Anyone who’s spent any time around a cat will know they can be tricky little creatures. So manipulative are they in their ways, it’s sometimes hard to know who’s ruling the roost- you or them. If you’ve been in any doubt as to who’s wearing the trousers in the relationship, then wonder no more. It’s them. So, why exactly do cats put so much effort into manipulating their human caregivers? After all, it’s not like we wouldn’t feed them, stroke them, and generally treat them like royalty if they didn’t. As it turns out, a large part of the reason cats resort to manipulative behavior is because they can… and because it works. It’s not enough that you do what cats want you to do. In their sneaky little minds, the real buzz comes from knowing they’re the ones who made you do it in the first place. Getting their breakfast every morning? Mah. Feeling they’re the ones who got you out of bed at 7 am sharp and straight into the kitchen? Unbeatable.
If you thought your boss was a control freak, trust me when I say they have nothing on your cat. However, unlike your boss, your cat can’t threaten or cajole you into doing what they want with the usual punish and reward routine…. or at least, not the kind you’d recognize. But think about it. How often do you wake up and promptly fill their food bowl? How often does playtime follow dinner? How often does dinner fall at the same time? Even if you struggle to follow a schedule on your own accord, you can bet your bottom dollar that when it comes to things that involve your cat, you do the same things at the same time on the same days. And why? Because your cat likes a schedule. And whether you know it or not, they’ve got you well trained to follow it.
Besides getting you to stick to a routine, cats like to manipulate for another, very simple reason. Consider the size difference between you and them. In the human world, size might not be everything. For other species, it’s, if not everything, then at least pretty darn close. When size determines who’s prey and who’s predator, it’s understandable that cats will do whatever they can to feel protected… and if that involves wrapping their big old human around their tiny little claw, then so be it.
How They Do It
One of the most common ways cats manipulate their owners is by meowing. Think about it- have you ever seen two cats meowing at each other? Hissing or growling, absolutely. But meowing? No. As Meow Passion reports, meows are reserved specifically for humans. What’s more, they have more than just the one meow in their arsenal. Is your cat meowing with a short, chirping noise? That’s their way of saying hello. A guttural, moaning meow is what you’ll hear when they’ve caught their prey, while a “growl” is their way of saying “back off”.
And that long, drawn-out meow that gets more and more urgent the longer you leave it? That, according to Morten Kringelbach, a professor of neuroscience at Oxford University, is your cat’s way of tapping into your instinctive reaction to certain sounds. Just as we react to the sound of a baby crying before we even realize what it is, so we react to a cat’s meow in the same way. “There seems to be striking similarities between the way we process cat meowing and that of a baby crying… suggesting this is something we need to take care of,” Kringelbach explains in the NOVA documentary, Cat Tales. Just as we react to the sound of a baby crying before we even realize what it is, so we react to a cat’s meow in the same way. “There seems to be striking similarities between the way we process cat meowing and that of a baby crying.
While they may not necessarily be conscious of what they’re doing, a meowing cat is essentially hijacking our emotional responses and, more often than not, benefiting from the result. Other than meowing, cats have several other ways of getting what they want, purring being one of the most common. Just like they instinctively know that meowing in a certain way will garner a reaction, so they know the power of a well-placed purr. Purring as they rub against your legs is an almost sure-fire way of getting a stroke or two, while jumping into your lap and purring directly into your face can’t help but get them some one-on-one time.
Clever critters that they are, cats don’t just use their purrs to get you to do something: they also use its power to get you to stop. As soon as your cat has had enough petting for the day, they’ll turn their purr off in an instant. That, my friend, is your warning to stop with the strokes: persist, and you’ll only have yourself to blame for that well-placed blow or sharp little nip.
How They Don’t Do It
Once you know cats are capable of extreme levels of manipulation, it can be tempting to read sneakiness in everything they do. But just as it’s important to know when they might be trying to “train” you, it’s equally important to know when their behavior has a different explanation altogether. If your cat seems to be “misbehaving” in any of the following ways, don’t make the mistake of dismissing it as deviousness.
- Knocking objects of tabletops
- Hiding items
- Running away or hiding
- Soiling outside the litter box
- Backing away when you pet them
Behaviors like this have nothing to do with manipulation. If your cat is showing any undesirable behaviors, it’s more likely they’re stressed, upset, or fearful of some form of punishment.
Should We Be Worried?
If you’re worried about your cat manipulating you, don’t be. A manipulative cat is a very different kettle of fish to a dominant cat. While dominant behavior needs to be nipped in the bud sooner rather than later, the manipulative, very normal, behaviors of your average cat are just part of their charm. Or so they’d have you think….