Because we don’t understand their language, we think that cats are uncommunicative, distant and solitary creatures. For centuries they have been regarded as antisocial and solitary. Understanding Cat’s language will make you realize that cats really communicate with us and with other cats, predominately in a silent language, using different combinations.
Cats communicate by using complex combinations of sign language, vocalization, and scent cues. Learning how to recognize their “language” will give us the expertise necessary to understand them and even answer them back 🙂
Cat language goes beyond the vocalizations that typically include hisses, growls, chattering, and meows. Nonverbal language offers many advantages over vocalizations. As Cat owners, it’s important to recognize Cats nonverbal language, because nearly all behavior problems result from miscommunication.
The silent language of cats is done via facial expressions and body positions. Cats tell us how they feel and what they want using their eyes, ears, tail, fur, body, etc. etc. So, let’s start with the details of how your cat is trying to communicate with you:
Talking with the Eyes
Cats don’t have expressive faces like dogs and usually, we can’t read their body language accurately. They are very independent and known for their emotional vagueness and standoffishness. However, your cat’s eyes say more than you think and there is a growing belief that cats are as expressive as dogs. We just misunderstand or don’t see what they’re trying to communicate.
Cat’s eyes can show the inner feelings of the pet, they communicate with their eyelids. What cats say is often determined by the position of the eyelids—how open or closed they are—as well as with the dilation of the iris (black portion of the eye). A sudden dilation (enlarging) of the iris results from sudden arousal which could be due to fear, interest or any other strong emotion.
The messages vary and can be incredibly powerful. Cats don’t need to vocalize to get her message across, although the intent often is reinforced with ear positions, fluffed fur and tail talk. Understanding these “signs” will help you discern what your cat is trying to convey.
The sudden contraction of the cat’s pupil into a slit results from any strong emotional arousal – anger, fear, pleasure, excitement. Your kitty’s pupil may contract for instance when you present a catnip toy or a bowl full of his/her favorite food. Her/his eyes might do this also when surprised by the introduction of a new cat.
When cats are alert, they open their eyes wide. Exposing wide-open eyes can be a sign of great trust. For example, cats head-butting your cheeks or doing the same to a friendly dog indicate calm trust, and perhaps even love.
If your cat is staring unblinkingly from a distance can be a sign of control, dominance, or even aggression; which is oftentimes used to control access to resources in multicat households. As a cat owner, you won’t know that using this unblinking stare, a single cat can warn off and keep other felines from approaching an “owned” pathway to the litter box, food bowls or another important territory.
Strong emotions as fear or aggression are usually indicated by a slit-eyes look. Squinting also protects eyes from potential claws of an opponent.
When your cat stares at you and then blinks very slowly, that is considered a Slow Blink. Slow blinking by a cat (sort of an eyes-almost-closed look, almost trance-like) is a good sign, it’s a sign of love, trust, and deepest affection.
When your cat is Slow blinking at you it’s often referred to as a “kitty kiss”. If you slow blink back, you’re communicating your love via your cat’s language.
With the motion of their tail cats can signal how they are feeling. The cattail signals interest, affection, arousal, and more. The height of the tail, as well as the motion, has a meaning.
A flailing or thumping tail usually is a signal to keep your distance. A tail that’s swishing back and forth could also be a sign of play.
Cat Tail Positions
With the high-held tail pointed straight up your cat is telling you “hi!”. It means he/she welcomes attention and interaction. A relaxed cat’s tail curves down and backs up in a gentle U. The more interest he feels, the higher the tail. Confident cats also hold their tails high,
Wagging Cat Tails
Other cat tail signals warn you away with signs to increase the distance between individuals. A wagging tail tells you to “back off!”. When Kitty starts thumping the ground with her tail, she’s ready to attack. A moving tail in cats generally indicates arousal of some sort — excitement, fear, aggression.
The end of the tail flicking back and forth usually indicates frustration or heightened emotion. If this tail warning to back off is ignored, the tail escalates to lashing or thumping — and ultimately an attack.
Bristled Cat Tails
We have to watch the cat’s fur level, too. Fur standing straight off the body (piloerection) indicates great arousal. A bristled tail held upright or straight behind the cat indicates aggression — watch out!
Tucking the tail between the legs signals ultimate fear but if the cat is cornered, be careful! … he/ she won’t hesitate in using their claws and teeth. A terrified cat may crouch low to the floor with ears slicked back or she may turn her back – not in submission, but to get all four claw-filled paws ready for defense.
Cats also express emotion in their ears. As a general rule, the more a cat’s ears swivel sideways and backward, the greater the cat’s arousal or distress. Backward ears and a hiss or swipe are a sure sign your cat feels threatened or doesn’t like what you’re doing.
