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Cats and communication

Our domestic cats fit into both these camps and have a variety of signals that help them to communicate with other cats. For the solitary-living cat, most communication is directed at keeping other cats away – scent messages can be left that will last for several hours or even days, although the endurance and success of the signal may depend on the weather not washing it away or blowing it in the wrong direction. Another problem that can occur is that circumstances may change more quickly than the message. It’s a bit like sending a letter second class to say you will be in on a certain date: during the time it takes to get to its destination you find that something urgent has come up and you will need to change the instructions – thank goodness for the phone or e-mail to override the original message. For wild solitary living cats it may not be easy to change the message quickly.

Cats use several methods of long-distance communication to let other cats know about their reproductive state or to tell them to keep away. They use urine and faces as well as glandular secretions from various other parts of the body that not only reassure them in their own territory, but tell other cats about their presence. Loud vocal communications that carry over distance are only made during times when males and females want to get together or when males are keeping other males from getting to the females they wish to get to!

The calling of the female in season and the caterwauling of the male carry over a long distance. Most other vocal communication is also aimed at keeping other cats away and is used in much closer quarters in conjunction with body language – the communication between queens (mother cats) and their kittens being an exception. Close quarter communication is also extremely scent-based for the cat and is used in combination with body language.

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