Most cat people like to joke that they are owned by their cats, and that’s probably because we know cat behavior pretty well. They have their ways with us. But recent scientific evidence shows that cats truly do know how to manipulate us to get what they want.
Dr. Karen McComb at the University of Sussex found that cats use a specific type of purr that has within it an energy peak similar in frequency to a human baby’s cry. This sound seems to compel us to get up and feed the cat - or do whatever kitty may be asking! Like the cry of a baby, the "solicitation purr" as Dr. McComb calls it, seems urgent and hard for humans to resist. She goes on to say that this cat behavior usually happens when there is a close one-on-one connection between cat and owner.
We already knew that cats meow only to people, not to other cats, because they’ve learned we respond to it. (Read The Meaning Behind the Meow). It’s one thing for a cat to use what worked as a kitten to get mom cat’s attention (mewing) and then apply that to her loving human. Seems like a logical progression. But, to actually incorporate a cry within your purr is pretty amazing.
Spot, a 23-year-old cat, who has become very pushy in her old age, does her soliciting meow with a vengeance. She’s on a special prescription diet for some health problems, and she’s not really supposed to be having treats. But Spot lives for treats and isn’t about to let her owner deny her. If Spot’s meowing and pacing don’t result in a treat, she will put her nose in her owner’s ear, and do her soliciting purr relentlessly. "It melts me into a puddle," her owner admits. Spot gets the treat.
Cats Manipulate their Owners with Meows and More
Now that there is real science behind the theory that cats manipulate their owners to get what they want through meowing and purring, we have to wonder if that’s where it ends. What else are our kitties doing to manipulate us? We asked some of our cat loving friends what their cats do to get their way. Here’s what we learned:
Olympia loves to play hide and seek and uses a short, chirpy meow to get her owner to play along. When Olympia’s owner hears this particular meow she always finds her cat hiding in the bathtub, only the tips of her ears visible. When the owner says, "Where’s Olympia?" the cat jumps out of the tub and runs to her next hiding place, a kitchen cabinet. This goes on from hiding place to hiding place, all over the house.
Emma, a large 20-year-old cat uses the "meow and follow me" technique to get her owner to comply. "She is the clearest communicator of cats," her owner marvels. "You know instantly what she wants. She catches my attention with a cry, then leads me to a location." When Emma wants to be petted, she throws herself to the ground, almost violently, and expects her owner to come down to there with her for a lavish fur-stroking.
Spider uses a "stare and scream" tactic to get his way. Usually what he wants is to be in his owner’s lap. If she’s not in a good position for this, he stares at her lap and screams. "He screams like a toddler," Spider’s owner says. "He’s relentless."
Max is a large Maine Coon cat that manipulates in a more physical way. He’s a boss cat and does everything on his own terms. He normally does not like to be held. But, sometimes he wants his owner to carry him around the house, so he can look out the windows and look down on the other cats. To get his owner to oblige, he follows her and jumps up on whatever piece of furniture is near her. The second she turns toward him, he leaps into her arms. She has been trained that she’d better pay attention, because he’s going to leap whether she’s ready or not. He also decides when the ride is over. If she puts him down before he’s ready, he tries to climb back up. Max has his owner well trained.
Lucy is both demanding and very specific. When she wants to be petted, she wants that to happen in the bedroom, on the bed. She will engage a "scream and follow" technique to lead her owner to the bedroom. "If she allows me to pet her in another area of the house, it’s only long enough to get me to know what she wants. Then she leads me to the bedroom," says her compliant owner.
Is there a difference between communication and manipulation? Sure. Maybe it’s a fine line, maybe not!
We’d love to know how your cat gets you to bend to her will. Leave a comment to tell us about your cat’s wonderfully manipulative ways!