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The Details are in the Eyebrows

Some of the best conversations I have in a day are with my pets. I know this sounds funny and I realize that, for the most part, I’m probably just talking to myself but if this is the case then I am one of the most interesting conversationalists I’ve ever met. The truth is I am talking to my pets and they are talking back the best they can, not so much in words, although the three legged cat generally has something to meow about, but more in deed and understanding. In my mind this is one of the principle reasons we own pets.

We had a lady come into the hospital yesterday who had lost her two feline companions of 14 years, and tears came to her eyes when she talked about them and then suddenly she perked right up and told us that her friend’s cat had just had kittens and her friend said she could have two and now she would have someone to get excited with about the pizza delivery. And that about sums it up; our pets are living beings we can share things with, including pizza.

In this article I’d like to go over some of the ways that our animals communicate with us, a bit of a translation session really to help your pet better connect. So, let us start with Dogs.


Tail wagging Happy, Tail still Sad – Just joking, dogs are far more deep than simply a tail wag but the old adage that a dog wags its tail with its heart holds true. Most of a dog’s subtle expressions are based in their eyes. You can have a great conversation with a dog based on eyebrows alone. Dog were originally pack animals, and have developed a complicated scheme of eyebrow movements to convey intention and desire. If a dog wants you to do something they will continue facing you but will look in the direction of the desired object with their eyes, they then look back to you to make sure you got it… then repeat until you get it. By example “there is a lovely piece of toast on the table.. over there (eyes shift to the table then back)… on the table (eyes shift again)… it looks yummy (eyes again).” This is a very effective form of communication and of guilt which in the end always gets you the toast. Another interesting feature of dogs, mostly designed I’m sure to throw their humans off, is blinking and yawning. Both are features of attentiveness. Blinking, as with humans, shows they are thinking and listening to you. This behaviour incorporates both a reflex and a sign of submission; the dominant and therefore “not listening” dog tends to try and stare you down. Yawning in dog language is a way to break tension; they yawn when they are taking the time to think about something. They also yawn when they are tired. So it’s best not to rely on this, and to wait for written verification.


Now Cats. My favourite cat behaviour is the kiss. Cats kiss with their eyes, a long languid blink directed at their sweetheart. The great thing about this is that you can blink back and they get it! I use this a lot in my exam rooms where, when I meet a cat for the first time, things could go either way, I could be friend or foe. Usually I find these guys are blinking their little hearts out trying to tell anyone that will look that they are friendly and love anyone, but that they are terrified. One nice long blink on my part and, what do you know, we have established a clear communication and we are fast friends from there on in. Often times the blink is preceded by the chin nod where a cat will nod with its head leading with its chin. This is an excited welcome greeting showing you that they are just so happy you’ve come. Another welcoming behaviour is the stretch and scratch… be it on the couch or on the stairs or even the carpet. Cats will do this when you come into a room or into the house and it is actually a welcome greeting. They are showing you how lovely and long they are and pointing out very subtly how lucky you are to have a wonderful long cat like them. This can be used for best advantage by placing a scratching post by your front door. It’s there when they need it and they get used to being allowed to scratch there.