalink
    August 17, 2020 4:05 pm

    I completely agree with the emotional cues. I fostered kittens for a decade for a local shelter and I have always used emotional cue to train them to use the litter box, cat post, etc. I still do this to this day with my own cats. I just recently got a CH kitten so I’m learning a lot about them and hearing stories above about them climbing, gives me hope. I think Derby is just mild case and has tried to do a little bit of climbing but not much. He’s learning though and I encourage him with emotional cues.

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