We know cats recognize their own names. We also know cats rarely vocalize when they hang out with each other but vocalize often around humans as a way to communicate wants and needs. When it comes to responding to your feline—or initiating any type of interaction—there are a few things you should not say to your cat. As you consider what not to say to your cat, it’s imperative to remember their natural stoicism. Even at their most disgruntled, felines don’t make grand gestures. The key to healthy kitty communication? Observation. And maybe patience. Here, five phrases to stop saying to your cat, according to the experts.
1. “I’m sure you’re fine.”
Cats express themselves physically and vocally. Body language is usually the best indicator of how they feel in the moment. Yowling and meowing can mean anything from “I’m hungry!” to “My kidneys hurt!” Unless you can verify the exact cause of persistent vocalizing (if it stops after dinnertime, for instance), the ASPCA advises against brushing it off. VCA Hospitals also says ignoring dramatic changes in behavior or lethargy could mean ignoring a serious illness brewing inside your cat. Don’t assume everything’s fine! Take her to a vet to make sure.
2. “Stay out here!”
In the wild, big cats hide in trees, in dens, anywhere they can stay hidden. Felines are notorious hiders! House cats are no different. Staying underneath the bed or tucked away inside a cardboard box gives them a sense of security. Forcing your cat to come out into the light of day when they need some alone time is detrimental to their overall sense of security. Rather than yanking your kitty from her hiding spot when you feel like playing, John Bradshaw, author of Cat Sense, tells Scientific American it’s best to allow the kitty to come to you. The key to a confident, social cat is ensuring they feel secure in their environment. Provide plenty of hiding spots—even if your decor is minimalist and sparse.
As with canines, angrily shouting or scolding felines is a big no-no. Actually, the word “No” carries little weight with cats, no matter how forcefully you say it. It’s too vague and harsh tones will only startle your cat (in case you hadn’t noticed, cats freak out easily when they hear jarring, loud noises). Eventually, your cat will fear you even if you’re quiet as a mouse. The ASPCA urges cat owners to use positive reinforcement instead of anger or physical force. This means rewarding your cat with a treat, a head scratch or a play session when they are behaving themselves—and halting all attention as soon as they start misbehaving again. On the other hand, if you’re trying to curb destructive behavior like scratching a fancy chair, try providing an alternative outlet instead of shouting. Shouting leads nowhere. A scratching post focuses that scratching energy elsewhere.
4. Use good commands like “Treat!” for negative experiences
Pets associate specific commands with specific results. If you say, “Dinner!” and immediately serve up savory tuna every night, your cat’s ears will perk up every time you say “Dinner!” They’ll assume it’s time to eat. Using a command your cat associates with a positive experience in order to trick them into a negative experience will throw the entire system out of whack—and teach your cat not to trust you anymore. If your cat hates having her nails clipped, instead of luring her to this unpleasant situation by saying “Treat!” try offering her treats afterwards. She’ll then learn getting her nails trimmed means a reward. And “Dinner!” will still mean savory tuna.
5. “Bite my hand!”
Play fighting with your cat is one of the worst habits you can establish. “Starts out cute, ends with carnage,” as cat expert Jackson Galaxy puts it. Teaching your cat that it’s OK to play fight—bite, scratch, rough-house—with you teaches your cat that your hand is a toy. Cats play fight with their siblings and mother as kittens. As soon as they bite or scratch even a smidge too hard and their siblings or mother shut it down. This sets the boundaries of what is play and what is too rough. If cat owners don’t shut it down as soon as it gets rough, those boundaries go unbuilt. Eventually, kittens grow into cats, and cats are tiny tigers. Those claws are real, and those jaws are strong. Your cat will have aggressive tendencies that will be very difficult to unlearn.