Cats sure do love to talk, but what are they trying to say? Check out the meaning behind cat body language and all those meows!
People who like to compare cats with dogs often say that cats are standoffish, especially when it comes to communicating with people. But most cat owners know their cats have plenty to say through meows, purring, rubbing, and more. If only we could understand all that they’re trying to tell us!
How To Speak Cat Language
Cats sure do love to talk, but what are they trying to say? Check out
the meaning behind cat body language and all those meows!
People who like to compare cats with dogs often say that cats are
standoffish, especially when it comes to communicating with people.
But most cat owners know their cats have plenty to say through
meows, purring, rubbing, and more. If only we could understand all
that they’re trying to tell us!
The myth that cats are less expressive than dogs likely came about
because there’s been so much more research done on canine
behavior but cats are catching up. Here’s what we know about cats’
various ways of expressing themselves.
Aside from cat mothers meowing back to their sweetly meowing
kittens hungry for attention and food cat’s don’t really meow much
to each other. Surprised?
Cats communicate with each other mostly through scent, although
facial expressions, touch, and body language also play a part. Vocal
communications include caterwauls when mating, hissing to repel
threats, and chattering when cats come across prey. Meowing,
however, is all about talking to us.
John Bradshaw, a University of Bristol anthrozoologist and author of
Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better
Friend to Your Pet, says people think of meowing as essential cat
behavior, “But it’s something they’ve learned to do to get our
attention. It’s really something they’ve adopted as a way of
communicating with humans.”
Cats meow to people because meows work. Your cat is dependent on
you, so she quickly learns what type of vocalizations and body
language get you to do what she wants. It makes sense their sweet
talk usually works but there’s more to meowing than just asking for
food. A meow could be a request to be petted, let out, or any of a
dozen other things your cat would like you to do.
Bradshaw claims that cats develop “a secret code of meows”
between themselves and their owners “unique to that cat alone and
meaning little to outsiders.” A 2003 Cornell study showed that
owners could only accurately translate their own cats’ meows and
not those of other cats, so it seems that there is no universal cat
On top of their usual meows, cats also use harsher, louder meows for
demands, reprimands, or to express annoyance. These meows have a
lower pitch and are not all that pleasant. Cats rarely use these meow
We think of purring as signifying contentedness, but cats who are
sick, injured, or scared will also purr, Sharon Cromwell-Davis a
professor of veterinary behavior at the University of Georgia told
New York Magazine.
Since cats don’t know how to ask for help, purring may be more of a
solicitation for care, or a self-soothing behavior when they’re
Purring may also contribute to bone health cats in the wild spend lots
of time waiting to hunt, and vibrations are known to help stimulate
Of course cats purr when they’re happy, too!
When your cat rubs up against you, it may mean that they want
something from you, but it could also be that they’re just happy to
have you around.
Cromwell-Davis says, “When you’ve been at work or school all day,
and your cat comes up and rubs back and forth against you, and he
may wrap his tail across your calves what your cat is doing is taking
a friendly greeting behavior that normally functions within their
species and moves it to relating with the human species.”
You may not pay much attention to them, but you’ve probably
noticed that your cat can express her emotions in her face as well as
the rest of her body tense facial muscles when she's stressed and
relaxed facial muscles when she's more relaxed.
Dr. Gary Weitzman, president and CEO of the San Diego Humane
Society and SPCA and author of the new National Geographic book,
How to Speak Cat, claims that cats use slow blinking to
communicate as well.
“The slow blink really is an acceptance gesture. They do that when
they’re absolutely comfortable with you, and they do it with other
cats as well.”
Tails, Ears and Whiskers
The primary purpose of a cat’s tail is for survival in the wild both for
balance when walking out on a limb, and to help them flip their
bodies over in the air and land on their feet if they fall off that limb.
But domesticated cats use their tails mostly to communicate with
their owners and other cats. When a cat’s tail is vertical like a pencil,
it's likely that she's in a good mood. If the tip of your cat's tail is bent
slightly, it could be a very good mood.
A straight-up tail with the fur bristled out means the opposite this cat
feels threatened. When a cat is in this mode, she'll often stand
sideways in relation to the threat, back arched, in order to appear as
large as possible.
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