Pet Articles

Cat Communication

Cat Communication

Cats may not be able to speak English but they do have many other ways in which they can ‘talk’ to you. Cats are cognitive animals, they solve problems just like any other highly developed species. Cats can and will communicate with you if you allow them to express themselves, talk back to them and try to understand what they are saying. Learn what your cat’s different signals mean so that you and your cat can communicate regularly. This will not only improve the bond with your cat and keep your cat happy, but it will also allow you to better read your cat’s signals so you know when your cat wants to play or just wants to be left alone!

Tails

Tails are probably one of the best communication indicators that cats have. One can almost read every cat feeling and thought by looking at his/her tail.

  • Tail arched and puffed out or bristled – your cat is scared or fearful and is ready to attack or defend itself. The bristling is instinctual as it makes the cat look larger.
  • Tail straight up in the air and fully puffed out or bristled – your cat is angered, aggressive and ready to attack.
  • Tail straight up in the air and quivering a bit – your cat’s tail moves this way when spraying urine to mark territory; however, once your cat is spayed or neutered he/she will continue to move his/her tail this way (without any spray or urine being excreted) when you greet him/her. This is your cats way of saying, ‘hi, it’s your loving cat!’
  • Tail straight up and unmoving – an unabashed greeting. This is what a mother cat does to her kitten to tell him/her to inspect her rear.
  • Tail straight up but the tip tilted to one side – your cat is very interested and intrigued by something; your cat is happy and friendly.
  • Tail straight up or just slightly raised and curved like a question mark – your cat is very excited and interested in something.
  • Tail curved down and then back up again near the tip – your cat is very relaxed and content.
  • Tail still but tip of tail quivering or twitching – your cat is mildly irritated. Your cat may attack if the twitching becomes violent enough.
  • Tail swishing from side to side rapidly or violently – your cat is about to attack something, this is seen during fights and play time. This is not the same as tail wagging in dogs.
  • Tail held to one side – your cat is giving a sexual invitation (generally only females in heat do this).
  • Tail held low and puffed out or bristled – your cat is intensely afraid.
  • Tail held low and tucked between the hind legs – your cat is showing his submission or defeat.

Ears

Cats ears are another way that a cat expresses his/her emotions.

  • Ears pointing forward and slightly outward – your cat is relaxed and happy.
  • Ears very straight up and forward – your cat is listening to something that is intriguing.
  • Ears twitching nervously – your cat is agitated and nervous.
  • Ears flat against the head – your cat is frightened and may attack (this is instinctual as to protect the ears during a fight).
  • Ears back or in between alert and defensive position – your cat is aggressive and may attack.

Back/Fur

In general a cat’s body fur remains fairly consistent; however, if you notice your cat arching his or her back and bristling you can rest assured that your cat is frightened and on the defensive. Your cat may attack at this point.

Meowing

Cats can make over 100 different vocal sounds (dogs can only make 10). These sounds encompasses a variety of meows, purrs, gurgles, and eeps which occur in a variety of tones and octaves and can mean a plethora of things. The more you talk to your cat, the more your cat will talk back and extend his/her ‘vocabulary’. And a good owner will learn over time what his/her cat means by each of his/her vocal sounds. By listening to your cat and talking back, eventually you and your cat can start to ‘talk’ back and forth to each other with understanding. This will help the bond between you and your cat grow and entice your cat to become even more expressive.

Purring

It is still not known why cats purr. Some theories on the origin of purring include 1) the possession of false vocal cords 2) the contraction of laryngeal muscles 3) blood flow that is amplified by the diaphragm. Whatever the cause of purring a cat purrs when he or she is generally happy; although, some cats are known to only purr when they are ill. However, most cat owners will attest to the fact that their cats only purr when the are content or happy.

Growling/Hissing

Growling and or hissing means only one thing – your cat means business and wants you to back off. If your cat growls or hisses at you don’t push the issue or you will be attacked.

Pupils

Cat’s pupils for the most part change with the amount of the light in the room. However, if your cat become very aroused, excited or angered his/her pupils will become greatly enlarged regardless of the amount of light in the room.

