We’ve all wondered what our pets are thinking, and everyone’s guilty of having had a conversation with their pet as if they could understand us. But what if they are actually communicating their feelings to us regularly without us realising?
Both dogs and cats have been learning ways of getting what they want from us ever since they were domesticized, and by learning these, along with their subconscious communication, we can form ever closer bonds with our pets.
Sometimes it’s obvious when your pet is telling you he’s happy. A bouncy dog with a slack tongue and waggy tail is almost certainly enjoying himself, and a content kitty can be heard purring or seen walking proud with her tail raised high.
However, there’s plenty of other ways your pet tells you that they’re content. A dog that rests his head on his paws and sighs with eyes half closed is letting you know he’s very relaxed and happy, and similarly a cat with ears leaning forward is communicating the same.
However, sometimes behaviour that seems normal can be your pet’s way of telling you that they are stressed. The key to recognising this is to look at the context of the behaviour to see if it seems out of place. For example, it’s normal for our pets to yawn when tired just like we do, but if they have no reason to be tired; yawning could be a sign of stress. Another example is licking lips or drooling – totally normal when snacks or nice smells are around, but otherwise your pet could be trying to tell you that they feel uncomfortable.
Your pet’s body language may also tell you when they are sick or in pain. Some signs such as limping or nibbling one area excessively can be easily spotted by owners, but some animals hide their symptoms. Cats, for example, have been known to not complain about stomach pains or skin problems, but to avoid being touched and instead shy away from company and hide themselves away.
Did you know that cats only meow to get the attention of humans, never to one another? It’s said that over time they have learnt to imitate the cries of human babies to catch the attention of the adults, so if you hear your cat meowing in another room, he’s trying to tell you something!
Dogs however have a much broader vocal range, which is tricky to translate but can be done with some practice. Whines and growls can indicate anything from distress to content or playfulness, all depending on the tone and body language.
Howling is normally associated with loneliness, a dog crying out for the rest of his pack. Whilst this can be true, dogs howl for many other reasons too, and sometimes for no reason at all! Take a look at the context of the howl to figure out what your dog is trying to communicate; does he want some attention? Is he bored? Or has he just heard a high pitched song or siren and thinks it would be fun to imitate it?
Everyone recognises a cat’s purrs as a sign of pleasure, but dogs also communicate pleasure or enjoyment in a similar way with a low growl. This is often misunderstood as a sign of anger or aggression, but if paired with relaxed or playful body language (rather than aggressive stance and snarling lips) your pup is telling you he’s happy!
Although it might seem like some pets are just naughtier by nature, many behaviour traits that owners deem to be misbehaving are actually your pet’s way of communicating with you. The biggest behaviour problem we hear people complaining about is destructiveness at home. This can be difficult to deal with but the first step is always understanding the cause of the behaviour.
More often than not a destructive pet is telling you that they are bored, especially if the behaviour occurs when they are home alone. Some breeds don’t deal so well being the only pet in the house, but many can be kept happy with interactive toys and treat dispensers such as Kong chews. Boredom can also stem from pent up energy, so be sure to play with your pet or walk them before you need to leave them for a few hours.
Another common behaviour problem is pets having ‘accidents’ inside the house or outside of their litter trays. If your pet is young and still being toilet trained we can forgive them getting confused; every animal takes a different amount of time to totally get where to go, but if the problem has suddenly started from nowhere your pet is trying to tell you something.
Both cats and dogs instinctively like to keep their beds and homes clean and so prefer to relieve themselves outside or in a litter tray, where available. This means that if they have started to go in their home then something is wrong, and it’s a strong sign that they are feeling stressed about something.
Think about any changes that have happened since the problem started such as a change in your pet’s routine, someone joining or leaving the household, a home move, or new neighbours, and talk to a pet behaviourist about how you can deal with the stress.
There are plenty of things that our pets are trying to tell us all the time; part of the joy of having a pet is knowing that your relationship is unique and you understand them in a way no one else does. If there’s something your pet does to tell you something, let us know on Facebook!
Most of the behaviours discussed here are normal for both cats and dogs, but if you notice a sudden change in your pet’s behaviour always consult your veterinarian to rule out health reasons.