In this article we will try to understand and interpret the language of cats, to learn to understand their needs, to try to answer a little to the question “what do cats think?” when they give us signals. The language of cats consists of several factors, ranging from the language of the body of cats, to non-verbal language to meow, we see in detail. Ethology is the science that studies animal behavior in all its nuances.
The set of behavioral behaviors or modules are what scientists define as an etogram. Knowing the ethogram of a species allows us to understand and understand its language in order to communicate and interact with it in the correct way without misunderstandings. The term “communicating” literally means “sharing, sharing”, that is the action of transmitting information from one individual to another through a medium: the species-specific code, or the language.
But language is nothing but the expression of individual behaviors consisting of movements, gestures and sounds seen in their context and described in the etogram. Therefore, each individual communicates his behavior to the others and the surrounding environment through the language typical of his species (etogramma). Let’s now deepen the communication of cats through the explanation of the meaning of the felin language
Understanding the language of cats
When we want to interact with our cat in the correct way, we need to know the real meaning of the signals it sends us. Understanding the language of cats is not an impossible mission: it is enough to know carefully what it does and evaluate its context. In fact, to understand your cat you must be able to interpret well the gestures and signals typical of the cat species, in this way you will be able to understand, in general, how to communicate with cats and especially to understand what cats think.
We begin now by examining the language of the cat’s body starting from the head and then moving on to the torso, the legs and finally the tail.
Cat’s head language: its meanings
Cats language: lick
Along with sniffing and looking at everything around him for normal exploratory behavior, we often see his licking house cat. But what do cats want to communicate with the language of licking? We must make two distinctions: if the cat licks himself or another individual.
When the cat licks itself has a meaning of grooming, or self-cleaning, dressing, while when licking other cats and / or owners, it is called allogrooming.
Both of these behaviors are part of the so-called parental care, that is to say they are affiliative behaviors that serve to reinforce the emotional bonds. Care must be taken if the behavior of licking degenerates and is done with too much insistence, even coming to automutilarsi with the formation of real sores (stereotypy).
Cat rubbing its snout
Another very gratifying behavior is the rubbing, better known as facial marking. This consists in the movement of rubbing on objects and / or people starting from the corner of the mouth to the ear, even for several times in a row. This is used to release an olfactory marking using the submandibular, cheek and perioral glands (pheromones of the friendship). A curiosity: it is from this specific odorous mark that natural products born on the market are born with the aim of improving the setting and the relationship of the house cat.
The cat remains with an open mouth
Remaining in the field of odors, unusual behavior, also present in other animals such as horses, is the flehmen.
This consists of a kind of grimace that the cat emits when it has to explore a scent source: approaching the nose, opening the mouth, raising the upper lip and the tongue is squeezed behind the upper incisors where there is the organ of Jacobson. Everything is done to fully explore a fragrant substance, usually of a sexual nature, perceived in the air.
Cats language: bites
In addition to the behavior of the affiliates, there are the aggressive ones: an example of this is the cat that bites.
In the language of cats bites have various meanings depending on their context.
Undoubtedly, I am the expression of a cat who is nervous at that moment, but we must understand why.
Generally, the male bites the female on the back near the coupling; but also the mother gently bites the puppy when he is wrong and must correct it; during the hunt the bite to kill the prey is fundamental and, moreover, it is also used as a simulation of the game prey-predator.
However, when our house cat constantly bites us we must investigate if we have mistakenly accustomed him to interacting by biting or it is a fact linked to a risky early detachment from the mother who has not had time to teach the inhibition of the bite and, if this second hypothesis were valid, the cat should also not have motor self-control or be always particularly agitated / hyperactive.
Cats’ ears language
Also interesting are the positions of the ears that are for the cat real antennae. The cat manages to localize the sounds with them but also indicate the emotionality of the moment.
In fact, even the ears are part of the language of cats. In particular,
- straight ears with forward-facing tips indicate that the cat is alert;
- the straight ears with the points facing the sides indicate that the cat is nervous / tense;
- the flattened ears sideways indicate a defensive state;
- the flattened, flattened ears on the back indicate aggression due to fear.
Cats language: eyes
Even the eyes are part of the language of cats. The cat’s pupils are very mobile: they dilate and shrink depending on the intensity of the light present in the environment, but like the ears, they are the reflection of the emotions of the cat.
In fact, the dilated pupils indicate that there is something pleasant, but also when there is a possible threat and if associated with the ears totally flattened backwards confirm that the cat is afraid.
The scared cat on the defensive has an enormous dilatation of the pupil, the exact opposite happens if it is dominant, aggressive, not at all afraid, or you have the thin vertical slit of the pupil that is completely contracted.
But the attack can be in both cases even if with diametrically opposed motivations. The eyes kept wide open have a cat in alarm, but they will be half-closed if it is relaxed, while closed in sleep or in absolute surrender to the aggressor.
Language of the cat’s body: its meanings
Regarding the trunk of the cat, the most common image that comes to mind is the cat that makes the hump or when the cat raises the hair and stands on all fours to appear larger, discourage and escape the potential opponent.
