The Cat Language

Your cat’s behavior may seem mysterious to you, but there’s usually a good reason cats do what they do.   It is important to understand cat’s basic behavior and what it means as often cats are difficult to read and behavior problems along with inappropriate elimination are probably the most common reasons cats lose their homes.

The first step to correct a cat’s behavior problems is to understand where your cat is coming from, what your cat is trying to tell you. To be able to read the wide range of meows and the body language gestures, analyze its play and what it could mean about its behavior. By understanding how cats communicate with us, and other animals, we can help to foster a safe environment and prevent dangerous miscommunications. The good news are, cats can be trained and encouraged to good behavior.

Cats can communicate with each other in many ways, they often use a mild and controlled signs of body language, like a flick of the tail or a slight movement of the ears to send an unmistakable message to another cat, as humans we sometimes find it hard to comprehend those subtle and restrained body language signs. It’s easier for us to notice what cats are saying when they use their voices. They have a wide range of sounds, from a gentle purr to a seething hiss which we can “translate” and know if a cat is happy or angry. Once we’ll learn to make sense of the body language and the vocalizations of cats, we will be closer to understanding cat behavior.


Cats communicate with humans and each other through vocalization, and express a surprising variety of sounds.  Not all meows mean the same thing,each carrying one or more messages.  There are differences in a cat’s cry that can help you learn what your cat needs or feels. Cat’s spoken language is surprisingly evolved and effective, especially in domestics.                               
You will quickly become an expert translator of your cat’s meows. The basic meow and the easiest to interpret in the content of the situation is the meow of request, which is usually accompanied by a head-held-high, front-paws-together begging posture. It could mean, “I want out,”  “I’m hungry where’s my dinner?”, or “Will you please get up now, I’m bored.” Sometimes a meow expresses complaint, anxiety or confusion.

The classic meow — originating in the kitten’s plaintive or anxious — mew — contains vowel sounds. Adult cats express variations of this vocalization to state their demands for food or attention, register complaints and convey bewilderment. A slight alteration in tone, pace or punctuation changes the meaning.

Call/yowl – the sound a female in heat makes when she’s seeking a male partner. It sounds like a mournfully howls or chirps; there is no mistaking this sound once you’ve heard it.

Murmurs – are usually happy sounds, along with purrs, trills and chirrups of greeting or contentment, uttered through closed mouths.

Chirr – a rolled variation of meow, similar to a human rolling their R’s. It may be used by a cat to call his owner when lonely, used as a sign of affection, and also used by a mother cat to call her kittens.

Growling, hissing or spitting- it’s a clear indication that your cat wants to be left alone. The hissing is one of the warning calls that a cat sends its opponent telling him to back off. When confronting rivals before or during a fight, all cats exercise some combination of growls, high-pitched threats, spits and hisses to tell their opponents exactly what they think.If your cat hisses at you, slowly move away and don’t turn your back to it.

Purring – A rhythmic purring usually signals contentment, cats  purr when they are secure, content or sleeping, although some cats may purr when they are scared, sick, injured or while giving birth. Cats start purring when they are kittens. The purr sound results from a vibration in the wall of one of the major blood vessels in the chest, the vibration creating the purring sounds when transmitted to the cat’s upper air passages.

Body Language

Your cat uses body language almost exclusively to communicate, its posture, tail, ears, eyes and hair all speak volumes and will give you clues to what your cat is feeling and thinking. We humans can find it difficult to understand the cat’s body language because it is meant to convey messages primarily to other cats. Watching how your cat carries herself will help you understand how it is feeling. As you learn, you’ll be able to predict its behavior as well.

On a face to face encounter with other cat, a universal body language communicates information by variety of physical messages.Every inch of your cat, from the nose to the tip of the tail, communicates something. Its nervous system automatically registers stress levels and produces physical signals that reveal whether it‘s relaxed, tolerant, fearful, apprehensive, defensive or aggressive. Properly interpreting this signs will tell us when and how to approach and handle a cat.


Unlike humans, a cat’s ears are very mobile.  This allows a cat to communicate with their ears quite easily.  Basic ear positions can alert you to whether your cat is relaxed, alert, defensive, agitated or aggressive. When a cat’s ears are up (pricked), forward and slightly outward this means the cat is content, relaxed and carefully listening to what is going on around them. When something catches a cat’s attention the ears become more erect and the cat is alert and ready to investigate the source of the noise. If a cat becomes anxious or fearful, the ears will point to the sides and flatten.  The more anxious the cat is the flatter its ears will become. When a cat becomes annoyed and feels defensive he will turn his ears back.  This should be a warning to you to get back. When a cat becomes both fearful and aggressive and is ready to fight he will flatten his ears straight back.  It is believed cats pin their ears back in order to protect them during a fight.


