We have all been guilty of offending our cats at one point or another. We may have done something miniscule (dragged out meal time), or we may have committed a gigantic offense (woken them up from their afternoon nap). This is just a fact of life: we can’t at all times behave exactly like our cats would want us to.
When this does happen, and we find ourselves in the proverbial doghouse, what are we to do? How does one apologize to a cat, and do they even understand what we are trying to say?
Do Cats Understand Apologies?
While cats probably don’t understand apologies the same way we do, they do realize what our intention is. They will be able to grasp our aim, in their own way.
We are prone to ascribing very human feelings to our pets. Jealousy and offense are not something cats have a concept for however. Cats don’t hold grudges, at least not in the way humans can.
Nevertheless, cats can behave much like we would. They will ignore us, retreat to their private sanctuaries, refuse to be pet, look away when we call them. This behavior practically always means we have done something wrong. While we may not operate based on the same concepts, we do sometimes do the exact same things.
When a cat is a bit standoffish and seems aloof, they are probably trying to avoid whatever it is we have just done wrong: stepping on their tail, walking into them, et cetera. Cats have also probably grasped the fact that cuddling will get them everywhere, while withholding it will make us do whatever it is they want us to.
In that sense, cats do understand apologies. Some cats will even go out of their way to apologize to us. When you’ve committed a crime against your feline majesty, find the right time, as soon as appropriate, to say you are sorry.
How to Tell You’ve Done Something Wrong
There are several telltale signs you can watch out for that will tell you a cat is in some form of distress and that something has upset them:
- Twitching and wagging their tail or thumping it against something
- Puffing up their fur and arching their back
- Flattening their ears or just throwing them back
- Giving you “the look”
- Hissing or spitting at you
- Odd meowing
Cats may also exhibit some more “human” traits when offended, for lack of a better term:
- Refusing to look at you
- Showing you their back
- Doing things they know they are not supposed to
- Leaving a mess around their food bowl or litter box
If you notice any of this behavior, it’s time to apologize. You may also already be aware of the thing you have done wrong. Maybe you’ve changed their food or litter, or maybe you came home much later than usual. There are plenty of things cats hate that could be the cause. Here’s how to apologize to a cat, whatever you have done wrong:
Start With the Why
First, you need to determine what the offense was in the first place. This may help you land on the right type of apology, and of course prevent you from committing it again.
Sometimes it will be quite easy to discover. If you’ve stepped on your cat’s tail, accidentally squished them or woken them up, you will instantly be aware of it. On the other hand, if you have started giving them a different brand of food or have switched your routine up, it may not be as obvious.
Find the Right Time
Ideally, you want to apologize as soon as your cat allows you to. If they have run away after you’ve stepped on their tail, you don’t have to run after them, wait until they are back in the same room.
If they are being aloof because you’ve been working non stop lately, give them extra cuddles and make time to play with them more often.
Talk to Them
Saying the actual words “I’m sorry” does not mean your cat will understand you, but it will put you in the right frame of mind, and help you adjust your tone and your body language. These are the cues our cats respond to best.
Use a soothing voice and keep it low. Don’t speak in a high pitch, as cats don’t like that to begin with. You want to sound practically like you are purring. Use their name or nickname too, and say nice things to them.
You can also slowly blink at them, which is catspeak for “I love you”.
Give Them a Cuddle and a Pet
If your cat is in the right mood, you should also give them a pet. Don’t do this unless they have calmed down, as you don’t want to aggravate the situation further.
Aim to do what they like most: a head scratch, a bit behind the ears, under the chin or over the arch of their back. Different cats like different pets, so there is no universal recipe for apologetic cuddles.
Also make the time and space for them to come to you. Sit in the spot where they usually come to your lap, or lie down if that’s when they like to join you most.
Give Them the Attention They Need
If your offense is more along the lines of “you’ve been too busy living your own life”, what you will likely need to do is spend some time around your cat. Don’t invite friends over to help you pass the time, rather focus on calm activities around the home your cat can enjoy too.
You may read or watch TV, listen to music or just sit around and cuddle with your feline. Playing sessions are also welcome.
Play With Them
If your cat loves to play, this can be a great way to apologize to them and reassure them that you mean no harm and that you do in fact love them very much.
What you play will of course depend on your cat. Chasing a piece of string or running all over the place after a laser point can be great fun. You can also play with a stuffed animal if they like to hunt, or you can play hide and seek.
Sometimes the simplest toys work best: scrunching up some baking paper always works for Sasha. We probably have dozens of these balls buried under the sofa and the bed. New ones just keep randomly appearing overnight.
Give Them a Treat
Treats are usually the best way to reassure and reward dogs, but the same principle can apply to cats as well. While giving your cat human food isn’t necessarily bad for them, make sure you only do it in reasonable quantities.
Cats can eat tuna, so a bite or two may be a great way to apologize. Cats can eat sardines too, so you may want to try that as well. Cats shouldn’t eat dog treats on the other hand, so don’t apply the above-mentioned treat principle too literally. You can get them cat treats if you really want them to have something they only occasionally munch on that isn’t human food.
Let Them Rule
Finally, most cats will just want things done their own way, so your best option to make them feel loved and appreciated is to let them do what they want, within reason. This may mean vacating a chair when they want to sleep there, letting them sit in the window and chirping at birds, or sleeping on your freshly laundered clothing.
Don’t let them become little oligarchs though. You are still the owner, and you can (and should) enforce certain rules. How lenient you choose to be with your cat is up to your personal lifestyle.
Wrapping It Up
Apologizing to your cat is a natural part of your life together. As long as you make them feel loved and safe on an everyday basis, they will understand that the occasional tail squishing is not a sign that you no longer care.