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I don't understand my cat

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 
For all but the last three years of my very long life, I was pretty much devoid of any experience of any pets except a slight acquaintance with two cats belonging to a friend, neither of whom seem to behave like my companion. Then I moved to a small gated estate that is a pussy paradise (no road, no children, large garden and wooded areas, mice and squirrels for hunting). It is a haven for urban wild and more domesticated life, as well as older humans.

A cat walked into my existence there after I'd been there a few months. Her history is that she came to the estate as a stray kitten and had lived there ever since, far longer than any of the human residents and possibly as long as 18 years. From information I've pieced together she spent much of her life as tame stray, occasionally being adopted by one of the residents. As everyone here is over 55, inevitably, she has had a couple of adoptive parents die on her and then she would go back to being a stray until she'd persuaded someone else to give her indoor accommodation. She is very well known and liked by many of the residents, some of whom, let her visit for naps and snacks. She seems pretty much at ease with her life.

However, I feel the need to understand Thingy (as I call her) much better than I do and she is the least aggressive of animals (she has never stuck out a claw in anger), with a sweet but grumpy old woman's disposition. She seems very attached to me, often following me round the small estate. My neighbours laugh at my having a feline shadow.

Now this is where my queries come in:

Thingy will come and sit at my feet and stare at me, then she starts shouting at me, sometimes incessantly. First I check that her food bowl may be empty (I don't force her to have regular meal times - she's not a greedy cat and she's happiest just visiting the food bowl regularly for a few mouthfuls at a time plus the vet has instructed that he's happy that she should eat as much as she wants - she's old, spends a good bit of the day outdoors and suffers from hyperthyroidism and was seriously underweight when I took her on). If she has food but shows no interest, I'll try the back door (we are not allowed cat flaps) and see if she wants to go out. Sometimes she does, sometimes not.

7 times out of 10 I guess right but occasionally I find that she gets me to follow her to her food bowl, only for me to find it has food in and it's only when she's happy that I am with her that she'll tuck into the food. It's got to the stage that sometimes she'll get it into her head to find me whichever room I'm in, whatever I'm doing and she'll shout at me repeatedly, touching my leg with her paw for reinforcement until I start to follow her. She'll then lead the way, pausing every few steps to look over her shoulder to check that I'm still there and this odd little procession will land up either at her food bowl or the back door or, occasionally, at one of my sofas, the one on which I usually sit. If it's the sofa, most of the time she won't get up on it unless I invite her by tapping on the seat but she'll keep shouting until she gets the invitation. Then we sometimes go through more shouting until she gets what I'm guessing she wants which is to get up onto me for a cuddle and a sleep. This need to have me in tow doesn't happen every time. Much of the time, she'll happily wander into the kitchen on her own and eat or wander away from me to one of her several chosen "nests" in the apartment.

Is this normal? I don't mind being her slave, really I don't, although I don't immediately jump to her command and I try to put a little structure in her life like her food and water bowls have one major refill each evening (as she eats dry food, this seems to be about right). In the mornings, after Thingy's had a snack, I encourage her to go out for a few hours into the gardens - it's her favourite place and I think it's important for her to retain some of her outdoor cat habits.

I just want to understand better what she's thinking and expecting, how I can understand her different calls. Can some of you help me with some cat psychology.

Some minor things now:

Why, when she has a water bowl indoors which she is happy to drink from, does she make a bee-line, when I let her out, for the bowl I put in the rose bed for her, which leaves and other bits of garden detritus fall into and make definitely manky?

What is her decision making process when going to lie down? Why does she tend to go round in circles before actually settling down? Why does she sometimes want to climb up me so that she can settle down near my face but, other times, she lies at my feet or decides, in spite of her apparent need to keep me close, to go and sit at the other end of the sitting room on another sofa or on the floor?

Why does she sometimes just stare at me? We can both be sitting comfortably and out of the blue she'll just turn and stare and just keep on staring.

Does the fact that she wants to check out all food that I'm eating it by sniffing it mean she thinks of me as an alpha cat feeding her kitten or that she's the alpha cat and I may be "stealing" food she thinks she may be entitled to? It's not a problem - I just want to understand better.

Is the fact that she behaves like a complete tart towards men a pheromone thing or is it that until me she had male residents caring for her?

I love Thingy to bits and she obviously identifies with me and my apartment as home but I do want to understand cats better so I can make things as comfortable for her as I can. When she adopted me, I promised that after the uncertain existence she has had in her long life, I was going to make however long she has left as the happiest time in her life. Can you help me, please?
post #2 of 17
Your post made me smile! It sounds like Thingy had you trained well! Cats do that, you know. It's the most normal thing. All the things you mentioned are very normal cat behaviors too. Generally, when they meow at you like that they just want attention. Sometimes it's because they want to go out or eat like you've mentioned but other times they just want to be petted or acknowledged. As far as discerning which meow is which it can be hard if not impossible. She may not make different sounds but may do the same meow every time for everything.

