cat language: learn what your cat is saying & how to ‘talk’ to them

I will you to feed me!
I will you to feed me!

Introduction

Every species of animal has a language it uses to communicate between its own kind, and to learn to understand I think is much easier than trying to learn a different human language! Cats actually have quite a rich language and even a complex system of social manners to be respected, and this is also the same in big cat society not just your domestic moggy! I have always been able to ‘read’ animals, which has developed from a high attention to detail. As I was growing up, I spent a lot of my time with my cat (and neighbours or friends’ cats too!) and I tended to notice things like certain expressions would be accompanied with a particular eye wink, twitch, flick of the tail or vocalisation that most people overlook. Without realising it at the time I managed to develop a basic understanding of the language and social code of conduct that cats use between themselves! Most people will probably think I’m completely insane for writing this, but if you take the time to watch out for and try the techniques you will see what I mean!

If you watch your cat close enough you too could work it out for yourself, but I thought I’d better explain a few of the major expressions to help you get started! When you learn to read your cat you will no longer have to suffer the frustrating confusion of not knowing what your cat wants, or is trying to do/tell you! You can almost have a conversation with your cat without uttering a sound! Also when you begin to read your cat well, human body language will become screamingly obvious to you!

greetings, tail up though squint has already passed
greetings, tail up though squint has already passed

Communication #1: Greetings!

 

This is the easiest communication to read and so the best example to start with. When your cat strolls into a room to greet you they will make brief eye contact followed by a ‘smiling squint’ (think of what your own eyes naturally do if you laugh or smile) which is a cat sign of pleasure. The tail often springs upward to a relaxed upright posture with a slightly sideways-curved tip to emphasise the expression (like us raising a hand in a wave!). Vocally, though not always as it depends on the cat and their level of enthusiasm, they will also utter a gentle prrrp! If they come over to you they will normally bump heads or at least rub on your leg as its closer. To return the greeting all you need to do is repeat the squint back to them, which normally results in more squints from the cat in return! Don’t follow the squint with continued eye contact as this is considered threatening and rude, instead look to the side slightly! I can personally mimic the prrrp vocalisation too (and purr!), though I don’t know many other people who can! So don’t worry if you can’t do the sounds, your cat will understand what you mean without you having to purr or own a tail as no doubt he/she has come to read your thoughts and feelings like a book already!

classic annoyed cat expression
classic annoyed cat expression
a mock, warning bite as the teeth are still close together
a mock, warning bite as the teeth are still close together

Communication #2: Irritation

I think we can all tell when a cat is really angry because of the tail swishing and cold stare, but there are many more subtle signs that lead up to that stage that are handy to know especially if you have children! A lot of people consider my cat as unpredictable as she ‘turns on you without warning!’ (please note that the pictures are not my cat! They just had perfect expressions!) but I often have to interrupt a fussing session she’s having with some poor oblivious soul as I can read her signs changing and see that she is ready to swipe! Of course not all cats are like mine, but she was born feral and seems to have a low level of tolerance for people!

The signs begin with a general stiffening of the body (barely noticeable at first), and what I can only describe as a fed up expression sometimes accompanied with the odd twist or slight flattening of the ears and a gentle tap of just the end of the tail. As the irritation and annoyance level rises you may notice a slight twitch of the head, angry eyes if you can see them, followed by a bluff bite (mouth slightly open and head moved toward you!). However depending on the situation, you really shouldn’t leave it until the bluff bite stage of annoyance as sometimes they will go straight for the real bite! When a cat is at the furious level, (ears flat, hissing, spitting, swiping, tail swishing etc) you will certainly know about it and there is nothing really other than retreat that I can suggest!

this cat is displaying part 'wierd ear' & had again already winked! I would also say that it looks slightly annoyed too though
this cat is displaying part 'wierd ear' & had again already winked! I would also say that it looks slightly annoyed too though

Communication #3: Confusion

 If a cat is unsure of anything, like a sound or smell (or even as to what you’re doing as us humans do some very strange things in animals’ eyes!) you will often be questioned with a left-eye fast wink and ‘weird ears’. Weird ears are when they twist them quickly backwards then back to the front and is the equivalent of us raising one eyebrow! If you wish to question their behaviour then you can also do the left-eye fast wink coupled with our eyebrow version and watch for the response.

a cat showing the lowered ears & expression of embarassment
a cat showing the lowered ears & expression of embarassment
hmph!
hmph!

Communication #4: Embarrassment

Cats do get embarrassed surprisingly easy, as they seem to want us to believe that they are perfect at everything and NEVER make mistakes! This expression will usually follow a fall/slip or an overreaction to something like a loud bang. Their head and ears lower just slightly, accompanied by an upward tail flick and you will receive a slow right-eye wink, basically translated to ‘don’t mind me I’m just being stupid!’ Though if you continue laughing at them (and I can’t usually stop if they do miss a jump etc!) they will leave the room in embarrassment with a sideways tail flick which roughly translates to ‘hmph’! You can also use the same expression to answer a question expression you may have received, or get it in response to a question expression you may have given them.

