Watch These Cats Learn Sign Language

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According to, Kim Silva and her husband are both hearing impaired and communicate using sign language. Once Kim knew she was getting a deaf cat, Bambi, she decided to do something remarkable. Knowing that cats are extremely smart, she decided to teach her cats sign language in preparation of Bambi. Watch the video below, posted by Tim O’Donnell, as Kim and her amazing cats show off their moves!

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

ASL: Lesson 10:

Learn the variations of the signs in the vocabulary list. For example, after clicking on and studying the "KNOW" page you should have learned: don't know, know-that, familiar, aware, and the casual version of the sign "KNOW."

___ Cardinal and Ordinal Numbers
___ Loan Signs-(define)
___ Lexicalized Fingerspelling
___ Lesson 10 Practice Quiz
___ Additional: PRACTICE QUIZZES

TAKE-[take up, adopt, evaporate]
TRUE / sure, real, indeed .

Important note:
Did you think I was joking or talking to some other student when I told you to click on the links and learn the variations. Don't be a lazy putz. Learning a language takes time and effort! Open the vocabulary pages and actually scroll down through and learn the variations! Some of them may show up on the final exam (if you are studying this as part of a class). I love you all -- but get busy. -- Dr. Bill

Signing notes:
CHICKEN: The sign BIRD can in context be used to mean "chicken."
TWEET: A single-movement version of the sign BIRD can in context mean "tweet" (social media).
o pen-BOOK: is a variation of book. See the BOOK entry
close-BOOK: is a variation of book. See the BOOK entry
BOOKSTORE: is a compound of BOOK and STORE. See BOOKSTORE
GET in ASL means "acquire" or "obtain." GET doesn't mean " BECOME "
me-SAME-YOU is a version of SAME and can mean "me too." Compare with ALSO
PART: The sign for SOME can be used to mean "part" or "partial."

Practice sheet 10.A
01. CAT LIKE EAT BIRD? (Do cats like to eat birds?)
02. BOOK YOU LIKE READ, WHAT-KIND? (What type of books do you like to read?)
03. FISH LIKE EAT BUG? (Do fish like to eat bugs?)
04. MILK, WHERE FROM, HOW GET? (How and/or where do we get milk?) [STORE / COW]
05. NAME SOMETHING DOG CHASE. (What do dogs like to chase?) [CAR / CAT / BIKE]

Practice Sheet 10.B
06. A-S-L CLASS, YOU PAST TAKE? (Have you ever taken an ASL class?)
07. TEACHER HIS/HER WIFE/HUSBAND, YOU KNOW NAME? (Do you know the teacher's wife's/husband's name?)
08. HAVE PET YOU? [if so] NAME? (Do you have a pet? What is its name?)
09. SOME CAT LIKE WATER? (Do some cats like water?) [Note: Some like swim in it: panthers. All like to drink it.]
10. HORSE, YOU WANT? (Do you want a horse?)

Practice sheet 10.C
11. YOU LOOK-LIKE YOUR DAD? (Do you look like your father?)
12. READ [bodyshift] WATCH-casual TV, YOU PREFER WHICH? (Which would you rather do, read or watch TV?)
13. COOK CLASS, YOU PAST TAKE? (Have you ever taken a cooking class?)
14. YOU GO ASL CLASS, what-TIME? (What time to you go to your ASL class?)
15. BIRD LIKE EAT FISH? (Do birds like to eat fish?)

Practice Sheet 10.D
16. HORSE LIKE EAT FISH? (Do horses like to eat fish?)
17. YOUR BEDROOM UPSTAIRS? (Is your bedroom upstairs?)
18. TELL-me HOW YOU FEEL. (Tell me how you feel.)
19. YOU THINK COW GOOD PET? (Do you think a cow would make a good pet?)
20. YOUR FAVORITE BOOK, NAME? (What is your favorite book?)

Additional examples:
YOU TAKE SIGN WHERE? (Where did you take sign language?)
BOOK YOU LIKE?-["WH"-facial-expression] (What book do you like?)


For a practice quiz, visit: Lesson 10 Practice Quiz
Optional: For another version of the Lesson 10 instructional video, see:

* Want to help support ASL University? It's easy: DONATE (Thanks!)

