You can still understand your cat even though the two of you speak different languages! You just have to learn how to be in tune with your cats tones, behaviors and motions.
Meow- Meowing is typically the most used form of communication. They’ll use to just say hello, as a command (for those ever so hungry felines like mine!), when he’s feeling affectionate, or to protest a rub in the wrong spot. Some people have noticed their cat meowing to themselves when walking around the house. Keep in mind that some breeds are more talkative than others.
Purring – Purring is usually a sign of contentment. They will usually purr when they’re happy, or even eating. They may however, also purr to comfort themselves when they’re anxious or sick
Howl or Yelp- If you notice your cat letting out a longer more drowned out sounding meooowwwwww, he is probably trying to call for help. He may be stuck somewhere he doesn’t want to be, or in pain. Elderly cats also meow when they become disoriented, if you believe this may be the case it is best to consult your Veterinarian. If your cat isn’t spayed, he or she may also yelp as part of mating behavior.
Have you ever heard some funny sounds from your cat as she watches a bird fly around outside? My cats love our hummingbird feeder by the window, and are constantly chirping and chattering away at the window. Some people believe that cats can actually mimic the sound of their prey. This was observed in the Amazon forests of Brazil, where a researcher was studying monkeys, as a wild cat came close and began making the same calls as the monkeys as he was stalking them. If you haven’t seen the video of the cat perched on a basement window barking like a dog, you should really check it out!
Needless to say, when your cat is growling or hissing – it is best to keep your distance
Now let’s focus on body language. Cats use their entire bodies to communicate, so keep an eye for specific behaviors to know how to behave around your pet cat.
Eyes: When their pupils are dilated (large) they can be in a playful mood, but also can be feeling nervous or submissive. My sibling brother cats’ eyes get like this when they are rough housing or when I am swinging around a cat toy for them to chase around.
Ears: I’m sure you’ve noticed your cat can place their ears in many positions. These positions can be a direct indicator to your cat’s mood. When they’re forward, they are content, or interested in something. If they are backward or sideways ‘airplane’ mode, they are usually frightened, irritable, or angry. They also can swivel their ears when there are lots of sounds around and are focusing on each individual sound as it happens.
Tail: A cat’s content tail position is fully erect with their fur flat. This is the way that they typically walk around. If their tail becomes poofy, and they get a “shark fin” of fur on their backs, they are likely frightened or angry. If they are holding it in between their legs, they are likely feeling insecure and submissive. Finally, if your cat is thrashing their tail back and forth (completely different than a dog wagging their tails!) she is probably agitated. Although, my cats sometimes do this as they get very excited before pouncing on their “prey” – usually a small ball with a jingle ball in it!
Body: If your cat is laying on his back, purring, or napping, he is feeling very relaxed and comfortable in his environment. However, if he is on his back and growling, he is ready to strike, so watch out! If your cat has his back arched and his fur is standing on end, he is angry or frightened. The best idea during this time is to leave them alone and let them calm down on their own.
Rubbing: One of my favorite things that my cats do to me when I come home from a long day at work is rub up on me. Although they’ve had enough of that once I’ve fed them, it’s still enjoyable while it lasts! Your cat has scent glands in his cheeks, so when he is head butting you and rubbing his face against you, he is essentially marking his territory – claiming you as his own! Aww how sweet! (Wait- What?!) Notice that he also rubs his scent all over other things in the house such as chairs, toys, and other furniture. It’s his house too! When your cat is rubbing against your leg, and his back is arched, he is trying to get some pets in on that special spot most cats love (for at least a couple minutes!)
Kneading: Have you ever been laying peacefully in bed, then you feel some kind of back and forth motion with a bit of claw coming through the blanket covering your toes? I certainly have! That is called kneading. This is when a cat is working their paws on a soft surface as if she’s kneading bread dough. This a left over response from your cats early days as a kitten. This is what they do to encourage milk flow from when they are nursing from their mother. When your cat is doing this, they are SUPER happy!
The “Flehmen” response
Have you ever seen your cat sniffing something odd, and they open their mouth while they’re inhaling and sniff some more? This is called the “Flehmen” response, and is an enhanced form of sniffing they do when they come across something extra fascinating to sniff. They do this with the “Jacobson’s Organ” which is located on the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. It is directly connected to the nasal cavity and intensifies the odor; supplying more information to the cat about the object he is sniffing. Other animals that exhibit this include Tigers, Lions, Giraffes, Llamas, hedgehogs, and Giant Pandas.
You will know your cat best. If you believe anything is out of the ordinary, please don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian. All cats have different temperaments and there is no blanket statement about behaviors that can apply to all pet cats. Whether your cat is a chill lap cat who lets a baby smother him (like my Oscar!) or a more independent cat who only wants attention on their time, they are a great addition to every household and bring joy to various families around the world.