Despite being one of the most popular pets in the world, cats have not received the same attention from scientists as dogs. There are a few results for scientific research on cats, with most of it focusing on the biological traits than it does on cat behaviour. We know that cats are smart, and although their brains are small compared to ours, they have shown impressive cognitive abilities beyond human imagination. Still, cat cognition remains an under-researched subject in Ethology. In a world full of possibilities, who knows what the future will hold? But for today, I want to discuss a very interesting subject about cats: their ability to read. Our feline friends have so many amazing abilities; let’s find out if this is one of them.
Can cats read? No, they can’t as they are unable to comprehend words and letters. And, even if they would, letters would still be hard for them to see up close. That’s because they lack the necessary muscles for changing the shape of their eye lenses and can’t see clearly quite as close as we can.
It probably doesn’t surprise you that cats can’t read because if they could, you’d probably be fighting them off your favourite books. A cat may not be able to relax on the couch with a good book but as mentioned earlier, they have amazing abilities. They have mostly non-verbal language and our written language means nothing to them. Keep in mind that cats are highly sensitive to all the little cues around them, especially those that have to do with them. Like all animals, cats survive better if they can understand some, if not all, of the communication around them. So, how is this possible for them if they can’t read? I’m going to cover as much information about this topic as possible to help you better understand your feline friend.
Can Cats Read?
We’ve already established that cats can’t read words. Think of how humans learn to read; they are taught the alphabet and read to as young children, which is something cats don’t experience. Think of a feral child who has had no human contact. Such children depict non-human qualities such as the absence of language and inability to read among other things. Humans wouldn’t be able to read if they weren’t taught. This should be enough to convince you that cats can’t read.
On the flip side, cats can read –just not the kind of reading humans do with reading materials. They can read each other’s gestures and determine when and how to interact with other felines. They can also understand humans by reading body language, emotions, and cues from them. This is the closest to reading that cats can do. Here’s a more in-depth look at what cats can read and how they can do it:
Cats can read body language?
Cats are excellent observers; they are always watching and listening. They are much better at reading body language, behaviour, and posture. As such, they can remember your routines. One that you have a close and long-standing relationship with can read your thoughts, as well as communicate their thoughts to you. For instance, you walking to the fridge might mean mealtime, looking at the clock might mean bedtime, and you looking a certain way means a treat. This way your cat knows better and sooner what you’re up to and might surprise you by showing direct response. This can give the impression that he/she can read your mind even though it’s your body they can read better.
This seemingly amazing behaviour probably has to do with its sight, hearing, and smell advantages. Their sense of smell is fourteen times stronger than ours, their field of view and visual acuity is far better than ours, not to mention, they can hear and distinguish sounds far more than we can. With such superpowers, maybe they don’t need to read your mind after all. Cats are not only great at reading human body language but also other felines’ body language, facial expressions, and cues as well. A cat parent can tell what her kitten(s) is feeling or thinking about. A tomcat, on the other hand, can read a molly’s desire to mate through the lordosis posture.
Your cat can read your emotions
Cats might seem rather indifferent to human emotions but they perfectly understand their owners. They can read human emotions by recognising facial expressions like smiling and frowning. Over time, cats learn to associate positive things with happy facial expressions while negative or less rewarding things are associated with negative cues such as frowning and crying. They even respond to them through their own body language of gestures and body positions. This doesn’t necessarily mean they feel empathy. Cats are quite pragmatic, meaning they understand that their owner can treat them to more goodies when in a good mood. Perhaps it has taken long to discover and understand cats’ emotional intelligence because their responses are rather subtle.
What Can Cats Read From Human Body Language?
Of course, cats have many ways of interpreting our facial expressions, emotions, and intentions. They can see us with their observant eyes, smell our bodily chemicals, taste us with their overworked tongues, listen to our voices, and even touch us with their paws, claws, and hands.
When talking about cats watching us, that’s actually when they read human behaviour. As mentioned earlier, they understand many forms of body language. They can also differentiate between facial expressions showing happiness and those showing anger. Cats also understand their owner’s voice and will pay attention when they’re spoken to. However, how you speak those words is really important. Cats can read into your mood just by the tone of your voice. They are very sensitive and often feel safe or threatened by the tone and loudness of your voice. They are more inclined to socialise and respond in a friendly manner when you use a soft and calm voice.
Over time, your cat will learn to read what certain human body language and communication sounds mean. There have been very few scientific studies done on the ability of felines to read human behaviour and communicate with humans. There’s so much about cat abilities that we don’t understand yet and can only guess based on our own observations and anecdotes.
There are clearly a lot of barriers between cat-human communications, especially when it comes to cats reading human facial expressions. So, is there anything you can do to help your cat understand your body language and facial expressions better? I think it could work if we understood cats’ emotions first and their relations to cats’ facial expressions. It could also be useful to study the cat’s understanding of human behaviour.
Can Cats Understand English?
Obviously, I’m not talking about whether they can speak it or not. Cats’ mouths and vocal cords are incapable of producing the same sounds that we do. This makes it physically impossible for them to learn to speak any language, let alone read. This doesn’t mean that they can’t actually learn to understand various languages.
We never seem to give cats the much credit that they deserve when looking at their intelligence. For instance, cats can learn a language to some extent. They can learn words, especially once they figure out that such words are beneficial to them. Research shows that cats are capable of understanding about 25-35 different words, including their name and words related to tricks. The tricky part is whether they will care to learn the words you’d prefer them to learn. And, the answer is usually no. That being said, they can make out about 100 different vocalisations. This is perhaps a desperate move to try and understand our language. Let’s face it, unlike dogs, very few people even attempt to train their cats. How then do we expect them to learn and how will we know what they are capable of?
If it weren’t for human involvement, cats wouldn’t have any reason to ever make a sound. They are creatures that care more about body language than they do verbal language. It’s only a combination of training and listening to what they are trying to say that will help us best connect.
This article has been all over the place with me covering everything there is to know about cats’ reading abilities. So, let’s try and wrap it up with a few key pointers so you can understand the question better.
Evidently, cats are not capable of reading words. They cannot interpret or comprehend the meaning of written or printed material just by looking at it. However, reading could also mean to think, belief, and consider something. Following this definition, cats can read (just not the way humans do it). They may not be able to read words out loud but they can read body language, facial expressions, and several other small cues around them.
Cats have many different vocalisations ranging closely to the higher pitches of women and children voices. That’s why it’s easier for them to read into high voices as communication. Sweet, melodious, high, light, and trilling voices resemble how cats express themselves when they are happy. On the other hand, yelling, grating, and shrieking voices are noises that cats equate to being angry, threatened, aggressive, afraid, or in pain. So, avoid using such voices or your cat will interpret negative feelings.
Last, but not least, cats understand facial expressions (although this ability comes over time). Your cat can read into your thoughts and feelings based on your facial expressions.
Cats have been domesticated for thousands of years yet they still remain a great puzzle. They have learnt a lot from humans except for reading words. But with continued scientific research, the future is full of possibilities!