Cat’s ears hold much useful information regarding their mood or next course of action. Many cat owners don’t know that feline communication is primarily done through cat’s ears. Cats express their feelings through their ears, from emotions like curiosity and uneasiness to agitation and fear. Just by looking at how your cat holds their ears, we can read his/her mood.
In order to gather as much information as possible, cats point their external ear flap toward interesting sounds. Their interest is expressed through the forward facing ears.
As a cat owner, you will notice that even during her/his naps, your cat keeps those ears pointed toward even the most subtle noises.
When a cat turns his/her ears toward the side, he/she feels threatened or uneasy. Their ears look a bit like airplane wings jutting from each side of kitty’s head. This also helps buffer any upsetting sound that comes from that direction. Sideways-facing ears also are more protected. As cat owners, we can consider these “airplane ears” as an early ear-warnings to back off and stop whatever has prompted the cat to feel threatened.
Flickering ears indicate rising agitation. The sideways-facing ears flutter or vibrate very quickly, in an involuntary reaction to high arousal. If the person or circumstance that is causing the arousal does not go away, the cat may attack.
Angry or Scared
Cats flatten ears tight to the head when they feel fearful or angry. This keeps the ears out of the range of claws and teeth, in the preparation for either fight or flight. Cats with slicked-back ears will attack when their owners ignore the warning.
Cat ears are like a cat barometer that can help cat owners anticipate and avoid potential problems. If your cats out with petting aggression, their ears turning sideways or the tail thumping will tell you when to stop or pause.
To express emotion, cats use vocalizations. While domesticated cats seem to have learned to meow at humans to communicate with them, adult cats normally don’t meow at each other.
While we often overlook other types of signals that make up the majority of cat’s communication; it is hard to ignore feline yowls, growls, hisses, and purrs especially at 4 am…. and our furry friends know that!
Cats purr and trill to let us know that they enjoy something and are happy, but also they can chirp and chatter to express frustration or even give us warnings through hisses and growls.
Depending on the breed, some Cats are more talkative than others. While Siamese and other foreign breeds like to “talk”, Persians, for instance, tend to be rather quiet.
We don’t really know what our kitty wants when he/she start meowing, it could be a thousand of demands but they are most frequently in the wee hours of the morning, when owners want to sleep. The reason is that cats normally sleep 16 hours a day and they are most active at night. That’s when they decide you had enough sleep and it is time to start caterwauling to wake you up and do what he/she wants to do.
Cats are very smart. Giving in to meow demands tells the cat that pestering you is an effective means of getting their way and it teaches them that the longer they persist, the more likely they’ll succeed. In these cases, the best advice is to totally ignore the cat. That means you don’t give them any attention at all. Invest in earplugs and shut the bedroom door. If this behavior has been going on for a while, it can take weeks to months to get rid off and it will get worse right before it goes away but finally, your cat will give up and will let you have the rest you deserve
There are some exceptions if the cat has health problems, deaf cats, old cats suffering from Alzheimer’s, stressed kitties suffering from anxiety, and those with kidney, heart or thyroid issues may yowl.
Other Ways to Communicate
- Body Talk – The Cat posture speaks volumes. The cat’s total body posture indicates everything from confidence to fear or submission. To understand the full message, the body talk must be read in conjunction with what the eyes, ears, tail, fur, and vocalizations express.
- Smell and Scent – Cats mark their territory and communicate through smell. Among scent tools, cats employ strong urine marking and feces, body rubbing behavior and clawing to leave scented Post-It messages that other cats read. Cats are selfish about their territory, and the scents they leave behind are clearly designed to send the message that “this territory is MINE” to would-be interlopers. Cats’ sense of scent is so powerful that even very young kittens utilize scent before they can see clearly.
- Fur Talk – When Cats are scared or aggressive, their fur raises. A healthy, calm cat’s fur rests smoothly against the body. Cat’s are self-grooming animals which mean the state of their fur can tell you a lot about the health of the animal. Unkempt fur can indicate ill health, and should not be ignored, especially when accompanied by other symptoms, such as lethargy, or vomiting. A suddenly fluffed coat, including a “bottle brush” tail, suggests fear or aggression, in such cases, it is best to back off from the cat.
If you would like to communicate and really connect with your furry friend and understand when they want to play or want to be left alone. When they are feeling happy and when they are feeling down, when they are meowing for an affection because they are in pain, etc. etc. I invite you to read: The Cat Language Bible
The Cat Language Bible is an extensive guide, result of 3 and a half years of investigation and study into the careful cat-to-human language process; based in a Japanese research that found that cats understand humans, not just by voice tone but also by identifying certain words including their names, the owner’s name, various commands you’ve used, and many other stunning eavesdropping techniques that nobody had no idea about until now. This is the go-to-guide for bonding with your cat through language communication. You can’t miss it!
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Keep on living with Cattitude, until next Post!