Do You Speak Feline-ese?

Janet Roper’s article on talking with your kitty generated a lot of comments. This time I’d like to focus on how your cat communicates with you!

Cats are quite predictable critters. They know we humans are in charge (or at least we like to think we are!), so in order to get us to do what they want, they have to train us. And they do this by communicating with us, in many different ways.

How Your Cat “Talks” To You

Cats would rather communicate by using scent, facial expressions, body language, and touch. Humans, on the other hand, communicate verbally, by talking. It doesn’t take a cat long to figure out that humans are too dumb to understand the non-verbal stuff, so they vocalize, or make sounds, in an effort to “talk” to us. Kitties are smart, and they learn quickly which sound gets a certain reaction from their person. In fact, research has shown that cats can and do develop hundreds of vocalizations so they can “tell” us what they want!

Every kitty develops his own “language” to communicate with you, but common vocalizations include:

  • Short meow – standard greeting
  • Multiple meows – excited greeting
  • Mid-pitch meow – asking for something
  • Drawn-out mrrroooow – demanding something
  • Low pitch MRRRooooowww – complaining
  • High-pitch RRRROWW! – anger or pain
  • Chatter (rapid teeth-chattering jaw movements) – excitement or frustration
  • Chirrup (Also called “chirring”, a cross between a meow and a purr with rising inflection) – a friendly greeting
  • Purr – invites close contact or attention

Watch your cat to see how he acts, and if he uses a certain meow when he wants something. You’ll soon learn to tell the difference between “feed me!” or “let me out!” or “I’m happy to see you.”

The Tail Of The Cat

Your kitty’s tail is one of the most important communication tools he has. Pay attention to what your cat is doing with his tail, and you’ll be able to figure out a lot about his frame of mind.

  • If your kitty comes running up to you with his tail straight up, he’s happy to see you!
  • Slowly sweeping his tail back and forth indicates he’s annoyed with something or feeling impatient.
  • Sweeping his tail back and forth quickly shows he’s agitated.
  • If he lowers his tail between his legs, he’s showing submission to you.
  • He’ll raise his tail to show he’s feeling friendly and wants to play.
  • If he twitches his tail just a little while laying down near you, he wants to be close to you.
  • If his tail is puffed out and standing up straight while his back is curved, he’s feeling threatened, either by another cat, a dog, or something else.
  • If his ears are laid back while he’s crouching, and his tail is held stiffly extended, he’s getting ready to attack something. Back off, or it may be you!

If your kitty starts switching his tail and lays his ears back when you’re petting him, he’s warning you that he’s had enough. Some cats become overstimulated by too much petting. If you don’t pay attention to what he’s telling you, he may bat you with his paw. If you still don’t get it, he’ll probably bop you again, only this time with his claws out so he draws blood, or he may even bite you. Respect what you cat is telling you, and you’ll both get along with each other better.

Feline Body Language

Your kitty has many other ways of communicating with you. If his ears are back and flattened, he may be alarmed. Some cats show shame or remorse by laying their ears back somewhat. He’ll prick his ears up when he’s feeling playful or if he’s intrigued by something. If he’s stalking something, his ears are sideways and turned down, and he’ll creep along, slowly and silently.

Your cat identifies you by your scent. When he comes up to you and sniffs your face, he’s making sure it’s really you. When he rubs his head on you, he’s marking you with his scent and saying that you belong to him. Butting his head against you is a sign of friendliness and affection. And if he taps you with a wet nose, he’s giving you a kiss!

Try not to stare at your furry friend. Cats don’t like to be stared at, as it makes them uncomfortable. They interpret staring as being assertive or even aggressive, so use this sparingly unless you’re trying to make a point about him not doing something.

Blinking your eyes slowly, however, is a show of affection for your buddy. It’s the feline equivalent of blowing him a kiss.

What your cat is doing with his legs says a lot, too. Laying around with his legs outstretched shows he’s feeling happy and confident. If he’s standing on tiptoe with his legs straight, his back arched, and his tail all bushy, he’s more fearful than aggressive. He’s trying to look big and scary to try to intimidate whatever it is that’s bothering him. However, if his legs are bent, he’s ready to attack.

When your kitty kneads your tummy or leg with his paws, he’s showing his affection for you, and also that he’s contented when he’s around you. It takes him back to when he was a kitten nursing on his mama, and all those warm happy feelings he had then. It can get a little painful with those sharp claws, but your cat REALLY likes you if he does this!

If your cat licks you, he’s not tasting you to see if you’re good to eat. What he’s doing is showing you that you’re part of his family. This is THE sign of affection. Again, this goes back to mama cat licking her kittens, and the feelings of security and safety he had then. So don’t push your kitty away if he licks you, because you’ll hurt his feelings!

Should You Talk to Your

By all means. Your kitty will learn to associate certain words with certain things. If you say, “bedtime” when you go to bed, or “shower” when you to go take one, he’ll learn what the word means, and he may even beat you to the bedroom or bathroom after a while.

Use a higher pitch in your voice to show friendliness, and lower it to show you’re unhappy about something. Use a “command” tone when telling your cat “NO!” when he’s digging in the plants. He’ll learn to associate that tone in your voice with the idea that he shouldn’t be doing what he’s doing.

Another good “no” command is to do what cats do to say no: make a fast sharp hissing or spitting sound. ALL cats understand this one!

It’s important to be consistent. Sometimes you’re doing something that you really don’t want your cat helping with, whether it’s sewing or working on the computer. Cats will usually ask before they invade your space. If you pet your cat while saying “no,” you’ll only confuse him. Say “no” very quickly while gently but firmly pushing him away. He may try again, from a different direction. Keep doing this, and he’ll get the idea that his presence is not wanted right now. The next time, he’ll understand sooner.

Can You Train A Cat?

Many people think it’s not possible to train a cat. It does take more time and patience, but it’s certainly doable. If you treat your feline companion with love and respect, he’ll become a good friend and companion for life!  In fact, you may become known as the “Cat Whisperer!”

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