BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

How Do Cats Communicate: With Humans and With Each Other

orange and calico cat communicating
Steve Corelli
Written by Steve Corelli

Do you ever wonder what your cat’s thinking? And when he’s meowing while looking at you, do you ever question how do cats communicate with humans? When you watch kittens frolic together, did it ever cross your mind the question about how cats communicate with each other? You’re not the only one who is in awe.

Every species on this planet has its special method of communicating. Cats also use an elaborate way of communication, not just meowing. Cats have three ways to communicate with each other. These communication methods are similar to how they also communicate with humans. But it’s harder for us humans to understand what our pets are trying to tell us. Well, not anymore.

 

tabby and siamese cat communicating

Interpreting ways cats communicate deepens the owner and pet cat’s bonds of affection. When we understand how cats communicate, it also prevents potential aggression and prevents false impressions.

Without further ado, let’s learn how to decipher your pet’s secret codes. In the first section, we will dissect the three methods of communication that cats use. In the next section, we will give you tips on how to better communicate with your cat to achieve a state of mutual affection and understanding.

Different Methods Cats Use to Communicate

Felines make use of a detailed and expanded system for conversing with each other. They sometimes communicate with us humans in a similar manner. Most of us deem cat lingo as something difficult to decipher and understand, but it’s really quite simple once you know what to look for.

Cats communicate with humans and other cats using three different tools/methods:

#1: Vocalizations

cat meowing

Your cat will use his voice to tell you and other cats what he wants. His pitches, intensity, frequency, rapidity, and the volume of his meows will reflect his varied physical and emotional needs.

The less intense the sounds he makes, the more confident and contented he’s feeling. High-pitched chatting or gurgling also signifies that the cat is content.

Purring signals that the cat is relaxed. But, it can also signify that he may be in pain. Purring may also mean that the cat is seeking comfort.

See Also: How Do Cats Purr

They say cats only meow when they are with humans, but mother cats actually use the audio cue to communicate with their kittens as well.

Louder, strained, high-pitched sounds such as hissing, growling, screaming, and spitting signal anxiety and fear. These unusual cat behaviors are often observed during the mating season.

See Also: How to Get a Cat Out of Heat

#2: Body Language

orange kitten with its tail up

It is a well-known fact that cats rely mostly on their body language to express likes, dislikes, and moods. Observing the body language as a whole, including the facial expressions, will allow you to deduce your pet’s intentions correctly.

Here are some cues to find out what your cat is feeling:

  • Ears: If your kitty has his ears forward, then he’s on alert. It could also mean that he’s happy or interested in something. But be warned if his ears are pinned backward or placed to the side because that means something made him slightly annoyed, irritated, scared, or angry.
  • Posture: It’s interesting to know that when you move your hand closer to stroke your cat’s coat and he curves his back, it means that he likes it or is interested in you. But if your cat cowers, it says he doesn’t want physical contact at that moment.
  • Tail: It’s a sign that your cat is happy or alert when his tail stands up in the air. Your kitten feels scared or irritated when the fur on the end of his tail stands up. Rapid movement of the tail from one side to the other signals anger. Tail-between-the-legs signals your kitty might be anxious or that he may have done something bad and feels ashamed of it. Cats do a lot of talking with their tail. So pay attention to what we mentioned above because it is essential to learning the “cat language.”
  • Eyes: In the feline world, slow blinking to another being is the ultimate sign of trust. When your cat does this to you, he’s showing you that he feels safe and trusts you. Dilated pupils are a sign that the cat is feeling unsettled. Often, what follows dilated pupils is a staredown.
  • The Staredown: Animal behaviorists claim that a cat’s pupils expand the more he’s fearful and wants to retreat. Also, the pupils narrow or constrict to stare more efficiently at a particular point when the cat is angry or aroused. When a cat stares at another feline, it says that he feels threatened. Cats generally dislike eye contact unless there’s an absolute need for it.
  • Raised Hackles: It’s a sign of possible aggression when your cute pet suddenly puffs up, appears to get bigger, straightens his back, and has spasms in his tail. This unusual behavior is a direct sign that your pet is just seconds away from launching into fight or flight mode.
  • Teeth and Claws: You might also want to steer clear when your cat is baring his teeth and revealing his claws. When cats do this, it shows that they’re ready to fight or just don’t want to be bothered. Your cat might give you a warning nip. You better heed that, or the next bite won’t be as gentle.
  • The Flop: When cats roll over to bare their tummy, it means they’re asking for attention or affection. It’s a central body movement that signals the cat’s inviting mood. It’s also one of the methods female felines do to mark a male cat that they’re ready to mate.

Overall, it’s essential to be able to observe the cat’s body language as a whole and not just pick one element to interpret. For example, a cat that’s staring something down intensely might be feeling threatened, but he could also just be feeling curious. Perhaps his eyes are just responding to something that’s moving in his line of vision.

