Cat Behavior & Training Pet Daily News

Understanding Cat Body Language and Communication

Have you ever wondered what is the meaning behind different types of cat body language? Have you thought about what your cat may be trying to communicate with you on a verbal level?

If you are one who has ever been curious, then you will pleased to know they do in fact spend a lot of their time trying to get their message across to us humans, or trying to!

Because cat language is a lot different to human language and not as evolutionarily familiar to us as dogs or the canine family it can be harder to understand just what our beloved felines are saying to us.

Cat body language or verbal communication?

Firstly, cats do not naturally make many sounds in the wild. Their language is primarily silent, or based on bodily communication. This takes into account things like stance and posture as well as behaviors. Cat body language is very diverse.

When two cats are together they won’t communicate to each other vocally unless they are in a fight or are mating. I’m sure a lot of us have heard what these sound like!

Hissing is a way to warn off intruders and potential threats and will usually be accompanied by different body signals depending on whether the cat is feeling aggressive or just scared.

Watching out for aggressive cat behaviour

cat body languageWhen a cat is scared and is hissing to protect themselves, their ears will go back and their tail will either fluff up and be held above their back in fear, or hang low in uncertainly and defensiveness.

When a cat is being aggressive and hissing perhaps to protect to their territory, their tail will fluff up and hang straight down with their ears facing forward.

Their general stance will be strongly forward and puffed up as if to say “look how great I am now bow down and recognise me as king”! When a cat is irritated at either humans or other cats you will see their tail flip around in large arcs which signifies agitation and is a good sign to back off and leave them alone unless you want to be nipped.

How to know when your cat is being friendly

A friendlier way of communicating with other cats and humans alike however would be ears that are relaxed casually to the side in general interest of the surrounding environment. The tail when sat down would be curved lightly and sometimes flicking lazily at the tip.

When standing up a happy cat will usually have their tail pointing straight up to the ceiling, and if they are super excited to see you their tail will also be quickly quivering in a way that looks like vibrating.

More verbal forms of communication have generally been adopted by cats through the observation and mimicking of humans. For example, when a cat is hungry they will make a sound like a crying baby, since they know that when human babies cry they get food, not to mention that food is milk which is a feline favourite!

I have also heard sounds that are a lot like bird chirps which seem to be done as a form of drawing attention to themselves due to being excited about something they want.

Different pitched meows and their meanings

When it comes to meows, generally the longer they are the more important it is, and the lower pitched they are the more annoyed or angry it is.

For example when a cat is hungry they might produce a middle pitched long meow which is intended to get your attention “hey where’s my food I’m sstarvvinggg”!

A higher pitch being friendly may be something you hear when they greet you, along with a leg rub, which is the feline version of a friendly hug.

About the author

Jennifer Pitts

I love pets and I love animals. I have 2 dogs and 3 cats and it's not enough for me.

18 Comments

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  • I’ve not owned a cat for a very long time as my husband has been allergic to them. This doesn’t mean I don’t think they can be beautiful! I’ve had a couple of cats “way back then” that I loved very much.

    I’ve never thought too much about communication because we just do! Funny really, but it’s amazing how well you can understand each other.

    I really liked the information you put on this site though, helpful and informative. Some of the signs you mentioned caused me to remember well my previously loved pussys. Thanks for that!

  • You have some good information on cat body language, and communicating with different sounds.

    I especially like the information about communicating with different sounds pitches, very nicely done. It is amazing to me how all animals have a language of there own.

    I’m going to have to pass this blog on to all my cat lovers out there.

  • I have a cat that attacks me at random, usually when I’m not paying attention or when i shoo him off of something. I can tell he’s going to attack by his pupils, they get really big.

    I find it very interesting to watch cats and their different body language. Their ears tell a lot too. But that tail, is a sure give away most of the time.

    I love my cat, but I am having to rehome him due to a across country move. I will most certainly have a hard time finding him a home due to his unpredictable behavior. Any suggestions?

    • Hum difficult one Jean, I’m guessing that your only option is to take him to a very good rescue center. I hope your move goes well!

