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What Is Your Cat Trying To Tell You?

| January 9, 2014
Cat communication range from vocal sounds, smell, body posture and tactile contact and use all of these methods to communicate with each other

Cat communication range from vocal sounds, smell, body posture and tactile contact and use all of these methods to communicate with each other

As humans we are used to communication via words and facial expression. However our feline friends don’t have this ability and so instead use many other ways to communicate their message to us and other cats. Now it would be impossible for us to be able to compile an A to Z of cat language, as it is far too complicated and subtle and besides they don’t use our alphabet. However with a little patience and observation we too can learn to understand and perhaps communicate with them.

Cat communication range from vocal sounds, smell, body posture and tactile contact and use all of these methods to communicate with each other. But they have also learnt that with a little patience on their part they can also teach us to understand their meanings and get us to do exactly what they want.

The sounds made by individual cats can vary, however it is possible to give each communication sound and behaviour a generalised meaning, giving us a basis of an understanding of their language.

There are seven basic cat sounds which have their own unique meaning and although the sounds may vary slightly from cat to cat and be affected by the situation, they do basically mean the same thing and easier for us to categorise them by there meaning rather than their sound.

The seven basic sounds/meanings are:

  • Fear
  • Pain
  • Attention seeking
  • Anger
  • Follow me
  • Friendly
  • Attack

The fear sound is a throaty yowling and is designed to give the signal “I am afraid of you but don’t come any closer or I will attack you”. They may also spit and hiss, which looks very aggressive but combine this with their low body posture, indicates fear. The hissing is believed to resemble the sound a snake makes when it is about to attack and is a sound that most animals have an inbred fear of, even if they have never seen a snake in their lives.

Pain is a very distinctive scream sound, which once heard turns the blood cold. It is essentially a sound used by Kittens, designed to bring the mother cat running to their aid. However domesticated cats keep their kitten vocabulary to talk to us, because they see humans as their surrogate mothers. They therefore continue to use the kitten language and will scream when in pain in the hope that a human will come and rescue them.

The general meow of a cat is designed to attract attention from either the mother cat or from a human. Its message is “I want”. Owners of cats will begin to recognise their own particular cats meows and be able to associate them with particular things, like “I want food”, “I want to go out” etc.

Caterwauling is the name most people would associate with cats at mating time. However the sound is actually used in situations of aggression. The sound varies in volume and tone as the aggression turns into a fight and is displayed by both male and female cats. The reason it is associated with mating time is because the scent of the female cat will attract many male cats to the same area, this is something that they are not comfortable with and so the caterwauling is the sound of male cats warning each other off.

The pleasant little chirrup sound a cat will give us when they come in or go out is often thought to be a greeting. It certainly sounds very friendly and certainly gets our attention. However this sound is made by the mother cat calling her kittens to follow her. So in fact when the cat comes in, it is saying “follow me”, usually to the kitchen.

Purring is one of the most familiar sounds we associate with our cats and is often considered to be made by a cat that is contented. In deed this is one meaning of this sound, however the sound is also displayed between cats themselves. It is believed that the purring sound is a signal to say, “I am in a friendly mood and come in peace”, or “everything is ok”. It can often be heard between two cats greeting each other and by mother cats when her young are suckling, indicating to them that all is well. Strangely a cat in pain may also purr, this is not to say they are happy but is a way for them to comfort themselves.

The teeth chatter or clicking sound a cat makes is often displayed when a cat spies a bird or other prey. It is a rather unusual sound and serves no real purpose other than to indicate that it has seen something it would like to attack. The chattering jaw is the same action carried out when a cat bites it’s prey and so in a way the cat is imaging doing this when it makes this rather amusing sound.

A cat also use body language to communicate with each other and in fact is the main way cats in the wild talk to each other. By watching our cat’s body language we can learn to understand their mood and by aping these postures will be able to convey to the cat that we mean them no harm. This especially useful when homing a new cat.

Eye contact is seen by a cat as a threatening action and is why some cats react badly to people with glasses. So by not looking at them directly in the eye you are saying to them that you are not a threat. Also if you are trying to approach a nervous or frightened cat, try to lower your body down to the ground, this will also indicate to them that you are not a threat.

A cat’s tail is also a good indication of their mood. A happy cat that is coming to greet you will hold its tail straight up, perhaps with a slight curl at the top. Whereas as a tail that is flicking from side to side is the sign of an angry cat that may just be considering attack, so leave well alone.

By studying our cat’s subtle body movements and vocal sounds we begin to tap into the cats world. Perhaps enabling us to develop a greater understanding of why they behave in certain ways which we as humans find strange and unnecessary, which may ultimately lead to a much stronger bond between man and cat.

Copyright & Credit:
Source: Originally published on for Kate Tilmouth Thursday, October 11, 2007
Article Source: What Is Your Cat Trying To Tell You?

Photo copyright and courtesy:

Category: Feline Behaviour, Feline Health and Care, Feline Resources

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