* Another way to help is to buy something from Dr. Bill's "Bookstore."

* Want even more ASL resources? Visit the "ASL Training Center!" (Subscription Extension of ASLU)

* Also check out Dr. Bill's channel:

You can learn American Sign Language (ASL) online at American Sign Language University ™
ASL resources by © Dr. William Vicars

End of lesson. Please move on to the next lesson.

Curriculum revision notes and lesson archive:
In a never ending effort to improve, this website is under constant construction. Below are sentences and or signs which are being phased out of this lesson as well as other material that may be phased into the lesson.

Will move these signs: UP -[upstairs] DOWN -["this," variation: downstairs]

Some handshapes can indicate a general category or class of concepts to which a referent belongs. These handshapes are known as classifiers.
The word "predicate" can mean "says something about."
When you sign a classifier in a way that "says something about" the referent, you are using a "classifier predicate."
Classifier predicates can include information about a referent's size, shape, movement, speed, orientation, or location.
When writing about classifiers we tend to use the letters "CL." For example, CL:3 refers to a classifier that uses the "3" handshape.
The CL:3 classifier represents a category of VEHICLES which can include things like cars, trucks, bikes, motorcycles.

A few samples of classifiers:
CL:A Objects which do not move such as a house or other building, a statue.
CL:V Person standing upright, or an animal standing upright (using 2 V)
CL:1 An upright person or animal such as a bear or a primate walking on its hind legs.
CL:V (bent) A crouched or sitting person or animal.
CL:Y An aircraft with wings.

Classifier Practice:
The truck just whizzed by.
The car hit a tree
he rode his bike over a cliff and survived.
Evel Knievel rode his bike over 10 bikes in a row.

Use a classifier predicate to show the following:
A woman slipped on ice and fell on her head
A man walking by leisurely
A building just standing there
A boy standing looking at you
A crouched cat
Three airplanes sitting side by side on the runaway
A bus zooming past you as you’re driving
A car going over a bumpy road
A jogging man
A statue in the garden
A car coming to an abrupt stop
Several houses in a row

Bilingual/Bicultural Deaf Education:
Bilingual/Bicultural Education is a philosophy of instruction for deaf/hh (hard of hearing) children wherein you use a student's native/preferred language (ASL) as well as the target language (ENGLISH). You also make instructional choices that respect the Deaf student’s culture and communication needs as well as the mainstream culture.
The two main approaches to bilingual education are "Transitional" and "maintenance."

Directional Verbs: verbs which change the direction of their movement to indicate the subject and object (HELP, GIVE, SEND, TELL, SHOW, LOOK-AT, PAY, BORROW, TAKE, SUMMON, CHOOSE).

Ask or tell your friend: To choose a book
To help you cook
That you will pay the person next to you tomorrow
To show you her new home
If you can borrow her car
To choose the pink shoes
If person in front of you can take his book
To summon your mother
That she can take your magazine


  • 1 Early life and popularity
  • 2 Characteristics
    • 2.1 Use of language
    • 2.2 Intelligence
    • 2.3 Pets
  • 3 Later life and death
  • 4 In media
  • 5 See also
  • 6 References
  • 7 Further reading
  • 8 External links

Koko was born on July 4, 1971, at the San Francisco Zoo to her biological mother Jacqueline and father Bwana. Koko was the 50th gorilla born in captivity and one of the first gorillas accepted by her mother in captivity. Koko remained with her mother until the age of one when Koko was taken to the zoo's hospital to be treated for a life-threatening illness. Patterson along with Charles Pasternak originally cared for Koko at the San Francisco Zoo as part of their doctoral research at Stanford University after Koko came to the zoo's hospital. Koko was loaned to Patterson and Pasternak under the condition that they would spend at least four years with her. Eventually, Koko remained with Patterson, supported by The Gorilla Foundation, which Patterson founded to support gorilla research and conservation. [19]

In 1978, Koko gained worldwide attention as she was pictured on the cover of National Geographic magazine. The cover picture was an image of Koko taking her own picture in the mirror. Koko was later featured on the cover of National Geographic in 1985 with a picture of her and her kitten, All Ball. [20] At the preserve, Koko also met and interacted with a variety of celebrities including Robin Williams, Fred Rogers, Betty White, William Shatner, Flea, Leonardo DiCaprio, Peter Gabriel, and Sting. [21]