Hopefully I have helped clear up some of the confusion around your cats’ expressions or mannerisms and perhaps spurred you on to seek out more information or try a bit of communication! My skills have been developed by observation and only a little research, but there are many books available by feline specialists that I’m sure could tell you a whole lot more than me! One of which is ‘Communicating with Your Cat’ by J. Anne Helgren who is an expert in feline physiology and behaviour. Her book explains a great deal about the history of cat evolution and behaviour, and also answers common problems with pet cat behaviour and training techniques.

More info on 'Communicating with Your Cat' book by J. Anne Helgren

See also 'Catspeak:: How to Communicate with Cats by Learning Their Secret Language'

 

 

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Comments 36 comments

Sharing Insight profile image

Sharing Insight 7 years ago

Craftyfox...how I enjoyed your Hub! It was very well written and concise. Just as you I have learned or noticed how cats communicate. I adore cats...

you are spot on with all of your descripts and suggestions.

Well done!

:D


craftyfox profile image

craftyfox 7 years ago Author

Thanks for your kind words Sharing Insight! At least you don't think I'm mad! Hopefully I'll soon post lots more about animal behaviour.

:)


kristian 7 years ago

i have 2 kittens a male and femail the male cat sits outside of my room in the morning and meaows then when i let him in he starts puring and rubs his face against mine


kristian 7 years ago

i have 2 kittens a male and femail the male cat sits outside of my room in the morning and meaows then when i let him in he starts puring and rubs his face against mine


craftyfox profile image

craftyfox 7 years ago Author

males are usually more afectionate than females, that's a really enthusiastic greeting when you get a head bump! My female cat doesn't like anything 'in her face' though she gives me cuddles, but my boyf sisters male cat will head bump me! (he's the b&w cat in the greeting pic!)


DamnedPeanutAvenger 6 years ago

my cousins have these 2 cats. 1 is a female the other is a male. recently the male has been rubbing his cheeks and the side of his body against my hands and then later stop somewhere near me and arch his back. what is he trying to do?


DamnedPeanutAvenger 6 years ago

oh and before he stops he will circle around me or walk around me. sometimes after the whole thing he wud then lie down either with the side of the body facing up or the tummy facing up


craftyfox profile image

craftyfox 6 years ago Author

Hi DamnedPeanutAvenger, it sounds like he's showing lots of affection to you. As I said to Kristian male cats tend to be more affectionate, but cats also have scent glands on their cheek/necks that they use to mark objects or members of their family for association (if you look at Lion society they use smell to recognise other members of the pride that may have been away for a period of time). If I scratch my cats back he arches it up, then flops over for more rubbings! In any animal language showing your belly and throat is a symbol of trust and submission. Hope this helps you, thanks for reading my hub!


DamnedPeanutAvenger 6 years ago

ouh. can you give me tips on wat to do when he does that? coz i have no idea what i'm supposed to do.


craftyfox profile image

craftyfox 6 years ago Author

Smile and squint, make the prrp greeting noise if you can (takes a bit of practice!)but most importantly give him a good scratch and rub his cheeks! Cats understand our language more than we do theirs from their spending so much time watching us! Just beware that some cats like their belly rubbed and some just don't even though they still roll over! If you want to know more try reading a book on it (I've put links up at the end of the hub) as they'll give you far more insight than I can on here.


futuremaxima profile image

futuremaxima 6 years ago from NY

Great info! I have noticed my cats doing the same things. The only thing I'd add in irritation is that when the pupils get large and a pink nose gets dark, they are about to bite (with or without the angry ears).


craftyfox profile image

craftyfox 6 years ago Author

Yes the pupils enlarge so that they can see as much as possible for the strike, it also happens as an auto-response to something coming at them or a loud noise etc. Ours do it too! I can't say I've noticed the nose changing though so I'll keep an eye out with my cats, thanks!


Ana 6 years ago

I loved your article. I am trying to figure out what's wrong with my cat. It is a male cat and he will meow like crazy from six to eight in the morning. I have gotten up several times to see if he needs anything, but he has plenty of food, fresh water, and his litter box is clean. His sister does nothing of that sort. She's very laid back and sweet. He's sweet too but he drives my huband and me crazy every morning as we don't know what it is that he wants. I am in the process of training them to potty in the toilet, and my husband says that he doesn't like his litter box and that's why he's acting like that. He will pee in the toilet, but he won't poop there. Rather, he'll poop in the carpet. :( What is going on with him?


craftyfox profile image

craftyfox 6 years ago Author

Hi Ana, thanks for reading. Our cat seems to go through stages of meowing and scratching at our bedroom door early in the morning because we keep the door shut at night and he's decided we should be paying him attention by now! Normally you only need to show a kitten the litter tray once and they'll always try to reach it. It sounds like yours perhaps has some sort of nervous issues, moving house or even new people or furniture can do it to some cats and make them spray etc in the house. I'd suggest checking with your vet, has he been neutured yet - could be hormones?!


