As cat guardians, we spend a lot of time trying to ensure that our cats are happy and healthy. This includes not only their physical welfare but understanding our own role in our cat’s emotional connection with us. We can tell when our cats are happy and content, anxious, scared or fearful, or irritated. Which is great – the more aware of how our kitties are feeling, the better we are able to meet their needs.
But how much do our cats know about us and our emotional states? Quite a lot, actually. Cats have this amazing ability to detect when we are sad or upset, hurting, happy, or nearly anything else. Don’t worry – I’m not going to get all woo-woo on you – but I’m hoping that you’ve had at least one cat in your life who has expressed an acknowledgment of how you were feeling at some point.
I’ve had a couple, and I know I’m not alone. Many years ago, I had a bad breakup and was uncontrollably upset. My cat Zoe hopped up on the table and actually put her paws on my face, which she had never done before. Two weeks ago, I had surgery and was largely confined to my couch. My cat Jesse spent a lot of time snuggling with me, as if he knew that I needed that cuddle time. My cat Abbey spent part of my recovery time hovering above my head on the arm of the couch, which she has never really done before.
I’m not saying that cats are psychic (although maybe they are, I don’t know). But I do know that cats are incredibly adept at reading subtle changes in our body language, facial expressions, movements, and detecting changes in the tone of our speech. Dogs are great at doing this, too!
While not all cats will necessarily acknowledge your emotional state as in my examples above, it is important to understand that your emotional state does affect your cat. I’ve had several clients who had cats with behavior issues, with the emotional state of their guardians as a contributor to the problem. Cats see that you are stressed, and they become stressed. Cats see that you are relaxed and calm, and they become relaxed and calm. Of course, there are mitigating circumstances and it’s not always this simple; cats can have issues arising from various sources. But, all things being equal, our cats may tend to mirror our own emotional states. I’ve had clients on the verge of divorce whose cats were being overly aggressive with each other. I’ve also had clients who were dealing with both personal and professional stresses whose cats were constantly hiding and developing minor health problems. The behaviors exhibited by these cats may not have been caused by their guardians directly, but their guardians’ emotional states did not help the cats’ situations.
I’m currently working with a client who has a cat who is very aggressive towards her and visitors to the home, hissing at and sometimes striking people when they get too close. My client is very scared of this cat, even though she loves him a great deal. However, she ACTS very scared around the cat, and he picks up on it. In his world, he sees his guardian as afraid, and while he doesn’t know WHY she’s afraid, he assumes there is something to be afraid of. As a result, he becomes afraid and puts up his defenses, resulting in hissing and scratching. My recommendations to my client involved increasing her confidence around the cat; simply ignoring him as she walks through a room was a challenge. As a result, things have improved; my client is controlling her fear, and the cat has responded in turn. The hissing has greatly decreased, and I’m happy that they are on friendlier terms!
Cats are amazing companions who have the ability to comfort, love, and support us when we need them. But it works both ways in our cat’s emotional connection with us. Just as we want to know that our cats are happy and content as a result of what we provide them, we have to realize that we contribute to our cats’ emotional health in ways that we are often unaware of. Cats thrive on harmony, and it’s up to us to give it to them.