Use of language Edit

Patterson reported that Koko's use of signs indicated that she mastered the use of sign language. [5] Koko's training began at the age of 1 and she had a working vocabulary of more than 1,000 signs, which she was able to combine in complex ways. [4] Despite her dexterity and literacy, she was never taught how to write. [22]

Patterson reported that Koko made several complex uses of signs that suggested a more developed degree of cognition than is usually attributed to non-human primates and their use of communication. For example, Koko was reported to use displacement (the ability to communicate about objects that are not currently present). [23] At age 19, Koko was able to pass the mirror test of self-recognition, which most other gorillas fail. [24] [25] She had been reported to relay personal memories. [26] Koko was reported to use meta-language, being able to use language reflexively to speak about language itself, signing "good sign" to another gorilla who successfully used signing. [27] Koko was reported to use language deceptively, and to use counterfactual statements for humorous effects, suggesting an underlying theory of other minds. [28]

Patterson reported that she documented Koko inventing new signs to communicate novel thoughts. For example, she said that nobody taught Koko the word for "ring", but to refer to it, Koko combined the words "finger" and "bracelet", hence "finger-bracelet". [29]

Criticism from some scientists centered on the fact that while publications often appeared in the popular press about Koko, scientific publications with substantial data were fewer in number. [30] [31] [32] Other researchers argued that Koko did not understand the meaning behind what she was doing and learned to complete the signs simply because the researchers rewarded her for doing so (indicating that her actions were the product of operant conditioning). [33] [34] Another concern that has been raised about Koko's ability to express coherent thoughts through signs is that interpretation of the gorilla's conversation was left to the handler, who may have seen improbable concatenations of signs as meaningful. For example, when Koko signed "sad" there was no way to tell whether she meant it with the connotation of "How sad". Following Patterson's initial publications in 1978, a series of critical evaluations of her reports of signing behavior in great apes argued that video evidence suggested that Koko was simply being prompted by her trainers' unconscious cues to display specific signs, in what is commonly called the Clever Hans effect. [35] [36] [37] [38] [28] [39]

Intelligence Edit

Between 1972 and 1977, Koko was administered several infant IQ tests, including the Cattell Infant Intelligence Scale and form B of the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test. She achieved scores in the 70–90 range, which is comparable to a human infant that is slow but not intellectually impaired. [17] According to Francine Patterson, however, it is specious to compare her IQ directly with that of a human infant because gorillas develop locomotor abilities earlier than humans and many IQ tests for infants require mostly motor responses. Gorillas and humans also mature at different rates, so using a gorilla's chronological age to compute their IQ results in a score that is not very useful for comparative purposes. [17]

Pets Edit

Researchers at The Gorilla Foundation said that Koko asked for a cat for Christmas in 1983. Ron Cohn, a biologist with the foundation, explained to the Los Angeles Times that when she was given a lifelike stuffed animal, she was less than satisfied. She did not play with it and continued to sign "sad". So on her birthday in July 1984, she was able to choose a kitten from a litter of abandoned kittens. Koko selected a gray male Manx and named him "All Ball". Penny Patterson, who had custody of Koko and who had organized The Gorilla Foundation, wrote that Koko cared for the kitten as if it were a baby gorilla. Researchers said that she tried to nurse All Ball and was very gentle and loving. They believed that Koko's nurturing of the kitten and the skills she gained through playing with dolls would be helpful in Koko's learning how to nurture an offspring. [40] [41]

In December 1984, All Ball escaped from Koko's cage and was hit and killed by a car. Later, Patterson said that when she signed to Koko that All Ball had been killed, Koko signed "Bad, sad, bad" and "Frown, cry, frown, sad, trouble". Patterson also reported later hearing Koko making a sound similar to human weeping. [41]

In 1985, Koko was allowed to pick out two new kittens from a litter to be her companions. The animals she chose, which she named "Lips" and "Smoky", were also Manxes. [42] Koko picked the name after seeing the tiny orange Manx for the first time. When her trainer asked the meaning of the name, Koko answered, Lips lipstick.