Cats are notoriously funny about water. They like water with a lot of oxygen in it such as running water the best. As to why Thingy prefers the outdoor water I couldn't say but one of mine seems to prefer the soapy water in my bathtub to his clean, cool filtered water. They're mysteries.

Many cats sleep in different areas. Sometimes this has to do with temperature. Generally, they like the warmest spot. I just read the other day that cats are so sensitive to temperature that they can find the warmest spot in a room even if the variants are slight. That being said, one of mine who has very long hair often likes a cool spot but then we live in a very warm part of the world (in summer anyway.) Some cat circle like dogs. In the case of dogs they're tramping down a bed as if it were in grass or snow. I guess it may be the same for cats but don't know for sure.

Staring is the basis of communication for cats. It can mean everything from "come pet me" to "I'll rip your head off." Obviously, other signs like tail movement and ear placement spell out the details but for cats it all starts with eye contact. From the way you describe Thingy I'd imagine it means she is inviting you to pet her or just that she's glad for your company.

I'm pretty sure you're over thinking the food. It's probably just that someone in her past has feed her people food and she wants to check out what you have and see if she might want some. Cats do have alphas but it's a much looser sort of structure than what dogs have and it generally isn't extended to people like dogs do. It's pretty much a cat to cat relationship.

I cannot guess why she likes men. Perhaps it was a past owner or maybe it's just her personality. Cats have as varied of personalities as people do so sometimes those things can be hard to call particularly when you don't know their past.

I'm so glad you and Thingy found each other. From everything you describe she sounds very happy and you'll have fun figuring her out. If it helps any I once read somewhere that in all the animal world (so far studied) the cat has the brain that is most similar to ours in terms of emotion. Gives you something interesting to think about doesn't it?
post #3 of 17
Your post made me smile as well! I completely agree with the above response as well as one thing you should know when it comes to kitties that are so connected with their human companion is they want to know what we are saying or doing as much as we want to know about them!
Maia is very much the same way in many aspects and she was never outdoors. I have been her mom since 5 weeks old. She has a juice glass on a shelf that she much rather drink from then her water bowl. She is a repeat offender of begging! She tries to lead me into the kitchen always! This is because they associate feeding with attention, even if their not hungry. I constantly distract her attention from food by playing with her or simply scooping her up and dousing her with hugs and kisses! She to will meow at me when she has something to say, I find in the most part it is simply looking for an answer, some acknowledgment of love. She just chirped at me right now wondering why I'm so focused on the computer! All these behaviors are signs of love and simple attempts to communicate.
It sounds like you have found a very loving kitty! As well as you love her to!
post #4 of 17
Thread Starter 
Thank you, both of you! I feel reassured. I was worried that I was doing something wrong and that Thingy was becoming neurotic trying to communicate with this dumb human. I think I can accept now that much of what she is will remain a mystery but that, instinctively, I've got to grips with the basics. Maybe we get along as well as two creatures can who haven't a word of each other's languages.
post #5 of 17
My parents old cat was a flirt, too- anytime my sister or I had male friends over, she was especially attentive to them. There must be some sort of smell that's universal among mammals where they can tell the difference between men and women no matter what species. Maybe we just aren't in tune with it because we can visually identify it between ourselves. My dog strongly prefers women, too. He's not flirty or anything, he just obeys commands from women more than men and prefers to spend his time with us.
post #6 of 17
Oh you will learn, haha.

Really the only way to understand them is to live with them and observe them, and when you live with them you will learn their 'language' like it or not.

I just wanted to add that when she circles before laying down, she is trying to figure out what is the most comfy position for her.

Welcome to TCS, it is nice to meet you and hear about your cat!
post #7 of 17
It sounds like you have a good cat companion in Thingy

Cats usually how to put it, build up their personalities as they grow older and can end up being very amusingly quirky by the time they've become more senior.

Every cat is different and adult cats are more different from each other than kittens.

She sounds normal. My cat will also do the food thing. As in I live in a small flat so she doesn't lead me around but she'll sometimes sit and howl in front of her full food dishes until I come and sit with her while she eats and then she'll be really purry and fluff out the base of her tail.

I don't know why she does that but I don't think I'm doing anything wrong, it's just.. cats!
post #8 of 17
Let me also add that ass much as we are all saying these behaviors are normal, they don't share this with just anybody. She obviously really trusts and loves you, and looks for comfort and reassurance from you. These are common characteristics of a kitty in a loving relationship with a human
Have to say it is a good thing she doesn't speak our language. If she knew her name was "Thingy" she might be a little disturbed about it!
post #9 of 17
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by cheylink View Post
Have to say it is a good thing she doesn't speak our language. If she knew her name was "Thingy" she might be a little disturbed about it!
Oh, it's totally a term of affection, honest, and her vet thinks it's a terrific name (I think the two of them are in love tbh)!
post #10 of 17
Do you talk back to her ? My cats love when I talk with them. I don't mean make "meowing" sounds lol, human talk!