  • Cats are so amusing to watch. i just got a little 9 weeks old. My 2 years old cat adopted him right away as her baby, 18 hours and they where inseparable. Since two weeks, I noticed that after a nap my female cat meows. I wonder why, would it be she is in pain?

    • Hi Lorren, I don’t think your cat is in pain, she telling you she’s got a voice now and maybe even copying the adult cat.

  • My cat’s talk silently and constantly. They always want something but I’m never sure exactly what. If I give them some treats, but if it’s not what they wanted they’ll use that inimitable cat signal to let you know they think your treat is poop.

    My cats have learned my body language too. When their play is rough and they start getting too rambunctious I just give them a ‘look’ and they stop.

  • I live with several kitties and enjoyed reading your post on cat body language.

    Isn’t it amazing that the little critters can communicate with us? Think about it, if a being who was thirty times bigger than you stood over you, would you think about trying to communicate?

    I have a little black kitty I raised with a bottle. She’s about three now, but still does the tail vibration when she sees me. It makes me happy to see them happy.

  • I have had cats in my life for a long time (currently have 3 living with me… or I with them depends on who you ask haha) and I can vouch that their behaviors are held true to this page. It is amazing how much they can communicate with simple body language that we as humans have to communicate verbally. 🙂

  • Hi there Hayley,

    Great article on cat body language, something that I am still striving to understand as a new cat owner. My black kitten would always produce this loud pitch after she is fed and stroke to the fullest content.

    She would go into each room, make her calling, goes back to her food and starts her calling all over again. Sometimes it’s for a few minutes but sometimes it lasts till night.

    What is she trying to say?

    • Hi Cathy, my first thought ie in your first paragraph, is that she is very satisfied and is warning other other cats that this food is hers so stay away lol. She is obviously not distressed because she goes back to her food. Yet, your second paragraph concerns me, is the food your giving her causing discomfort? I feed me cat Applaws grain free version, cats do not need grains in their diet. If that doesn’t bring relief, then the next time you’re at your vets it might be worth discussing it with him/her.

  • Hi Hayley,

    Love your post about cat body language, and wondered if you could shed some light and help resolve a dispute my husband an I are having.

    We have two cats who don’t like each other. For the most part they stay away from each other. Problem comes in when the fur flies; literally. We are trying to figure out who is the instigator. The Siamese is often caught stalking the other one when he’s sleeping. So I think he is the culprit.

    How can we lessen these fur flying events?

    • Oh dear, with humans 2’s company but 3’s a crowd. With cats though 1 is company 2’s a crowd so it is completely normal for cats to fight, and mostly it’s territorial. It’s obvious the calmer one needs protection, and I’d most definitely shut the door on him when he’s resting.

      When they are fighting be sure to use a water gun, never use your hands because not only will you get hurt they’ll see you as the enemy and will never trust you again. Keep several water guns around the house to keep at hand just in case world war 3 breaks out.

      Wishing you well 🙂

  • I liked learning about the body language of a cat. I am a dog person but only because I am allergic to cats so I found your website a very interesting way to learn about cats since I can’t hang out with them. 🙁 I also enjoy learning about the meanings of dog names. Do you have a meaning for Steely…a male dog?

    • Hi Julie, Steely is an unusual surname and is of topographical origin and is derived from the Old English pre 7th Century “stelling” meaning cattle fold. Hope that helps 🙂

  • Interesting article about body language. My current cat always walks about with her tail almost looking like a question mark. And she is the most vocal cat I have ever had. She talks to me constantly and it’s the loudest miaow imaginable but that’s probably because she is a rag doll. My previous cat very rarely miaowed except she would squeak at you or little chitter. They all have funny personality quirks

  • Hey there, I’m a huge cat lover so I really loved your post, you helped me understand a lot of things about my kitty.
    Someone told me that when cats slowly close their eyes and open it back (when looking at a person) it’s like a friendship and trust feeling. So they like that person. Do you have any idea if it’s true? I’ve been looking at my cat doing this and I think it’s true.