The Gorilla Foundation also briefly played home to a male green-winged macaw of mysterious origin who had been found inhabiting the grounds and feeding on the loquat trees, though he was not a pet of Koko's in the same way her cats were. Initially frightened of the parrot, Koko named him "Devil Tooth", "devil" presumably coming from his being mostly red, and "tooth" for his fierce-looking white beak the human staff adjusted the name to "Devil Beak", and ultimately to "DB".

To celebrate her birthday in July 2015, Koko was presented another litter of kittens. Picking two, she named them Miss Black and Miss Grey. [43]

After Patterson's research with Koko was completed, the gorilla moved to a reserve in Woodside, California. At the reserve, Koko lived with another gorilla, Michael, who also learned sign language, but he died in 2000. She then lived with another male gorilla, Ndume, [44] until her death. Koko's weight of 280 pounds (127 kg) was higher than would be normal for a gorilla in the wild, where the average weight is approximately 150–200 pounds (70–90 kg), but the foundation stated that Koko "is, like her mother, a larger frame Gorilla".

Koko died in her sleep during the morning of June 19, 2018, at the Gorilla Foundation's preserve in Woodside, California, at the age of 46. [45] [46] The Gorilla Foundation released a statement that "The impact has been profound and what she has taught us about the emotional capacity of gorillas and their cognitive abilities will continue to shape the world." [45] [47] Even though Koko was 46 years old when she died, her death took staff members of the Gorilla Foundation by surprise. [48]

Koko and Patterson's work with her have been the subject of several books and documentaries.

  • 1978 Koko: A Talking Gorilla, a documentary film by Barbet Schroeder
  • 1978 cover of National Geographic magazine that Koko photographed, as well as feature article
  • 1980 Congo, a novel by Michael Crichton inspired by Koko's story
  • 1981 The Education of Koko, a book by Patterson and naturalist Eugene Linden (ISBN0030461014)
  • 1985 Koko's Kitten, a picture book by Patterson and photographer Ronald Cohn (
  • ISBN0590444255)
  • 1986 Silent Partners: The Legacy of the Ape Language Experiments, a book by Eugene Linden (
  • ISBN0345342348)
  • 1987 Koko's Story, a children's book by Patterson for Scholastic Corporation (
  • ISBN0590413643)
  • 1990 Koko's Kitten, a 15-minute re-enactment of the story of the gorilla's adoption of a kitten, featured in the PBS children's show Reading Rainbow[49]
  • 1999 A Conversation with Koko, a PBS documentary for Nature, narrated by Martin Sheen[50]
  • 1999 The Parrot's Lament, by Eugene Linden (
  • ISBN0525944761)
  • 2000 Koko-Love!, a picture book by Patterson and photographer Ronald Cohn (
  • ISBN0525463194)
  • 2001 Koko and Robin Williams, a short featurette on Robin Williams meeting Koko [51]
  • 2008 Little Beauty, a picture book by Anthony Browne inspired by Koko's adoption of a pet kitten (
  • ISBN0763649678)
  • 2016 Koko: The Gorilla Who Talks to People, a BBC documentary also shown on PBS[52][53]
  • 2019 A Wish for Koko, a children's book in honor of Koko's life [54]
  • 2019 Koko the Gorilla, The Musers commentary on Kokos life [55]

Pets Share Owners' Diseases

Dogs and cats now suffer from obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and more, just like humans, and researchers are now investigating common risk factors for pets and owners

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When Janet Riordan returned home from a European vacation in January, she expected a storm of tail wagging and barking from her 7-year-old golden retriever, Reggie. The moment she saw him, she knew something was wrong.

“He came to me in my arms and appeared to be sobbing. I had never seen an animal behave like that,” said Riordan, who lives in Mequon, a suburb of Milwaukee, Wis.

A veterinarian confirmed her fears: Reggie had an aggressive form of lymphoma, a cancer of the white blood cells.

Riordan knew the toll that lymphoma could take. Four years earlier her father died of it.

“It was devastating,” Riordan said. “I never thought I would lose my dad and my dog to the same disease.”

Pet owners share their homes, their exercise habits and sometimes even their food with their four-legged companions. And increasingly, they are sharing the same diseases: Dogs and cats suffer from obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and asthma, just like humans.

