You love your cat, but he also seems to be a mystery. Cats are well known to be aloof, independent, and an enigma to most of us. Haven’t you heard of someone describe a person as “cat-like” in their behavior? Meaning that they handle life in an independent and aloof way. Maybe we really just don’t recognize how our cats are interacting with us and what it means to them. Your cat gives messages in ways that we don’t typically, as humans, recognize. They use not just their voices, but smells and body language to get their messages across. If we could just learn to speak, or at least listen to, their communication we might understand them better and see them as less mysterious.
It is possible to learn their language enough to improve your interaction and relationship with your cat!
Meows and purrs
The actions we notice most are probably the noises your cat makes, as we communicate primarily through our own vocalizations, speech. You will notice that younger cats tend to be more vocal than older cats and this is typical. Cats use fewer vocalizations at they get older, and the science world has found that mother and baby cat groups communicate through meowing. That raises the question of what your cat thinks of you if it meows at you regularly. Is it trying to care for you like it would a kitten?
You are very aware of the extremes of your cat’s noises – the yowls, purrs, hisses – as those communications convey their emotion quite clearly. But pay attention to your cat’s other noises and see if with consistency you can figure out what he is trying to tell you.
Watching where your cat’s ears go tells you a lot about his feelings as well. Flattened ears, close to his head let you know your cat is upset, feels in danger or doesn’t want to be bothered. If his ears are moving fast, turning to all areas, you know he is excited and really listening for what is going on around him. Your cat can move his ears in so many ways, unlike us, and it allows him to really focus in on sound. Sometimes, you can see where he is likely to head next by where his ears are pointed.
Most cats use their tails in ways that we recognize and in ways that we don’t. You know your cat is upset when he thrashes his tail energetically, and when he is crouched low and the tail is twitching back and forth along the ground, you know he is stalking something. A happy cat carries his tail high and straight.
Fur and coat appearance
For the most part, you cat will groom himself very carefully and will always be in good condition. His fur lays smooth on his body. However, if you ever see that this is not the case, you need to watch for the reason. If your cat is not cleaning himself well and starts to look matted or messy, there is likely some kind of illness or pain going on. The most typical coat change you will see when your cat is afraid or upset by something is that his tail will puff up and the hair along his spine will stand up. This is a good time to let him be to calm himself down.
A contented, self-satisfied cat may let his eyes rest partially open while he enjoys cudding on your lap. You will notice that his pupils are thin. If he suddenly looks at you with huge pupils and wide open eyes, you can be sure that he is excited about something, whether it be play, fear or a sudden sight of prey. Eye changes along with other body language can convey a great deal of information.
Odors and scents
While humans don’t explicitly use smells to communicate complex information, our cats do. Your cat mostly uses smells to communicate with other cats and animals to give information on territorial issues. Your cat will mark his territory by rubbing his body on objects leaving a scent marker behind, using his claws on objects to advertise his presence, and marking with pee and poop to send a strong territorial message. Your cat does not want to share his space and will mark it in a variety of ways to tell others to stay away. Even the tiniest of kittens will smell and react to strange scents in his environment.
With all this information, you can watch your cat and find out more about your cat’s inner life and experiences. You will see all that he can tell you through his overall actions and movements.