On the contrary, if he wants to turn out to his opponent as a submissive, he will crush on the ground, crouched on his side to make himself smaller.
Another behavior linked, however, not to the movement of the fur but to the movement of the skin is rolling. This is typical of cats and consists of a real rolling of the skin on the back like a wave. When our house cat does it, this very particular behavior has a meaning of seeking physical contact. I recommend it should not be confused with its degeneration in behavioral pathology (rolling skin or feline hyperesthesia).
The most common behavior related to the bust is rubbing on the hips on objects and / or people. This is another behavior that the cat uses to release olfactory markings and require physical contact with the human being, very often is preceded by rubbing. The normal behavior related to physical activity, such as rolling, jumping and climbing, are obviously part of the language of the bust. These, if regularly explained, indicate a general state of well-being of the cat.
Language of cat’s paws: its meanings
As for the legs, they are mainly used in scratching, commonly called scratch. This movement in addition to the care of the claws, serves to leave a visual horizontal and / or vertical territorial signal depending on whether done on the ground or standing on two legs.
This action is often not appreciated by the owner because it ruins objects and / or furniture such as sofas, armchairs and curtains. For this reason, it is good to equip your home with scratchers of various heights and sizes. On the contrary, the kneading cat is particularly liked by the owner.
The cat makes pasta
When the cat is relaxed and has established a good relationship with its owner, often when he is in his arms, in addition to purring, he makes pasta. This movement is done for the first time by the kitten, immediately after birth, to stimulate the milk leaking from the mother’s mammary glands. Undoubtedly, it is a childish affective behavior that is projected onto the owner as a sign of emotional bond.
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Tail language: its meanings
The tail is the part of the body of the most curious cat. His movements are very special and are always a prelude to what the cat feels and is about to externalize with the rest of his body.
The straight-tailed walking with the rounded tip like a question mark is its typical greeting and should be interpreted as our common “Hello!”. While when the cat moves its tail, moving it sharply and decisively like a whip, it indicates that something is making it nervous / agitated. It can be the beginning of an attack but also of a game and, therefore, observed all the rest of the body to give it the right key to reading.
Describing already these two only behaviors tied to the tail, we find their meaning diametrically opposite to that of the dog: that’s why we often create misunderstanding between dog and cat! Read also: Cat tail language
After describing body language, we now move on to describe the cat’s vocal language.
Cats language: meowing and vocalizations
Separate discourse must be made for the vocalizations that are directed, instead, to a direct mutual contact. There are various types depending on how the mouth is placed.
If the mouth is closed, purring and trilling will occur. The purrs are a specific feature of the cats: even the tiger and the lion purr !. This particular noise is due to the movement of the glottis. Its origins and its various meanings are still very much sought after. Certainly mother cat after childbirth, in the phase of lactation of the puppies, produces the purr.
But in many other contexts you can hear: for example, when the cat is about to fall asleep, or while it rubs or rolls, sometimes when you take a nap. The house cat purrs especially when it has physical contact with its owner, especially when he is in his arms.
But the cat sometimes purrs even to the vet during the check-up or purrs alone and this undoubtedly has a self-assurance meaning. The trill, however, is a sound less deep than the purr but more acute and always has a friendly meaning such as the request for physical contact. Undoubtedly both the purr and the trill have a positive meaning and give way to a correct approach (behavior of the association).
If the open mouth is closed, the meow is heard. Of the so-called “Miao”, even thirty-one different types have been recognized. The meow is the main vocalization used by the cat to communicate. In nature, the free-living cat mews much less than a cat who lives at home with the human being.
This is due to the fact that, with the course of time, the cat has learned to exploit the meow to communicate and interact actively with us. In fact, it is not uncommon to hear owners who define their cat as a talking cat.
Generally the “Miao” is considered a greeting between cats, but when the communication becomes interspecific or directed to the human being, it is used for many types of attention requests, for example “I want water, I want to eat, I want to go out on the balcony ” etc.
The cat that meows wants to externalize, therefore, a request of a more or less impelling need. The correct meaning of the cat’s meowing is to be read, however, in context: in fact, the same cat meows differently depending on the situation and what he wants. Read also: Meow of the cat and its meanings
If the mouth remains fixed, you have the breath and scream in a defensive or painful context, the growl and the howl in an aggressive context. If, for example, we inadvertently stamp his tail, the cat will scream. If, however, we bring home a new cat, probably its immediate reaction will be the breath. Should there be a meeting with a rival we should hear the growl or even howl.
Specifically, the blowing cat, if it also associates the extreme gesture of the spit, has a meaning of request for immediate removal or increase the body distance to avoid a confrontation. Surely, when a cat performs one of these four vocalizations it is good to be on alert because the cat is particularly nervous, whether for pain, or for fear or aggression, is ready to defend itself and then attack.
And you have a very communicative cat? Can you interpret his language? How do you express it more, with the meowing or the body language? Write it in the comments!