Now researchers are examining the role that pollutants and other environmental factors play in these dual diseases. Doctors and veterinarians have begun to work together to identify common risk factors, such as pesticides, air pollutants, cigarette smoke and household chemicals.

“Because our pets share our environments, they are exposed to many of the same pollutants as us,” said Melissa Paoloni, a veterinary oncologist at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland.

Pets, like many young children, often have higher exposures to lawn and garden pesticides and to household chemicals that can accumulate in dust or on carpets.

Scientific research is beginning to reveal some links between their environment and their health. Lawn care chemicals may increase the risk of canine lymphoma and bladder cancer. Cats exposed to flame retardants have a higher rate of thyroid disease, according to one study. And researchers are launching the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, the largest project ever to tackle disease prevention and treatment in dogs.

“People are beginning to realize the untapped resource that companion animals present for research in human health,” said Rodney Page, director of the Colorado State University’s Animal Cancer Center.

Studies in pets can never replace studies in humans, but they can present corroborating evidence. Linking pollutants to human health effects can prove controversial, “but if we can find the same links in dogs or cats, that can have a powerful effect,” said John Reif, a Colorado State University veterinarian and epidemiologist. “It’s one more piece of evidence that the link is a real one.”

Riordan will never know what caused Reggie’s lymphoma. Golden retrievers generally have a high rate of cancer, most likely for genetic reasons. But some research suggests that environmental chemicals may play a role in the development of lymphoma in dogs.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts and the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine questioned the owners of more than 700 dogs about use of pesticides. Roughly one-third of the dogs had been diagnosed with canine malignant lymphoma, while the other two-thirds had either benign tumors or were undergoing non-cancer surgeries.

Dogs whose owners reported use of professionally applied lawn pesticides were 70 percent more likely to have lymphoma, according to the study published in the journal Environmental Research in January.

Dogs also were at higher risk of lymphoma if their owners used self-applied insect growth regulators on their yards, such as Nylar, Precor and Gentrol, which control cockroaches, fleas and other pests. However, dogs exposed to flea powders, sprays and on-spot treatments were no more likely to develop lymphoma than those whose owners did not use them,

In addition, Scottish terriers exposed to certain herbicides, including the common weed killer 2,4-D, were more than four times likely to develop bladder cancer than those whose yards were untreated, according to a 2004 study by Purdue University veterinarians.

Results of other studies have been mixed, with some showing an increased lymphoma risk in pets exposed to lawn chemicals and others finding no link.

Malignant lymphoma in dogs closely resembles non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. More than 60,000 Americans a year are diagnosed with the disease, making it the sixth most common cancer in the United States.

“The close interaction and shared household environments of dogs and their human owners provides a unique opportunity for evaluating how herbicide and pesticide exposure may contribute to human non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” the study authors wrote.

Pesticides may increase the risk of the disease in people, too. Last year, Danish researchers found that people with high levels of DDT and other organochlorine pesticides were more likely to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma years later.

“Clearly dogs are not humans, but physiologically speaking, they are very similar,” said Lisa Barber, a veterinary oncologist at Tufts University and study author.

“The most heartbreaking thing is their short lifespan. It’s also what makes them useful models for human disease,” she said. Because dogs live accelerated lives compared with humans, researchers can gather information on a lifetime of exposure much more quickly than in people.

Using animals as sentinels for human health is not a new concept. More than 100 years ago, miners took caged canaries into coal mines to warn them of toxic gases.

In the 1950s, thousands of people in Japan died or suffered serious effects from eating mercury-poisoned fish from Minamata Bay. Locals had first noticed strange neurological symptoms in cats, which they described as dancing in the streets before collapsing and dying.

Pets also played an important role in drawing a link between asbestos and mesothelioma. In the 1980s, researchers found high levels of asbestos fibers in the lungs of pet dogs diagnosed with the lung disease. The finding helped increase understanding of the threats that asbestos posed to people, said Reif from Colorado State.

More recently, researchers have found that ozone, the main ingredient of smog, may contribute to asthma in cats, and household tobacco smoke may be a risk factor for nose, throat and lung cancers in dogs.

A rise in hyperthyroidism in cats also has been linked to brominated flame retardants, which are used in upholstery and electronics and contaminate dust and canned cat foods. Cats with overactive thyroids – which can lead to weight loss, increased appetite, hyperactivity and death – had higher blood levels of the chemicals, according to one small study led by Environmental Protection Agency scientists.

