How to Communicate with Your Cat

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Scientists have discovered that cats have developed an elaborate communication system with hundreds of vocalizations to tell humans what they want or need. Read on to find out not only how cats communicate vocally, but how you can communicate with them so that they understand you too.

1) Listen to your cat. If you watch what your cat is doing when he or she meows, you may be able to distinguish which meows are associated with which requests (or protests). Some common meows can include:

Short meow: Standard greetings
Multiple meows: Excited greetings
Mid-pitch meow: Plea for something like food, or water
Drawn-out mrrroooow: A demand for something
Low pitch MRRRooooowww: A complaint, or displeasure
Lower than mid pitch MEEOOOOOOwww: Begging, for something such as food
High-pitch RRRROWW!: Anger, pain, or being fearful
Chatter (rapid teeth-chattering): Excitement, frustration
Chirrup (a cross between a meow and a purr with rising inflection): Friendly greeting sound, often used by a mother cat to call to her kittens
Purr: Invites close contact or attention
Hiss: A serious sign of aggression.

2) Watch your cat. Since cats are more “fluent” in body language, certain gestures will accompany vocalizations to reinforce their message.

  • Tail straight up with a curl at the end: Happy
  • Tail twitching: Excited or anxious
  • Fur on tail sticking up: Very excited
  • Tail vibrating: Very excited and happy to see you
  • Tail fur sticks straight up while the tail curls in the shape of an N: Extreme aggression
  • Tail fur sticks straight up but the tail is held low: Aggressive or frightened
  • Tail held low and tucked under the rear: Frightened
  • Dilated pupils: Very playful or excited; it can also mean aggression
  • Slowly blinking eyes: Affection, indicating the cat is comfortable with whoever might be around him or her
  • Lifting the nose and tilting the head back slightly: “I acknowledge you.” Cats sitting in windows may greet you in this manner as you walk by
  • Rubbing against you means he or she is marking you as his or her own
  • Wet nose “kiss”: An affectionate gesture when the cat taps his or her wet nose to you
  • Ears back: Fear, anxiety, or in a very playful mood; also used when sniffing something they want to know more about
  • Tongue flicks out slightly and licks lower lip: Worried, apprehensive
  • Rubbing head, flank and tail against a person or animal: Greeting ritual
  • Head-butting: Friendliness, affection
  • Face sniffing: Confirming identity
  • Clawing: A cat will drive his or her claws in and out of you as a sign of happiness or playfulness; either way your cat knows and loves you
  • Licks you: The ultimate sign of trust. Your cat may consider you to be a part of her family, like a mother cleaning her kittens. It might just be that you have something tasty in your hand though.

3) Talk back to your cat. As already mentioned, cats are always learning how to communicate with us. The more that you communicate with your cat, the faster he or she will learn.

  • Use a slightly raised tone of voice to indicate friendliness and a lowered tone of voice to indicate displeasure or aggression.
  • Repeat the same wordsleep or bed, each time you go to bed. Eventually, your cat will begin to associate the repetitive word sound with your actions and may even get to the bedroom before you. Use the word shower consistently each time you are ready to take one, and eventually your cat may beat you to the bathroom and even curl up in the sink to wait for you.
  • If you blink slowly when making eye contact with your cat, she will usually respond by coming over to be stroked. This is seen as a very non-threatening gesture.
  • Be consistent. A common blunder many pet owners make is to say “no” and pet the cat at the same time. This is very confusing to the cat. So for example, if you want your cat to go away, a firm “later” and gentle push, without showing affection, will let the cat know that her presence is not desired at this time. Most cats will try two to three times to invade a person’s space, often from different directions. When saying “Later”, be patient.
  • Develop a “command tone” to use with your cat when he or she is doing something that you consider to be wrong. Use a voice that comes naturally to you and can be replicated easily, but that is also distinct from your everyday talking voice. If you use this voice sparingly but seriously, your cat will learn to associate the voice with the idea that he or she is displeasing you.
  • Make a quick and sharp hiss or spit sound as a “no” command. This is similar to the sound made by his or her own kind when they say “no.”


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