Eyes

Your cats eyes can also tell you a lot about what kitty is thinking:

Wide open eyes – your cat is awake and ready to go
Wide open eyes with a little sparkle – your cat is feeling a little mischievous
Half closed eyes – your kitty is relaxed and ready for a cat nap! This can also mean your cat is ill if the eyes are like this on a consistent basis, even when awake.
Closed eyes – your cat is napping, obviously.
Winking/Blinking – A long slow blink means that your cat is content and relaxed.

Other Behaviors

Rolling on his/her back and exposing the belly – your cat is letting you know that he/she totally trusts you as he/she is exposing the most vulnerable part of the body. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your cat wants a belly rub, just that he/she is totally comfortable with you.
Kneading – this stems from ‘milk threading’ that kittens do. Kittens knead their mother’s belly to stimulate milk production. In doing this to you your cat is not only expressing his/her love for you as a mother-figure but also remembering the happy feelings that used to occur when the mother was kneaded.

Snoring – if your cat snores when he/she sleeps he/she is totally relaxed!

Sniffing – cats sniff each other in the wild to say hello and get to know each other. If your cat sniffs your face consider it a greeting and a way of showing that your cat trusts and likes you. Many owners even get down on the floor (face level with their cats) and touch noses when they greet.

Article courtesy of 21cats.org; All Rights Reserved.

25 Responses to this Article, So Far

  1. Avatar Julie says:

    My cat is a 3 years old shorthaired multi-colored mix female. I adopted her 2 years ago and we’ll bonded exceptionally well. I am retired a and spend most of my time at home with her. Just two of us. Before I adopted her from a cage-free shelter she was found stray and shortly has a litter of kittens. I got her spayed, very shy in the beginning but very quickly start feel at her loving home. What amazed me is the fact how much love and care for her not only make me feel that she is my little child, make her feel the same way. This transformation didn’t affected her natural instincts, such as hunting and catching a prey, sometimes I saw the body language of a wild cat.
    But I never thought that she could become as affectionate, loving, kissing and following me everywhere around the house. When I get sick and stay in bed never left my site. And of course I am talking to her all the time and she understands me well. Now she is talking back to me. I cannot believe it at first, thinking that I hearing meowing and imaging it. But she is talking. I start listenning closer and realize that no plain meow in her talking. She is not use much vocal sounds and each time she does, day after day she do her best of immitation of my words.
    Not many I can clearly understand excert few.
    Ma-a. First request for attention
    Ma-ma. Second request for attention or food.
    My ma-ma. When I giving her food.
    O, well. When I said that’s enough.
    She is something else, beside a beautiful tiger face cat. She is my girl.

  2. Avatar tifanny says:

    thx ssssssssso much!

  3. Avatar jibster says:

    Tnx for the wonderful tips!!! I better start observing my cat`s actions.

  4. Avatar Lori says:

    I have a 6 year old male cat. Half linx, half siamese. He is neutered and front declawed. Probably weighs 25 lbs.

    He is an “only child”. Sleeps with me, at my side, and won’t leave me unless he’s eating or going potty. Follows me like a dog when I get home from work, and I only work part-time.

    Lately he has become a bit territorial when it comes to me and needs to constantly be at my side even when I sit on the couch. The few times that I have not let him lay by me he has become agressive and come at me batting my arm with his paws. No growling, no hissing…just the batting. I get up from the couch and remove myself from the situation.

    Is there anything I can do about this?

  5. Avatar Harold Little says:

    I have a 2 yr old from a shelter, very cute and loving and gets along well with the 8 yr old. She carries her tail curled at her side almost like a ? and the tip will twitch. It will straighten out when she sits or sleeps. Is this normal? I have never seen this before.

  6. Avatar Tracie says:

    I adopted my Tabitha almost four years ago. She was in a litter and the most striking cat. She was by herself while her brothers and sisters played. So I picked her thinking she was shy and quiet. Boy was I wrong I think she was just waking from a nap that day. Shy now isn’t the word to describe her. She talks to me she plays. At times I think she doesn’t understand she is a cat. Her personality is more dog like. She chases things kills bogs and spiders. I have a 7 year old child and Tabitha has never become violent with her. The only time my cat bites or bats my legs, or even jump at me is when I am slow to feed her. I was told she was over weight but I am seeing her size as normal. I put her on a diet which caused the frustration from her. I have since taken her off the stupid diet and she is ten times happier. The only question I had was answered because of this wonderful site. Why she sniffs my face. I also believe that cats do that to see if you are okay. A way from them to see if you are still breathing. Because it usually happens when the person is relaxed or asleep. After the sniffing the cat sleeps beside you for your warmth and affection. Right now my baby is running around the house because it is fairly early. Once noon hits she will be napping and sun bathing. peace and blessing all my cat lovers.

