ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s really hard having less contact with people. Socially distanced can mean socially isolated. But your cat may be trying to help by inviting you to snuggle by slow eye-blinking. There may be natural empathy behind those half-closed eyelids. Cats are good at nonverbal communication.
Hold on – aren’t cats socially aloof? Let’s face it; most don’t come running when their person arrives home. They’re not small dogs with short ears and certainly not little people in furry suits.
A paper published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports examined slow blinking in pet cats. It turns out that they may initiate this exchange with us but they can also follow our lead. Once this cross-species tête-Ã -tête is underway kitties may choose to approach a quiet human for some gentle interaction.
Cats communicate quite a lot with others of their ilk. Research has shown that slow eyelid narrowing indicates a willingness to interact with other cats. We now know that a relaxed kitty will do the same thing to invite its person to engage in gentle contact. If you’re calm enough to slowly and repeatedly half-close your eyes, your content kitty may respond in kind – and then come for petting.
It’s easy to dismiss cats as haughty and self-absorbed but their behavior is actually far more complex. Merola and associates learned that our cats look to us for direction “when faced with an ambiguous situation.” Really? They care what we think? In their paper titled, “The Cry Embedded Within the Purr,” McComb, et al, reported that, “Cats have also been shown to attract and manipulate human attention … through solicitation purring.” Oh, so they really are calling the shots.
Cats are more than just fascinating entertainers. Another paper, “How Depressive Moods Affect the Behavior of Singly Living Persons Toward Their Cats” found kitties to be more prone to approach and rub their people when they recognized depression.
If we pay attention to others we can learn their personal language and become a better friend. Your cat could be a better bestie. Just calm down and half-blink slowly. It’s a cat thing, but not for Zoom business meetings.
Dr. Jeff Nichol, a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist, provides consultations in-person and by telephone and Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Post questions on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.