Because of their meticulous grooming habits, cats may ingest a lot of dust. The link to hyperthyroidism in felines “should be alarming to parents of crawling toddlers who explore their environments by putting everything in their mouths,” said Donna Mensching, veterinary medical director of the Washington Poison Center in Seattle.

Toddlers with high exposure to the flame retardants have lower IQs, according to one study. The chemicals also have been linked to altered thyroid hormones in pregnant women, which might harm a baby’s brain development.

Looking at the way environmental pollutants might interact with genetics in animal breeds susceptible to certain diseases may benefit human health as well.

“We know something about their breed history and susceptibility to certain diseases, which may make it easier to tease out gene-environment interactions,” said Dr. Robert A. Hiatt, an epidemiologist at the University of San Francisco and a former family physician.

The functions of certain genes are very similar in dogs and humans, according to Hiatt. “What we learn from pets may also be applicable to humans,” he said.

One of many questions the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study aims to address is how environmental chemicals may interact with genes in a breed that is susceptible to health problems. An estimated 60 percent of golden retrievers die from cancer, according to the Morris Animal Foundation, a nonprofit group that is funding the study. As a breed, they may be genetically susceptible, regardless of what chemicals they may have been exposed to.

The nationwide study will enroll 3,000 young golden retrievers and follow them through their entire lives. Page, one of the lead investigators, likens it to the Nurse’s Health Study, one of the longest running women’s health studies in the country.

“The opportunity will be quite seminal and transformative in terms of exposure science, because it will offer a new set of data with which to evaluate similarities with human exposure data,” Page said.

This research also may help experts develop treatments for diseases.

“We can cure anything in a mouse, but so many times new drugs fail miserably when taken straight from lab animals to human trials,” said Heather Wilson-Robles, a veterinary oncologist at Texas A&M University.

Dogs and cats develop diseases spontaneously for many of the same reasons people do, which means experts can predict from pets how a new drug may act in humans. “Mouse models are really important in the development of new treatments, but we are skipping a step when we take a drug from lab animals to humans without first looking to our veterinary patients,” Wilson-Robles said.

In Reggie’s case, Riordan and her vet looked first to human studies to form a treatment plan. He received chemotherapy and experimental high-dose vitamin C injections, a treatment that Riordan had uncovered while researching options for her father. “We thought if it worked in humans, it might work for dogs,” she said.

In February, less than two months after being diagnosed with canine lymphoma, Reggie died.

Riordan wasn’t aware of the link between lawn-care products and lymphoma in dogs, but, she said, “we were always really careful about chemicals. We don’t use pesticides in our yard or a lot of chemicals in the house.”

While Riordan hopes researchers may one day be able to prevent dogs like Reggie from getting cancer, she knows tragedy comes with pet ownership. “We love them so much that even if they don’t die of cancer, they will ultimately break our hearts,” she said.

This article originally ran at Environmental Health News, a news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.


Lindsey Konkel

Lindsey Konkel is a freelance science journalist based in Monmouth County, New Jersey.

What Do Cats Think About Us? You May Be Surprised

Unlike dogs, our feline friends treat us like other cats, author says.

Since cats first got their adorable claws into us about 9,500 years ago, humans have had a love affair with felines.

Today more than 80 million cats reside in U.S. homes, with an estimated three cats for every dog on the planet. (Watch a video about the secret lives of cats.) Yet there's still a lot we don't know about our feline friends—including what they think of their owners.

John Bradshaw is a cat-behavior expert at the University of Bristol and the author of the new book Cat Sense. After observing pet cats for several years, he's come to an intriguing conclusion: They don't really understand us the way dogs do.

Bradshaw recently shared some of his insights with National Geographic.

How did you get into cat behavior?

For the first 20 years of my career I studied olfactory [smell] behavior in invertebrates. I've always been fascinated by this other world that animals live in—primarily of odor, which is dogs' primary sense. So in the early 1980s I started working on dog behavior. [Later] I very quickly became fascinated with cats, and what their idea of the world is compared to the one we have.

What do you do in your research?