  7. Avatar Christina says:

    This article was very helpful. One question I have: is it normal for a cat to moan? My Abyssiniam stretches out on her side and groans, is she just stretching like people do?

  8. Avatar marcus says:

    My cat Loki will give me mixed signals. He will meow, chirp, and rub figure 8′s around my legs wanting to be picked up. As soon as I pick him up and cradle him like a baby on his back (this is the only way he will be held) he will shut his eyes, start purring loudly, and giving me headbuts. While this is going on he will sometimes swish his tail like he is mad, but all other signs point to him loving it. Any ideas why? When his tail is swishing he makes no attempt to leave or make any other signs of agitation.

    • Avatar Marko says:

      As far as I know, cat tails sometimes give misleading signs . It all sounds good though – sounds like the cat is digging the attention which is great.

  9. Avatar Selena says:

    I have a cat that is 17 in human years and I think 80 something in cat years. Way to skinny but seems to be perfectly healthy. We used to never see him lay down but one it seems thats a he does. I love to play with him by grabbing yarn and dragging it around jt a circle and he attackes it. It is hilarious.

  10. Avatar Brent Porter says:

    My name is Brent and I have a cat that is 8 months old.

    When my cat walks, his tail is all the way up by his head and it is really weird because other cats do not seem to do that. If anybody knows anything about this please post a comment.

    Thank You

  11. Avatar mistercat says:

    My cat Kirby has an oily chin. If I don’t rub it daily, he get crusty blackheads. He will arch his head completely backwards to give me access to his chin, when I scratch his chin with my fingernails, he gives a big sigh. A very human sound.

  12. Avatar Abrielle says:

    im ten almost elevin and me and my mom used to breed persians. The mother was a calico ( mixed coloreded ) persian. Exact same personality as the very top post. One time she had a litter of.. I beileve 4 to 5 kittens. Wen they grew a little older I picked one that I loved to death. She is grey black and white with beautiful markings. Wen I went to visit my grand parents, my mom called and told me that she had sold the cat to one of her friends. I was in my gparents room bolling on the floor so she called them and told them to bring the cat back. I got her wen I was 4 or 5 and shes 6. Shes been my best friend ever since. And I love pets to death so she gets ALOT of attention. Shes the sweeetest thing even my mom loves her. Every night I draw and stay up late and she will to. And wen I turn the light off she knows its time to lay down. So she will lay like a human on her back and share a pillow with me. And wen I come in my room with food she goes to the opposite side of the bed. Wen i get done, she comes back. But I play the piano alot and her favorite song Is,twinkle twinkle little star because every time I play it she meows like
    ” mrouwwwww!!!” And she talks to me alot

  13. Avatar Abrielle says:

    I also have a cat, layla, and her and my other cat sara, have been together since sara was born. But wen layla was fixed. She vecame very mean like a child gets wen their parents give them no attention. So I gave her lots and lots of attention and over time she became regular. But wen her and sara were split she became very lovey dovey. Is it possible she is missing me or sara?

  14. Avatar Trisha says:

    I brought my cat home when he was only 5 weeks old, and he has done all of the affectionate things above with his tail and rubbing noses with me, kneeds me when hes about to go to sleep. He also trys to suck on my shirt, which I tell him no and then he’ll just rub his chin on me and drool. Does anyone know why he does that? Also when he sees me his tail goes straight up and quivers like they do when they spray but he’s neutered and nothing comes out and sometimes he leaves an odor. Anyone know why that is?

  15. Avatar Monique Methot says:

    When my cat Bob wants me to feed him, I’m positive he’s saying “now” rather than “meow”! I adopted a friend for Bob, and although she rarely spoke at first, Bob has certainly helped her find her voice, and now she’s just as vocal as her chatty big brother!

  16. Avatar vicki says:

    My 5 year old male Spencer is so vocal, he makes loads of different noises and if you talk back to him it’s almost like having a conversation. My little female Mischa is less vocal but she’s so affectionate, headbutts, sniffs everything and is constantly wanting to sit on my knee or my feet. <3 them!