The pupils of the eyes convey part of a cat’s message.They contract or dilate to indicate mood.A slanted eyes and regularly sized pupils indicate contentment. When the cat becomes alert its eyes become slightly wider.When the cat is fearful, annoyed and feel defensive the pupils are dilated. The more fearful the cat the greater the pupils dilate, and on signs of aggression when the cat is ready to fight they are fully dilated.


A cat’s tail acts as an extension of its thoughts, an indicator of its mood and a warning of intention. It is its signal flag.  The tail is an important tool for communicating with other cats and with humans.
When held high, the tail is a banner communicating confidence contentment and pride.A mother cat’s upright tail is a signal for her kittens to follow her. Curling around another feline’s tail or a person’s legs, it offers friendly greeting.  When a cat is relaxed, confident or alert, it walks with its tail horizontally behind it or even slightly drooping. You may also see this tail position when your cat is on the prowl or stalking.When a cat is very excited and happy to greet its owner he will hold his tail straight in the air and it will quiver or twitch. This is the cat’s way of saying he is pleased to see you and that he is overcome with emotion.  If a cat is friendly but cautious of other cat or person, the upright tail is hooked over at the tip indicating a degree of uncertainty. When a cat is fearful and feels seriously threatened he will exhibit what looks like an upright bottle brush, puffy tail.This indicates that the cat has become defensively aggressive; meaning it would rather get away, but if provoked it will defend itself.
When a cat swishes its tail from side to side, it usually indicates excitement, real or mock annoyance. The cat is either in predator mode, having sighted a bird or a mouse, or is feeling playful saying “I’m going to get you, so look out!” The more emotionally charged the cat is the more agitated the tail will swish, means that he is perturbed or upset. Don’t startle a cat in this state. Your reward may be a claw swipe or a bite.


When cats are fearful or nervous and defensive, their ears flatten or twitch and their eyes dilate fully to take in as much of their surroundings as possible and their teeth bared. A rush of adrenaline causes the cat’s back and tail to arch and the hair to bristle. This makes the frightened cat appear physically larger and more threatening.  Although the raised hackles may outwardly convey strength and a readiness to do battle, the communication is really designed to dissuade rather than provoke potential attackers.On its toes, it is ready to flee the instant the need arises.

If it is preparing to attack, the cat will crouch or lie on its side or back, narrow its eyes to focus on its target hiss and bare its teeth and claws. A feline that takes this posture isn’t interested in your affection; it means business. You’re best to stay out of the way.


Few felines are truly aggressive by nature, but even the gentlest kitten may lash out if annoyed, threatened or over-excited by play. The body language of confident, aggressive cats is exhibited in response to direct confrontations, with intruders on their territory or run-ins with smaller cats. The pupils narrow to slits for better depth perception as they stare down opponents; their ears stand up, facing forward or folded so that the backs are seen head-on. With its rear end held high and tail slung low, an aggressor will often approach the defensive cat in a prancing sideways motion that creates the illusion of being larger. Signs of impending assault could be turned toward humans as well and must be taken seriously. Claws and teeth can be dangerous, especially to small children, so take signs seriously. Keep a youngster who seeks to shower kitty with affection from hugging it, kissing it and lugging it around. While a cat that’s in the right mood may put up with a moment’s snuggle, it won’t appreciate — and may not tolerate — being confined or roughly handled. A squirming cat that switches its tail turns back its ears or growls is making a clear statement: It doesn’t want to be held.

Not all feline body language is straightforward, however. Messages sometimes seem to be mixed or conflicting. Since most of a cat’s body language is not intentional but a reflexive response to stimulus, anger and fear may elicit the same physical response. It is not unusual, for instance, for a fearful feline to display signs of aggression and vice versa.


Play is an instinctive behavior and it persists throughout the cat’s lifetime, although it is more frequent and energetic when younger, adults play as well.  Play serves as practice for important adult behaviors that’s why it is often looks like aggression. When one cat hunkers down, twitches his backside, lashes his tail, and then jumps on his feline roommate, landing full on its back and seizing his neck in his jaws, it’s definitely play; the real-life use of that sequence of behavior is stalking and killing prey. But play could have another purpose: fun!

Cat’s play is often consisting noisy running, hot pursuit, pouncing, stalking, slamming bodies, wrestling, and biting. But in terms of vocalization, it’s relatively quiet. An out-and-out catfight would include all the same behaviors as a fun bout of play but with lots of loud hissing, yowling, screaming, and flying fur. Also a play mode include frequent changes in who’ the aggressor, who is on top in the wrestling match, who is the chaser. Play uses the same behaviors as aggression, but they are inhibited: There are smacks to the head but with claws retracted; bites but with relaxed jaws and exaggerated movements. It is important to encourage playing; it will make your cat happier and healthier. Chasing, stalking, and pouncing games are at the top of the feline hit parade. Toys are fine but your cat also needs you to play with him. Even in multiple-cat households, the humans need to play with the cats. Play is a kind of a bonding “social glue”, and the more your cats recognize humans as potential playmates, the better socialized to people they will be.







May 2015
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