Also, remember that cats can be shy. Once a cat knows someone’s watching his movements, he may cease his activity and evaluate the situation.

On the other hand, if your cat seems unconcerned with your presence and continues to do his business, as usual, this isn’t a sign that he doesn’t care about you. On the contrary, it’s a sign that he trusts you, and he knows he doesn’t need to be on alert around you because he’s safe.

#3: Scent Markings

Experts believe that a cat’s primary form of communication is through scents. You can observe this with cats butting heads or rubbing cheeks together all the time. The rubbings only happen when both felines are comfortable with each other.

A cat’s facial glands deliver pheromones. These pheromones consist of the cat’s personal information about their reproductive status and health as well as their age and weight. They use these scents to deliver messages to other cats. They make use of these scents to reveal their presence, or mark their territories, and to threaten other cats.

Other than their facial glands, the scents could come from their urine, feces, or from their paw pads. It’s also possible to find scent markings from the base of their tails.

Scent marking is often the reason why you can also find cats kneading. The cat is leaving his scent behind. It’s one way of indicating his territory. Cats are distinctly territorial animals. Male cats spray as a way of leaving their scents to mark their territory. Female cats also spray, contrary to popular belief.

See Also: How to Stop a Cat From Spraying

Also when your cat head-butts you, this is your feline friend’s way of greeting you and showing you that he’s happy to see you. It’s also a way to mark his territory on you. Cats believe they’re the owner and not the other way around.

How to Better Communicate with Your Cat

child speaking gently to her cat

Your pet cat may appear enigmatic and mysterious, but he’s actually very expressive and communicative. Sadly, we’re not always capable of understanding what our cat is trying to convey. Humans tend to concentrate on our pet cat’s speech, disregarding the fact that it’s not a cat’s main method of communication.

As we have explained in the previous section, a cat’s best methods of communicating are through their body gestures, vocalizations, and scent markings. We have also explained that we tend to focus on their vocalizations. As for the other two, the feline body language is actually quite predictable.

When you master it, you’ll know exactly what your kitty wants to tell you. So even if you and kitty don’t speak the same language, you can still communicate. Other than by mastering the cat language so any attempts at communication between the two of you can go smoothly, here are some ways you can improve your communication with your cat:

  • Introduce Yourself Properly: Getting to the cat’s eye level is the best way to approach your cat. Extend your hand with a closed fist and let your cat sniff it. This is a way to introduce yourself. After your cat has given you the okay, you can gently stroke him.
  • Kitty Kisses: You can smile at your cat and tell him you love him by looking him in the eye and slowly blink. Cats will take this as a loving gesture. Your pet cat will often do this slow-blinking back at you.
  • Talk to Your Cat: Cat owners have realized that their cats are more talkative when they answer to the meows. Speak to cats in a soft and calm voice: Your feline friends are sensitive to tones, and they tend to be not very forgiving. You will also find that your feline friend uses many different tones when meowing. Cats seem to have specific meows reserved for certain purposes, such as a higher-pitched meow when asking for food and a lower-pitched meow when expressing annoyance. Having a two-way conversation with your cat might not be just a dream after all!
  • Use Their Names Gently: Avoid saying their names along with negative things. It’s best for the kitties to associate their names with happy and calm words. Words like “No Tiger! Stop Tiger! Get off the table Tiger!” will only confuse them. Cats prefer a soft and gentle voice when it comes to words associated with their names.
  • Try to Understand What Your Cat Wants to Say: It will become easier to decipher what your cat is trying to communicate with you when you observe and listen to your pet more. You’ll find that there are patterns of behavior your cat will have such as a certain tone of meow when he sees you or when he’s hungry.
  • Respect Your Cat’s Space: Even the most affectionate cats will need some alone time occasionally. If your cat’s body language is signaling that he doesn’t want your company right now, don’t invade his space. Slowly back away and come back later when your cat is in a more accommodating mood.

Wrap Up

In the end, no one knows your feline pet better than you. As a cat owner, you learn that every cat is different and has his own special way of communicating. When you focus and observe, you’ll also strengthen the special bond with your little tiger.

Furthermore, knowing the changes in the way your cat communicates and behaves can provide you with information about his health and emotional state. For example, if a cat that usually greets you with enthusiastic meows suddenly secludes himself in the corner of the room, you should probably take him to the vet to get checked out.

With so many benefits that come from learning how a cat communicates, are you raring to get started? Or perhaps you’re already an expert in the cat speak? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below! You may also be interested in learning more about how many sounds can a cat make.

About the author
Steve Corelli
Steve Corelli

Steve Corelli is a Pet Nutrition Expert from Allentown, Pennsylvania. He is the author of many nutritional strategies for different breeds and a member of some Pet Food development teams. His Maine Coon Stephan, as you might guess, is always well-fed.

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