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Cat Communication

How to Understand Your Cat

Cats communicate in a variety of ways. It isn’t just meowing and purring, although vocalization is an important part of your kitty communicating to you. Body language and behavior are also important components in feline communication with humans. If you want to learn more about what cats are telling you and how to communicate back, read on.



Did you know cats usually only meow with kittens? Adult cats usually don’t meow much to each other, but use ultrasonic sounds that humans just can’t hear. Meowing sounds can differ between cats, as they develop specific sounds to indicate specific things with the people in their lives. One cat’s greeting sound may be very different from another’s, even if they are living together. Listening carefully to sounds can help identify whether they are asking for attention, hoping for food, or have something they thing is important for you to see.

Yowling, the longer and often louder sounds, are used to tell other cats things. They may be a sign of distress, trying to warn off a threatening presence, a cry for attention, or a hunting call. Feral cats are much more likely to make these sounds than meowing while learning to communicate with humans.


Tail Position

Cats use their tails as a way of communicating between both other cats and humans. These signals are easy to learn and interpret.

A raised tail indicates friendliness and being relaxed

A thrashing tail indicates irritation or anger

A tail twitching at the end indicates interest and alertness

A tail between the legs is submissive

A tail held down toward the ground shows aggressive defensiveness

A tail held neutrally behind a cat is non-threatening and amicable. This is a neutral pose for a neutral feeling

There are other tail positions that can express a variety of emotions. If you want to know what a cat is thinking, check her tail first.



Facial Expressions

Take a look in a mirror and make a few expressions. Try happy, scared, and angry. Cats also make facial expressions and these can share the same signals as human expressions.

If you picture a cat’s ears as his eyebrows, it helps to identify what they are feeling. A happy person’s eyebrows are raised and they are looking forward and engaging with what interests them. A cat has his ears up and pointed forward when he is engaged with something. An angry person’s eyebrows go down, just like a cat’s ears, and a grimace or snarl that reveals teeth and slitted eyes are universal signals of strong displeasure. An anxious or unsure cat’s ears will be out to the side, in a sort of half-way position.

His whiskers and eyes will also be incorporated into his expression. The whiskers will fan out and face forward while interested or excited, held in a neutral position while content, and move back closer to the face when worried or scared. Pupils dilate when something is exciting and interesting and get narrow and small when alarmed.

A particularly important facial expression to watch for is the slow blink. It is a signal of trust and affection. Some people call the slow blink a “kitty kiss.” This behavior can be given by a human to a cat as well, either before or in response to a cat doing it.



A purr is a happy sound, right?

It can be, but it can also be a sign of many other things. There is a purr of hunger, which is often combined with a mewing sound. There is a purr of bonding, usually used between kittens and mothers as a way to help them reassure each other. It can be a means of relaxing after a fearful situation, such as visiting the vet, or be a signal of aggression, especially if you see it with other signals of frustration.

Purring can actually help heal too. Purring occurs at frequencies that can help stimulate healing in bones and tendons, ease pain, and make breathing easier. This doesn’t only work for the purring cat herself; she can help someone she cares for feel better by purring while in contact with them. If you’re not feeling well and your cat sits with you and purrs, she may be trying to help.


A Unique Individual

Each cat has his or her own personality, and they will express things differently. Taking the time to know a cat will help you determine what it is trying to tell you. Similarly, cats can understand the emotions and some of what a human is telling them. They may not always seem to react, but the are aware and do interact with you based on that information in their own feline way.

Learning how a cat communicates helps to make your relationship stronger and keep them happier throughout their lives. The more time you spend with cats, the easier it will be to understand what they are telling you.


Written by FGSC Volunteer: Siobhan Armstrong

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