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Understand The Language of Cats!

17 May 2024

Understanding the Language of Cats

Alongside their wild siblings, domesticated cats have been our feline friends for thousands of years, and any of today's cat owners will know they often have plenty to say! Whilst we may not speak the same language, their complex mix of meows, trills, chirrups, and purrs conveys plenty of meaning to us and allows us to chat away with our cats all day!

Learning more about how our cats communicate with us can help us foster stronger bonds with them and give them an even better quality of life as we have a greater understanding of their wants and needs. Let's explore what our cats are trying to tell us, and the meaning behind their behaviors.

Vocalizations in Our Feline Friends

Meowing & Purring

A cat's meow is unmistakable. From a gentle greeting to a loud meow, this kind of vocalization is one of our cat's most common ways of communicating with us, and understanding their meows can give us much more clarity into what they're trying to tell us!

Cats meow for various reasons, including greeting their humans, seeking attention, asking for food, or when in pain or discomfort. The tone, pitch, and duration of meows can tell us different things, from friendly greetings to an urgent need.

A mid-length, mid-pitched meow is usually an “asking for something” meow, while a shorter, higher-pitched meow usually means “hi!”. A longer, more drawn-out meow is usually your cat asking for something specific - like dinner, or to be let outside. Repeated meows can show excitement, whilst low-pitched meows can show general unhappiness in your cat, or even that something is distressing for them if you've done something wrong. Take a listen to your cat's chat next time and see if these pointers can help you understand them a little more!

What about purring? Purring is often our happiest cat sound! Cats purr when they are content, relaxed, and comfortable. It can also serve as a self-soothing mechanism when they're stressed, or seeking comfort - a gentle stroke or a warm place to curl up is usually a good idea when your cat is purring.

Hissing, Growling, and Yowling

As recognisable as a cat's meow is, a growl or yowl of an angry or hurt cat is also instantly understood. Hissing, growling, and yowling are all defensive sounds and are a cat's way of expressing fear, territory, or general aggression. They show that the cat feels threatened, and may lead to attack if it feels continued threat.

It's important to understand that there is a difference between fear and aggression in cats, and they should generally be given space and calm energy to make them feel safer and less distressed.

Feline Body Language

Alongside what they have to say, our cats are fantastic silent communicators - their body language can tell us plenty about their mood and behavior. Subtle cues throughout their body help convey emotions, intentions and needs from humans. Let's take a look at some of them.

Tail Position

With cats, the tail often does the talking! When held high, it can show confidence and friendliness. High and slowly flicking side to side can indicate curiosity or annoyance. A lowered or tucked tail can show fear, uncertainty, or submission, whilst a puffed-up tail is a sign of definite discomfort or aggression.

Ear Position

Highly expressive and ever-changing, a cat's ear position is highly expressive and can tell us a lot. Ears sat forward-facing can show attentiveness or curiosity, while flattened ears can show fear or aggression. Ears held somewhat to the side or backward, however, can indicate discomfort or stress - so pay attention to these subtle differences and make sure you're taking in all information about your cat's environment.

Facial Expression

Just like humans, cats can have a lot to say in facial expressions! From eye contact to mouth movement, there's a lot to look out for. Direct eye contact from your cat where they show dilated pupils may indicate excitement - or conversely, aggression. A slow blink or half-closed eyes show relaxation and trust.

A relaxed, slightly open mouth indicates contentment, whilst a tense closed mouth might be showing discomfort, uncertainty, or stress. It seems a clenched jaw is not just a sign of human stress!

Scent Communication

Whilst we're not that well skilled in reading other humans' scents, scent communication in cats is a sophisticated part of their language. Spreading their scent allows cats to mark their territory and identify other cats in the area - whether to make friends or stay away from rivals! Cats use scent glands located on various parts of their bodies, usually their cheeks, chins, and foreheads, to leave scent marks through rubbing and scratching, as they attempt to leave their scent on their home or owners. Next time you get a forehead or chin bump from your cat, know they're marking you as their home!

Whilst all cats have individualities and may express themselves in different ways due to their life experiences, understanding the broad meanings of the language of cats can help us understand their needs on a whole new level, and develop even stronger, mutually rewarding relationships. Pay attention to your cat's vocalizations, purring, scent marking, and body language to understand more about their emotions and needs and get even more for your relationship with your feline friend!