A lot of observation—watching groups of cats to see how they interact with one another and deducing their social structure. [I watch] cats in colonies that are free-ranging, and in animal shelters where quite a number will be housed together—you get interesting dynamics [when new cats are introduced].

I've also done slightly more manipulative things, such as studying the way cats play with toys, or testing cat [behaviors] at different times of the day. [I also observe] relationships with owners, interviewing them and giving them questionnaires to find out how they perceive their cats.

Why did you conclude that cats don't "get us" the way dogs do?

There's been a lot of research with dogs and how dogs interact with people. [It's] become very clear that dogs perceive us as being different than themselves: As soon as they see a human, they change their behavior. The way a dog plays with a human is completely different from [the way it plays] with a dog.

We've yet to discover anything about cat behavior that suggests they have a separate box they put us in when they're socializing with us. They obviously know we're bigger than them, but they don't seem to have adapted their social behavior much. Putting their tails up in the air, rubbing around our legs, and sitting beside us and grooming us are exactly what cats do to each other. (Also see "How Cats and People Grew to Love Each Other.")

I've read articles where you've said cats think of us as big, stupid cats. Is that accurate?

No. In the book [I say] that cats behave toward us in a way that's indistinguishable from [how] they would act toward other cats. They do think we're clumsy: Not many cats trip over people, but we trip over cats.

But I don't think they think of us as being dumb and stupid, since cats don't rub on another cat that's inferior to them. (See "Cats Use 'Irresistible' Purr-Whine to Get Their Way.")

Can we discover what cats really think about us?

More research needs to be done. [It's] not an area that's received sufficient attention. [Cats are] not wild animals, so ecologists [might think], 'Well they're not really animals at all.'

What has been most surprising to you in your research?

How stressed a lot of pet cats can be without their owners realizing it, and how much it affects the quality of their mental lives and their health. Cats don't [always] get on with other cats, [and people don't realize] how much that can stress them out. Other than routine visits, the most common reason cats are taken to vets is because of a wound sustained in a fight with another cat.

[More cats are mysteriously getting] dermatitis and cystitis [inflammation of the bladder] and it's becoming abundantly clear that these medical problems are made worse by psychological stress. [For instance], inflammation of the bladder wall is linked to stress hormones in the blood.

One solution is to examine the cat's social lifestyle, instead of pumping it full of drugs. [For example, that could mean making sure] two cats that [don't get along] live at opposite ends of the house. Quite often the whole problem goes away.

I have a few questions from cat owners on Facebook. First, why might a cat yowl when it's by itself in a room?

Cats learn specifically how their owners react when they make particular noises. So if the cat thinks, 'I want to get my owner from the other room,' it works to vocalize. They use straightforward learning. (Learn about National Geographic's Little Kitties for Big Cats initiative.)

Why do some cats treat one human member of the household differently?

They're much smarter than we give them credit for: They learn what works with what person. They know if [one member of the family] is prone to get up at 4 a.m. and give them some treats.

They are using behavior that they would use toward their mother—all the behavior they show toward us is derived in some way from the mother-kitten relationship. The kitten learns to raise its tail, rub on its mother, and knead and purr. Grooming is what mothers do back to kittens.

So they're using bits of behavior already in their repertoire to communicate with us. There aren't very many behaviors—maybe half a dozen. (See National Geographic readers' pictures of cats.)

Yes. Cats can learn what they're not supposed to do. If your cat has developed a habit [of jumping up on the kitchen table], there are limited ways to prevent it.

You could use a spring-loaded toy, so when a cat jumps up on something, the toy goes bang and up in the air—the cat doesn't like that and jumps down. Another reasonably benign [strategy] is to use a child's water pistol. But make sure the cat doesn't realize you've got it. Cats don't forgive, and once they realize a person is causing them anxiety or hurt, they keep away.

What do you want owners to know about their cats?

Acknowledge that cats are sociable animals to a point, but not sociable to the extent that dogs are. A lot of people who have one cat decide they would like to have another cat, thinking two cats are twice as much fun. But the cats may not see it that way.

The simple message I would like to get across is if you do want to have more than one cat, go about it in a careful way—and be prepared to give up on it if it doesn't work.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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Watch the video: The Meaning Behind 21 Strangest Dog Behaviors. Jaw-Dropping Facts about Dogs

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