This is the best way to communicate with a cat, according to a scientific study

Cats have been companions of mankind for thousands of years. However, misunderstandings persist between the two species. A new study published on May 3, 2023 in the specialized journal animals provides a boost for a better understanding.

A still incomplete understanding

Pets often spend more time with a human than with their fellow animals. It then becomes necessary to understand each other better in order to live in good harmony. And like dogs, cats have developed a special sensitivity to communication signals emitted by humans. “For example, cats can read human pointing gestures to locate hidden food and follow human gaze to get reference information.“, details the new study. They are also able to distinguish our expressions.

As for us, we are still a long way from being able to read them like an open book. Thus, the study of communication signals between cats and humans remains modest. Do they prefer voice-only communication? Are they more comfortable with a fleeting gaze or with a frank gaze? Charlotte de Mouzon and Gérard Leboucher, two researchers from the Ethology Cognition Development Laboratory (Paris Nanterre University), conducted the survey on an ideal field of study: cat cafes located in Bordeaux and Toulouse.

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Uncomfortable cats facing a curious situation

The two scientists examined three types of communication: vocal (the cat is called by its first name, but eye contact is avoided), visual (the experimenter presents his hands to the animal and alternates gazes turned towards him and towards the floor) or bimodal, i.e. both visual and vocal. For this, they sifted through the videos of 12 felines (6 males and 6 females) living in cafes and filmed when the establishments were not yet open to the public. During a control condition, the experimenter emitted no communication signal to the animal.

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Depending on the method of communication used, the cat took more or less time to approach. Thus, the results show that these felines interacted more quickly when the communication was visual or bimodal, but were more reserved when the person did not seek to communicate with them or when he only used his voice for that. This last observation perhaps reveals the hesitation of cats in the face of a curious situation: very often, a human who calls them also applies to look at them.

Knowing the importance of vocal communication between cats and their humans, we expected a greater importance of vocal signals, remark to Science and Future Dr. Charlotte de Mouzon. Our results highlight, once again, the great adaptive capacity of cats who could adjust their use of different communication channels depending on the human they are interacting with.”

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In addition, the researchers noticed that the cats wagged their tails significantly more when the experimenter ignored them, compared to the “visual” and “bimodal” conditions. They also waggled their tail more during vocal communication compared to bimodal one. A behavior adopted when felines are faced with a frustrating situation.

Still a long way to fully understand cats

This study therefore highlights that cats prefer either visual or visual and vocal communication when in contact with strangers. The two scientists therefore encourage people “use appropriate visual communication signals when interacting with cats, especially if they are unfamiliar“Indeed, different results might have been obtained with a human familiar to them.”We had seen in a previous study that cats did not react the same way to the voice of their human as to that of a stranger.“, specifies the researcher. Thus, future research on the cat-owner couple could reveal another dynamic and allow us to improve our knowledge even further.

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Our understanding of cats is improving as humans are increasingly attentive to animal welfare, rejoices Dr. de Mouzon. But there is still a little way to go, so it is important to be able to give the floor to cat behavior specialists, so that they can make the general public aware of their needs and behaviors.“. And to add: “However, with the growing attachment of humans to their cats – and this is a very good thing – we must remain vigilant against anthropomorphic excesses.“, she warns. Understanding the cat also involves respecting its nature.

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