Ana 6 years ago

Thanks for your response. He is neutered and he had never had litter problems until I started training him and his sister to use the toilet instead. I actually discovered yesterday that he, in fact, may be hating the potty train system because he cried in the bathroom for a long time. I put him outside for an hour or so, and when he came back in he was fine. However, when we came back from work, he had pooped on the carpet again. This morning, as soon as he cried I got up and put him outside again, and he asked to be inside after like 15 minutes, so I let him in and he was fine again. I guess I'll have to see if he pooped on the carpet again today. I just don't get why he won't poop there. His sister pees and poops in the toilet but he will only pee there. :(


Heather 5 years ago

Ok I hav a full grown female cat she had kittens a few months ago and not all survived during delivery then the two kittens that did survive died a later! I don't know if that's wats wrong with her or if it's something Ealse? We bought three kittens who we saved and they thought she was ther mama but now she attacks them and the other full grown cats and even us idk wat to do bout her PllZZZZ help me ! And my loved cat gigi (the female cat) !


Heather 5 years ago

?????????????????^^^^^^


cierra 5 years ago

it was good info but i need more i want to understand what meows mean


JAy 4 years ago

i tried the fast left eye wink and my cat winked baCK OMGGG


Evan 4 years ago

My cat woofs when he wants to be fed or wants my attention


white raven 4 years ago

I loved your info on cats because I have 5 cats my self.

but my favoret cat Tiger hates the outdoors she is terifide. If I put her out she will scratch at the door tell she is let back in. When I let her in her pupils are huge and her hair on her back is standing up. I've looked outside for things that might scare her but there are only my other cats. She gets along fine with my other cats. Help!!!!


Leigh 4 years ago

Good info, but I have a question: there is a feral that is friends with my cat (it does not attack,it just does not let anyone near it) that I leave food out for. I know about the cat wink and it now winks at me literally several times a day. However, if I make any sudden moves it will sometimes wink at me by squinting its eyes then hissing. Do you know what this means? Thankyou once again. I was impressed by your knowledge on the topic.


wendy 4 years ago

i dont understand nothing in it.......................


wendy 4 years ago

i'm just citing.I understand some but not everything.......


Helga 4 years ago

Craftyfox, I don't think that you are insane:) On the contrary, I think you are absolutely right. I don't have a cat right now (though used to have), but I have two dogs. And somehow I noticed that they learned some, well... words that they could impossibly have learned by a repeated action they had to perform (like, you know, usual commands "sit", "down", etc. when you actually show what you want from them ). So, I started wondering if they actually can learn our language, like little children learn, word by word. And now I am wondering if they have a language too. I've just started looking for any researches and articles concerning this, and the second article I found was yours. And I must say that it really gave me some food for thought. Thank you for sharing your experience!


warriorcatlover 4 years ago

cierra try user.xmission.com it has meows and their meanings


Jaylin 4 years ago

My cat like to rub her face on my wet hair for some odd reason and she has a love for baskets and boxes .


Zach 4 years ago

We have had my cat for a few months, but we still can't pick her up. We also can't get her to come up on the couch or even let us pet her much with out her biting us. She seems to be relaxed now though. She also has us watch her when she starts to eat


Meow 3 years ago

I want to speak cat. Meow!


Noelle november 2013 2 years ago

WOW!!!! You know a lot abuot cats:D We've had a lot of stray cats and

now we have a cat named Chalie and Idon't even no how to communicate

with with her that's why I decited to look it up and boy did I hit the jack pot!! Thank you


Dag 2 years ago

Obsessed with exclamation points MUCH


CataTonic 2 years ago

Meow and ralph spew to you! You will never understand us. Starting with the purr. You've got it all wrong!


NotDelusionalCatOwner 2 years ago

This is a stupid article.... not very factual


Sarahcatlover 2 years ago

Hi! Great article. I am getting my kitten soon and want to communicate with it from the very beginning. I never knew cats could be embarrassed!


KforKats 2 years ago

Omg thanks for writing this, and I don't think that your insane! I really appreciate this! Now me and my cat love each other even more thanks again!


mel 21 months ago

Not sure about big cats, but I think anyone who observes a domestic feline over time will notice they consistently wink in specific situations. I have never observed my cat winking unless she loses her footing, has an itchy ear, hears a noise that hurts her ears, or injures herself...and possibly when she is disappointed or preoccupied, or wondering what others are doing. I believe it's the left eye for discomfort, and the right eye for questioning?

It also seems consistent that if I wink my left eye, my cat often winks her left eye back; then, looks briefly to the side and slightly down before looking back at me. It's my impression this is a polite, sympathetic gesture in response.

The fact that no human on the planet seems to have noticed this before our author, craftyfox, doesn't mean it isn't consistently true. Humans have different body language, so we may not pay attention to the things cats react to. Amazing to think they may be hard-wired for such specific sign language. Thanks for posting.

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