Dr Bruce Fogle, the well-known veterinarian/author tells us that in his experience “the most common physical signs of frustration is the teeth chattering of the indoor cat watching a potential prey outdoors through a window”. We know this behaviour. But is it a physical manifestation of feline frustration?
The renown zoologist Dr Desmond Morris in this equally renown book ‘Catwatching‘ describes cat chattering as a ‘vacuum activity’. The cat is performing the specialised bite which kills a bird by severing the spine. But as there is no bird the cat is performing it as if in practice. He is unable to control himself when watching birds through the window.
It is therefore a substitute for bird killing. But the cat does not appear to be upset or annoyed as a result of being unable to kill the bird. I am not convinced cat chattering is a sign of frustration.
I am not convinced in fact that cats can feel frustrated as it entails being upset and annoyed at not being able to do something. Rather than feeling upset cats do something else which substitutes the activity they are prevented from doing.
There are many indoor cats who can’t express a range of typical feline activities the most obvious of which is hunting. They may play for a while and then snooze instead. Domestic cats are excellent adapters to circumstance.
There is another possible sign of a frustrated cat: redirected aggression. When a cat is wound up to be aggressive perhaps towards a cat outside that he can’t get at, he may redirect the aggression at another cat or a person inside. Once again I am not sure if this is frustration. Perhaps it is more about finding an alternative activity to the original. Dr. Fogle mentions something similar; the domestic cat who has lost a fight outside and comes home to lash out at another resident cat.
In finding an alternative, frustration is avoided. Of course there is still a discussion about the emotions that cats can feel. We are not sure. However, there will be many cat owners who will vouch that their cat shows signs of frustration. I’d like to hear from them.
If domestic cats do feel the emotion of frustration cat owners should allow them time to calm down. This is certainly important when a cat has become wound up and aggressive for whatever reason. Keep clear and respect the cat until the frustration has dissipated.