Have you ever wondered why your cat’s tail sometimes vibrates, or why she suddenly goes claws up when you’re petting her?
In a new book, “Kitty Language: An Illustrated Guide to Understanding Your Cat,” artist Lili Chin uses her adorable graphics to explain those behaviors and more, from the slow eye blink to the zoomies.
“Cats signal their moods and feelings with every part of their body: their face, eyes, ears, whiskers, and tail; their changing postures; and the direction and speed of their movements. But you need to look at more than any single body part or pose to really know what a cat is saying,” Chin writes in the introduction.
The artist consulted behaviorists and veterinarians to create the playful guide that is broken down into easy chapters that include “Scent,” “Ears,” “Eyes,” “Whiskers,” “Tail,” “Play,” “Posture and Sounds,” plus sections on “Friendly Behaviors” and “Conflicted or Stressed Behaviors”.
An Artist With an Eye for Animals
Chin is widely known for her popular dog and cat infographics, which are used by veterinary clinics and rescue groups to help people learn about pet behavior and body language.
Chin has been drawing for most of her life and became a professional artist when she began working in the field of animation and became a self-employed illustrator in 2007.
Her first book, “Doggie Language: A Dog Lover’s Guide to Understanding Your Best Friend,” was inspired by her Boston terrier, Boogie.
“He was my main model and muse, and my drawings of him that I shared online led to me becoming a ‘dog artist,’” she says.
Chin says shortly after she adopted Boogie, he had some behavioral problems that prompted her to learn about dog behavior and body language.
“I felt compelled to illustrate and share what Boogie and I were learning together,” she says. “I have been very lucky that ever since then, I have been hired to create educational infographics and lots of dog body language illustrations for trainers, behaviorists, veterinarians, and shelters.”
Sadly, Boogie passed away in October 2020 at the age of 16.
“As much as I miss living with a dog and would love to get a dog, the truth is that I am still grieving Boogie’s death and I am not emotionally ready for another dog,” Chin says. “After Boogie’s death, my home was too strange, sad, and quiet without an animal in it, so my husband and I adopted [cats] Mambo and Shimmy.”
Learning From—and About—Cats
Black fluffy Mambo is male and tiny gray and white Shimmy is a female. Chin says the two cats are BFFs.
Chin at first thought Mambo was acting “doglike” because he was so attached to her, but this was coming from someone who had recently lived with a dog for 13 years and only had dogs as a point of reference.
“People often say that cats are more aloof and prefer to do their own thing instead of being bonded to you the way dogs do,” she says. “I did not find this to be the case with Mambo. Mambo is certainly less Velcro-ed to me than Boogie was, but he follows me around the house, hangs out wherever I hang out, frequently “talks” to me, and sleeps next to me every night. We have also done some clicker training which he loves. Shimmy is a very different personality and does not do the same behaviors. I agree with the cat behaviorist consultants I know that cats are way more social and expressive than they usually get credit for.”
As she was researching and writing “Kitty Language,” Chin drew a lot from her own experiences with Mambo and Shimmy.
“For example, as a new cat person, I was frequently unsure if my cats were playing or fighting,” she says. “Cat behaviors may be subtle and fast, they change quickly from moment to moment, and cats are more sensitive to things going on in the environment than we may be. I have been fortunate to be able to talk to cat experts directly, look at videos, and ask questions.”
Chin says being able to see the changes in the body language of our companion animals is important if we want to have a good relationship with them and be good caregivers.
Making Two-Way Communication Possible
“Learning our individual animal’s body language makes two-way communication and consent possible,” she says. “Otherwise, we may be projecting emotions onto them or inadvertently causing discomfort, stress, or pain. There was a time when I failed to notice that Boogie was stressed because nobody taught me that lip licks, yawns, and head turns in that particular context were stress signals. I can now tell the difference between Mambo’s different tail movements and meows or know what Shimmy’s mood is like based on her posture in certain situations. I think when we learn to see a behavior in context, it’s hard to unsee this.”
Kitty Language comes out on June 13, 2023 on Ten Speed Press.
“I hope ‘Kitty Language’ and ‘Doggie Language’ are two books that can help people learn to see behaviors that they may have previously missed or misunderstood, and feel more inspired to get to know their dogs and cats,” Chin says.