For a harmonious coexistence it is especially important to be able to communicate with your furry friends. What does this look like with our beloved cats in particular? Here you get a small insight into the body language of cats, so that you can better understand the “language” of your cat and avoid misunderstandings.
The body language of cats
Cats have adapted to us humans and learned to communicate with us.
- Body language: This includes posture, muscle tension, facial expressions and also movement. Already with small signals the cat can tell us a lot.
- Speech: A cat has a variety of acoustic signals in its repertoire, more about this later.
- Tactile communication: Haptics is also part of language. This includes touch, for example. They nudge, push, cuddle or nibble at each other. But they can also communicate with us humans in this way, for example by touching us with their paws to get attention.
- Olfactory signals (smells): Mainly part of the intra-species communication, since the human nose can only smell a fraction, this form of communication is less suitable. The smell of urine and faeces tells the cat a lot about e.g. the mood and health of a conspecific. Also about the anal glands, which secrete the anal gland secretion with each excrement, the cat gives off its individual scent mark. Quasi the personal business card.
- Subtle communication: Cats perceive many things that remain hidden to many people. The 6th and 7th sense helps them to perceive their environment. Therefore it is also important what you feel and think when you communicate with your four-legged friend.
For mutual understanding it is important to learn to read the body language of cats and to see the world from the cat’s point of view. Communication problems can inevitably lead to behavioural problems. So how do they communicate?
Cats use their whole body to communicate with us humans:
Attention: You must always look at your cat as a whole and consider the situation. For example, purring can be well-being or illness, you have to look at the rest: What is the posture of the body like? What does her fur, her eyes… look like? In which situation is the cat in?
The long tactile hairs indicate a mood barometer:
- Laterally directed and slightly hanging means calm and balance.
- Directed forward means attention.
- Flatten ones means careful, curious, reserved.
- The further they are fanned out, the greater the attention, up to tension and willingness to act.
The pupils can change from slit-like to round due to the lightfall:
- Eyes open and narrow pupils mean a peaceful, familiar, attentive mood.
- Eyes slightly closed or narrow pupils can mean aggression. Shortly before sleeping, of course, fatigue or relaxation.
- Large pupils indicate fear.
- Blinking or blinking is a friendly signal, which equals a smile.
- Starring with narrow pupils is a threat. With wide pupils it can mean fear, but also attentive observation.
Their positions express different emotions:
- An ear placed one upright indicates that she cannot assess the situation and is insecure.
- When placed forward, the ears indicate attention, hunting or play.
- Slightly turned outwards means annoyance. Ears folded back indicate fear. The greater the fear, the more she puts the ears on, this can end in an attack.
- Laterally folded ears mean that something does not fit her.
- Ears that are set up or folded down and pointing backwards mean anger, aggression.
It serves not only the balance, but also as an important part of the body language:
- Steep up the tail shows joy, sometimes the tip of the tail is bent which also expresses curiosity.
- If it is bushy or ruffled it is a sign of great fear.
- If the tail or also only the point whips back and forth, it means insecurity, excitement, tension, with strong whip alarm readiness, aggression, aggressiveness.
- Stiffly pointing downwards, it means anger, attack.
- Slowly waving back and forth shows a calm, attentive mood. They are tense and a possible attack could follow.
- When drawn in, he expresses an unhappy, anxious mood. Stretched back, it is a curious, interested behavior.
- If it is stretched forward over the body, it can express the willingness to play.
- If the cat has its tail wrapped around it while sitting or lying, it wants to be alone and does not want to be disturbed
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Speech is also part of communication and can differ in volume, length and different pitches.
- Purring is a sign of feeling good. But it can be illness or stress, because then cats purr to calm themselves.
- Miaow: Often give it when feeding or when it demands attention from you or other cats. As a kitten still loudly in contact with the mother, the adult cat is mostly wordless on the way. However, cats have learned to make “their” people aware of themselves using word language.
- Whimper: light/high meowing is often a cry for help.
- To wail: sounds sad/complaining and shows fear or desire.
- The so-called “male cat song” is rather an expression for district behavior.
- Hissing can be understood as defense or as an expression of fear or anger.
- Spitting is the next level of defense. Here the air is expelled with a loud noise. The last warning before the attack is a snarl.
- The snarling is mostly loud and continuous.
- With chirping cat mothers call their kittens. It is a happy sound which can also be understood as praise.
- Cooing is also a friendly sound that is used, among other things, for greeting.
- Miaowing is like chatting. Some cats are real chatterboxes and tell you something.
- Yawning is a sign of tiredness and relaxation.
- When quacking the teeth clatter which is used when hunting to imitate the prey. To you it can be a protest sound.
- When howling/whining, the volume rises and falls. A warning signal, which often replaces a fight between males (the louder one wins).
- Shouting is a short / bright sound that is mainly used when there is pain.
The cat’s hump: A well-known threatening gesture in which the back is arched, the tail is high and the coat stands up, often combined with sounds and fear signals. But even after waking up she makes her back round. In this case the coat is smooth and the cat’s hump serves to stretch. When playing, the hump is often connected with a sideways walk to prepare for the “hunt”. Also when marking the territory the cat makes a slight cat hump, stretches her tail up and sets her scent mark.
Tips to interpret the behaviour of your cat:
- Once home, the cat will run towards us with her tail held high. This gesture signals that your cat is looking forward to you.
- On eye contact with your cat, blinks once. This signals that everything is alright and that there is no danger. Look carefully – your cat will blink back! If she should only do this with one eye, she will smile at you 🙂
- If the cat wanders around your legs or objects, she doesn’t only want to say “Hello” to you, but also releases her scent and marks her “property”.
- The “giving head” is a greeting that signals deep attachment.
- If the cat has her tail wrapped around herself while sitting or lying down, she wants to be alone and does not want to be disturbed.
- Cats that growl at their owners or other cats of the same species should be treated with caution. Because this is a serious warning which you should respect. If cats growl at other cats with whom they get along well, you should see a vet. Cats sense much quicker than we do whether a member of their species is ill or are in pain and fear of the other cats could hurt them.
- Do not stare into the eyes of your cat! This is a threatening attitude. Among conspecifics you can sometimes observe the so-called “loo mobbing”. The cat in the loo is often stared at for minutes by the conspecific and does not dare to leave.
- The cat steps with her front legs at one place. This is the “milk tread”, which kittens use on their mothers to get more milk out of their teats, because this stimulates the milk production of the mother. If the cat does this now on “her” human, it is an absolute proof of well-being and confidence! Also often seen when the cat “settles down” on her sleeping place.
Cats are very clever and quickly overtake how they can wrap you around their finger to get what they want. Watch your house tiger closely. Each cat develops her own way of communicating. You will see that you will soon get along well with your beloved friend!
Cats communicate with us humans more than we think. Often their signals are clear, sometimes only recognizable by small nuances. Practice observation and gradually learn to understand the cat’s language better. Only in this way a harmonious coexistence is possible.