Also when she does stare at you, try giving her love looks back and slowly "blink" your eyes at her. Don't be surprised if she blinks back at you!

Also when she does "shout" at you, try asking her what she wants. With Samson he will come and cry at me. Once he has my attention, which is pretty much immediately I can tell if he wants to be picked up and held, or if he wants me to follow him somewhere.

What I do is, I'll either try to hold him and see if he stays or I'll get up and start walking away a bit, and if he stays put, then he definitely wants holding. If he starts following me, I let him get in front of me to lead me to wherever he wants to go. Usually he takes me to his favorite play spot, the bed!

So Thingy could also be asking you to play with her! You'll learn more as you experiment.

Congratulations on having been adopted! Isn't it wonderful!
post #11 of 17
Originally Posted by Shanynne View Post
Also when she does stare at you, try giving her love looks back and slowly "blink" your eyes at her. Don't be surprised if she blinks back at you!
I love doing this with my kitties and it's a helpful trick when I meet new cats (I'm a professional pet sitter). I works like yawning does with us. They almost can't help it and blink back. It means they're happy, content and relaxed.
post #12 of 17
Originally Posted by megra View Post
Oh, it's totally a term of affection, honest, and her vet thinks it's a terrific name (I think the two of them are in love tbh)!
It is pretty cute, ofcourse I was kidding. It's not the words we say, but how we say them when communicating with our kitties. I talk to Maia so much that sometimes she runs off to seclusion! Yet if she wants to talk or play, I better be ready! I wouldn't trade my friendship with Maia for any thing! Yes anything!
post #13 of 17
Thread Starter 
This is all useful stuff. Thanks. I'm going to try the blinking. I pretty much do what you suggest when I'm shouted at. In fact Thingy has just been into me shouting her head off as I'm sitting at the computer. I guessed that maybe she wanted to go out because she'd got up and gone to the kitchen for food already so I got her to lead me. The trouble was, as usual, she then had a senior moment as we passed the kitchen and she stopped dead right in my path (one of these days she's going to send me flying). I decided to make her mind up for her and just did a left turn and walked straight to the back door. She got the hint. She pirripped and trotted behind me and is now out on the terrace keeping guard on her territory.

When she shouts, I go through a process of elimination, checking food, then walkabout, then cuddles. I only get frustrated if there's food in her bowl and she's dragging me to the kitchen to watch her eat or if none of the options work and she just sits at my feet still shouting at me and pawing my leg! We then land up having ridiculous conversations:

"What?! You've got food, the back door's open and you didn't want a cuddle. What d'ya want?"
"Miaow!!!" [Thingy paws my leg and looks at me like I'm stupid]
post #14 of 17
Originally Posted by megra View Post
"What?! You've got food, the back door's open and you didn't want a cuddle. What d'ya want?"
"Miaow!!!" [Thingy paws my leg and looks at me like I'm stupid]
Lol! Welcome to living with a cat!
post #15 of 17
Thingy sounds like the coolest of cats. She obviously loves you and your attention. She likes your companionship from what you are saying and is training you to communicate in her language. I swear it with my 3 that I have had the longest, I know what they want and what they feel by just watching them or by a look.
I know what makes them happy and what they will tolerate before getting annoyed.
You two are going to have a great time together.
post #16 of 17
You and Thingy hooking up together is just beautiful! I love how you talk about her.

Something you might try when you've ruled out everything else... get a "Da-bird" or something similar (feathers on a stick) and drag it around for her. She may just be looking to play a bit.

It sounds like you two have a lovely relationship and no matter these little quirks, are really enjoying each other. God bless you both!

post #17 of 17
Thread Starter 
OK, I tried blinking today. Thingy just looked straight back at me as though I I'm nuts!

I'd love Thingy to play with a Da Bird (I had to Google it to see what it was and it looks great). It's just that she has no concept of play. I've tried her with all sorts of things and she just stares at me as though I'm nuts. I suspect that being a semi-professional stray, she's not had anyone play with her even when she was cared for. Her previous servants were aged codgers who probably didn't teach her the joys of play. Now that she is a very old lady I don't think she sees any reason to change. She doesn't even play with mice that she kills nor does she bother to bite their heads off. She brings them back to me and puts them briefly at my feet. However, don't be fooled into thinking this is a sign of love and that the mice are presents. Thingy's just showing off and before I can even think about picking up a sacrificial mouse, she snaps it up again, turns her back on me and swallows it head first. That, I'm afraid is as far as play goes in this household. She does love having her tummy rubbed though.

P.S. I also tried her with catnip and she just looked at me as though I'm nuts...
P.P.S. She's only ever brought back two mice. I know this isn't the extent of her kills. One of my neighbours report that he saw her kill and eat a squirrel. He was most upset but I just whooped, "Go Thingy!" (probably not the most diplomatic of things to say, from his point of view) However, to me she was just being a cat but she obviously isn't into sharing most of the time, not even to show off.
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