Having watched my feline companions over many years now, I’ve come to realize one thing. Cats are complex creatures who have a cat language all their own. Although they cannot “talk” in human terms, they can express themselves in many complex ways without needing to talk.
The Kamikaze Starfish
Kittens are a wonderful study in cat language. As a cat breeder, I’ve spent countless hours watching my furry bundles of joy practicing their language skills. They do it in their play all the time with sometimes quite hilarious results.
At our place, we breed Kamikaze Starfish. Kittens who take great delight in jumping out from their chosen hidey hole with all four legs stretched wide ready to grab you as you unsuspectingly walk past. Once they’ve scared the socks off you, they scamper off, back arched and tail hooked to lie in wait till you drop your guard again. Now even the most recent cat novice can guess what the tail hook and back arch mean.. pure mischief! So what other signs are there that a human can read to tell what their cat is thinking?
See how many of the ones below you recognize.
1. The eyes have it
Like our eyes, cats use theirs to express their moods too. Often we can miss these subtle signs if we aren’t being alert.
- Slow blink – contentment and a form of greeting.
- Glare – usually goes along with flattened ears and hissing. Be warned this cat might attack if you proceed further.
- The fixed stare – Cats normally don’t like being stared at as it is a sign of aggression, so watch for this sign in your cat and give them space.. especially if they have the narrowed pupils and flattened ears to go with it.
- Wide eyed – their inquisitive look if they are feeling playful.. but can also mean anxiety and stress, so watch for other signs.
2. Read your cat by it’s tail
A cat’s tail is very expressive and they use it to indicate so many moods.
- Held high – your cat is feeling confident and happy.
- Bottle brush tail – watch out this cat is either frightened or very upset and is using the tail (and often the body hair too) to make itself look more menacing.
- Slinky tail – if the tail is held down or between the legs – this cat is very anxious and frightened.
- Hooked Tail – I’m up for a game!
- Lashing tail – I’m cranky so watch out! The faster the lash the crankier the cat. Best to avoid them for awhile and let them calm down.
3. A body of evidence
Like a cat’s tail, their body is very expressive so watch for the signs.
- Back arch (with fur flat) – usually with a little jump to your hand means pat me, or I like you.
- Back arch (with fur standing out) – means I’m frightened but trying to look bigger than I am.. watch this cat for other signs.
- Tummy exposure – depending on the cat, it could mean contentment or submission and anxiety. Many cats hate their tummy rubbed, so make sure you look for other signs before you try to stroke it.
- The bottom wiggle – I’m preparing myself to pounce. Cats who hunt will often do this move just prior to attacking their prey.. so watch your ankles if you have kittens in the house as they practice this one often.
4. What? Did you say something?
Cats have a much wider range of vocal sounds than a dog and they mainly use them to communicate with us. Once you’ve had a cat for a little while, you soon learn the difference.
- Purring – I’m very happy! However, in some cases can mean that a cat is anxious or sick and is then used to comfort themselves. Watch for other body signs.
- Growling – I’m not happy! In fact I’m angry! I’d step back if I were you.
- Meows – Hello! Feed me! I want attention!
- Trilling – Often a “come with me” indication to their human. Mother cats use this with their babies to get them to follow.
- Yowling or yodelling – Usually a challenge, so watch out. Especially seen with undesexed cats prior to mating or fighting.
- Chittering – this cute behaviour often appears when cats see birds in trees outside. It is part of their natural hunting instinct and even cats who are never allowed out to hunt will display it.
For more interesting cat facts and how to’s see our other informational articles in our blog.