Cats are mysterious creatures and fascinating for us humans to watch as they interact. Everything they do is a form of communication in one way or another. Cats communicate both with nonverbal (visual) signals and vocal tones. When cats communicate with each other, they tend to communicate with visual signs and assorted olfactory signs. They can additionally communicate vocally with a hiss or growl but more often communicate to humans with vocalizations.
Cats communicate with the way they move their body gestures, eye position and movement, tail motion and position, and even various mannerisms. How they move in and look in a room says so much to other cats.
Signs and Signals of Cats Communicating
- Visual Communications - Cats can communicate aggression with an intense stare. Hunting or predatory behavior is associated with an intense tracking gaze. On the other hand, cats can look at you with a relaxed blink to communicate affection and trust. Wide-open eyes communicate awareness and sometimes fear. Half closed eyes suggest relaxation.
- Vocal Communications - Cats can make a variety of sounds from a growl, hiss, spit, shriek, chatter, squeak, mew, moan and meow. Each of these sounds communicates different things. The growl, hiss, spit, and shriek are sounds of aggression. The shriek is generally an escalation of aggression. Some cats have a squeak that is associated with excitement, such as when exposed to their favorite toy or in anticipation of a meal. The chatter is associated with predatory behavior, common when a cat is looking out the window at a bird or squirrel. The meow is a common sound cats use when talking to people to gain attention or say hello. A meow is a sound kittens often make as they interact with their mothers and caregivers. Finally, the purr can be a sound of comfort, whether it is for self-comfort when afraid or showing affectionate comfort.
- Physical Touch Communication - Cats will groom themselves, other cats and humans. This can be a self-care action or allogrooming behavior with another cat that can relieve stress and be a bonding behavior of affection. Allogrooming occurs between members of the same species and establishes relationships and hierarchies.
- Body Language and Movements - A cat's body language can change quickly and is a common way to communicate with other cats. Cats that move directly toward you or another cat are ready to create an interaction. If that intentional movement is relaxed, it can communicate a hello. If the intentional movements are tense and anxious, it can indicate aggression. A cat that is getting agitated will stiffen his body, straighten his legs, the hair will stand on end, with a tail that is stiff but can be straight or curled. They can go from a relaxed posture to one of tension in a moment. Some cats will be silent while others will hiss or growl. As cats become more agitated, they can quickly go into either an aggressive or angry posture. Dilated pupils with an intense stare with ears back flat against the head are common signs of aggression.
- Olfactory Communications - Cats can mark territory with urine or by rubbing scent glands on objects. Urine marking is most common in unneutered male cats and believed to communicate territory boundaries in the hopes of decreasing interactions with other fighting males. Most urine marketing occurs on vertical surfaces often at the nose level of other cats. Scent glands on their chins and cheeks allow a cat to rub against objects to spread their scent. That's a way of communicating “This is mine” or “I was here”. There are also scent glands in the paws that allow scratching to be both a visual and olfactory cat to cat communication. These olfactory communication methods are demonstrated by males and females.
How to Understand Cat Communication
A lot of information can be learned by observing the interactions and behavior of cats alone or together. With careful observation, it is possible to understand a cat's mood.
Cats also have amazing ways to communicate but you have to be able to read their language of communication. Here is a fascinating article: How Do Cats Communicate With Humans?
How Smart Cats Are
Cats are smart, probably smarter than you think. In fact, cats have twice as many neurons as dogs. Learn more about feline intelligence in this article How Smart Are Cats? Everything You Need to Know.
Cats get a bad rap sometimes because they are so independent and choose not to come running when called. Learn more about Why Don't Cats Listen When They're Called?