Whenever I write about dogs, someone accuses me of dismissing cats. Whenever I write about cats, I get accused of ignoring dogs. Folks, it’s hard to cover both animals in 350 words, much less the rest of the species we care about. But to appease the critics, let’s follow up last week’s “why dogs lick” with this about cats who bump and blink.

While I’ve certainly known exceptions to both generalizations, I think it’s fair to say that cats are typically a bit more subtle than dogs when it comes to expressing their views about stuff. In most cases, even people who don’t spend time around dogs know what their gestures and sounds mean, whereas even cat lovers are sometimes clueless about what their animal is trying to get across. My dogs have always been slobberers, leapers, waggers and howlers, while most of my cats look down from their high perches with seeming disdain. Yet cats do indeed get their meaning across, assuming we know what to look for. The cat who smacks you quite literally head on (known colloquially as head bumping or butting, or more technically as head bunting) is telling you that he loves you. It can be seen as playful but it’s actually a rather deep gesture reserved for only those whom your cat thinks of as part of the family (or colony). It’s an “I love you” combined with a “you smell like you’ve been hanging around in other places and it’s time to get you smelling like me again”, leaving on your body and clothes the smells excreted by special scent glands situated between the cats’ eyes and ears. Even more subtle, cats blink at us in a slow, methodical pace as the ultimate sign of trust: it means “I know you are not going to take advantage of me when my eyes are closed.”

Interestingly, I think, repeating a dog’s language back to the dog can be off-putting: bark back at a barking dog, even an obviously happy barking dog, and you may find yourself heading for a confrontation. However, gently bump (ok, bunt) your head against your cat, blink slowly into your cat’s pretty eyes, and you’re in for a lovefest.

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