  17. Avatar LaurieCampbell Miller says:

    My cat is about 1 1/2 yrs old. He is very attached to me I think. Perhaps too needy. He meows and wails, basically makes the strangest noises constantly. I keep him indoors as where I live is not safe for him to go out and in a year or two I will be moving to Korea where the appartments are usually high rise and a lot smaller. I wanted him to get used to being indoor. He is a hunter at heart – he was the kitten of a stray here in Abu Dhabi and I know he is bored out of his mind. I work all day, sometimes 12 hour days. He gets a lot of affection when I get home but I worry this is not enough. People have said to me I should get another cat for company so he is not so lonely during the day but I’m on my own and feel I can’t have two cats. It’s hard enough with one when holidays come round or just the fact that I’m moving. I was never supposed to keep him but there are so many cats here that need homes it was impossible to find one for him when he was a kitten so of course I kept him with me. My question is – is it more cruel to keep him with me as 1 cat and take him to korea ( a whole other issue that may cause him anxiety) or to try to give him to someone else who has another cat and who may be home more? I want him to be happy and well adjusted but I don’t want to break his heart by making him feel abandoned. Help please!

  18. Avatar michele p says:

    My black and white 1 year old is in heat. she will be getting fixed this month. she is spraying all over. I have heard of this, but I have not had an indoor unspayed female before. my question is, after she gets fixed will she quit spraying?

  19. Avatar Dee says:

    My cat Aslan is Bengal x Persian but my vet says more Norwegia xn all his features point to that and Bengal x.Persian Msg to Bret .if your cat holds his tail high it is form of greeting and is pleased as in ood I’m here.Also will do this when he knows is going to got his food will run to me look I’m here.Cats will rub round your legs to..My cat also waves his tail around th wh thisen he is let out of my window I believe this is because marking the air with their sent and warning other cats off.My cat Also sucks anything furry and sucks my dressing gown pjussy foots .He alludes this more after food jumps on me as though I’m his ong lost mum.Cats are all different like people.They even know when your not well .I use to work in a care home we had a resident cat she use to always go near to a resident who was not well.Sometimes sat outside their door.

  20. Avatar Nikou says:

    My 9 year old male (neutered) cat was coughing/wheezing so I took him to the vet, they prescribed antibiotics for 10 years. It didn’t get better after the pills were done, in fact it was worst so I took him back to the vet did an xray – came back and said it was bronchopneumonia. Gave him a shot that he said will make him pee a lot and it will get rid of the fluid in his lungs and re-started him with 2 different types of antibiotics.
    He seemed very lethargic that day so we left him alone to rest. The next day I noticed his back legs seemed very week and wobbly, he couldn’t walk straight or jump up and down. He stopped eating/drinking and bathroom reduced to pee once per day so I started to feed him from that day, both food and water through syringe. He started losing weight significantly. Coughing stopped during this medication, but his lack of appetite, lethargy, and complete lack of interest/purring/socializing, disorientation had me worried. I took him back to the vet once the pills were done and he made me do a blood test and he gave him an IV of electrolytes in case of dehydration.
    Blood test came back and the vet said the normal range is 0-3.9 for pancreaitis and my cats result was 4.2. He had no temperature and no wheezing. I asked him what I should do he said give him a couple of days and then call him back.
    He finally pooped a nice healthy poop and seemed a little bit more responsive. He would eat on his own when we would put his food right in front of him, but still no water.
    I realized yesterday he kept going to the litter box and nothing was happening. Did this several times. Then I noticed wherever he had sat on the ground, there was a diarrhea-ish poo stain near his litter box. This morning he threw up white foam several times and then I noticed him rubbing his bum on a towel that had fallen on the ground. I came to wipe him bum because it looked dirty but he growled at me and I noticed he was in pain…
    I need help because I don’t quite trust my vet because I feel like he keeps making me do tests and I never get a straight answer with him. It’s cost me $800 for 3 visits and my cat is in worse shape now than he was before I originally took him in…I just want some straight answers or diagnosis…

  21. Avatar Hayley says:

    I always knew my cat loved me as much as I love her, but this confirmed it! It makes me so happy to know for sure that she is happy. :)

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