How do Cats Communicate With Each Other & With People?

Cats are very expressive animals, they have no problem making their feelings known both to humans and other felines.

However it is important to note though that every cat is different so different cats will communicate things in slightly different ways, understanding the nuances of the ways in which your cat communicates is crucial to developing a strong bond with your feline friend.

What do you think my cat Whisky is trying to communicate here

What do you think Whisky is trying to communicate here?

Having said that every cat will communicate how they feel, what they want and more using a mixture of scent, sound and body language:

Communication via Scent

Scent is the most important form of communication that cats rely on. Cats produce a unique scent using glands in their mouth. When a cat washes itself it spreads that unique smell across it’s entire body, so by rubbing itself on an object your cat can leave messages to other cats.

When kittens are first born they are completely blind and rely fully on scent to communicate and navigate. Kittens will leave their scent on their mother so that they can work out where they need to come back to. Mother cats will also be able to distinguish each of their kittens, even if they are all physically identical, by their smell.

friendly cats communicating with each other

Cats will often exchange scents with each other via rubbing their heads together or bumping noses, cats rubbing their heads together will be good friends as this is a sign that they trust each other. Likewise if your cat tries to rub it’s head on you this indicates that your cat thinks fondly of you and therefore wishes to share its scent with you.

Cats can clearly identify each other through smell and also use a nose bump as an opportunity to share their own scent.

Cats may also rub their body on physical objects in their territory too and they will also leave urine samples to mark their territory. These smells can then be read by other cats who will be able to interpret the scent to work out a cat’s sex, size and reproductive status.

Audible Communication

Any cat owner will tell you that cats can be very vocal, a cat will commonly use it’s voice to communicate with it’s owner when it feels it’s needs and desires require immediate attention.

It is very interesting to note that a typical cat meow is only used by kittens to communicate with their mother when they want attention from her. When cats grow up they no longer communicate with other cats be mowing at them. They do however continue to meow at humans throughout their life. This is probably because they quickly find out that by meowing they can get their human to provide them with what they want in much the same way that their mother would provide a drink or warmth when they meowed at her when they were kittens.

Purring

A cats purr usually signifies that he is happy and content however this is not always the case, cats will purr when they are ill, or have recently experienced some sort of trauma. This is likely to be because a cats purr can promote healing due to the frequency of the vibrations created by purring.

It is not known exactly how a cat purrs however it is believed to be caused by air vibration in the throat as air is breathed in and out.

Hissing

Hissing and spitting are clear signs of aggression which a cat may show if it feels under threat, particularly if it is trapped and has no easy way out. Hissing and spitting is often displayed along with raised hackles and an arched back, the purpose of this is to intimidate any potential threat into backing off for fear of an attack.

Chattering

You may have witnessed your cat chattering if it spots a bird through a window, chattering is typically seen when a cat is looking at potential prey, it is a sign of excitement.

Cat Body Language Communication

Whisky showing friendly body language

A cats body language can tell you an awful lot about what message the cat is communicating. Key areas to pay attention to when attempting to read a cats body language are the eyes, ears and tail.

The body language of your cat ranges from rolling over on their back, this is an invitation to come and stroke them which is also used to lure a mate when they are in heat, to the arched back which they may display when they feel under threat.

A few important physical cues to watch out for are:

  • Flattened ears may mean that your cat feels under threat.
  • Ears twisted around with the back of the ear visible on the front of the head indicates aggression.
  • Wide eyes and large pupils indicate attentiveness.
  • An open mouth with no visual teeth may indicate that your cat wishes to play.
  • A vertical tail indicates friendliness and that your act wants to say hello.
  • A low tail indicates unhappiness.
  • A wagging tail indicates anxiety (read our article about why cats wag their tails here).

Physical distance is also very important to cats, a cat will use distance to make it clear whether or not they wish to be involved with you. If your cat comes close it means your cat is happy to see you and be stroked or fussed. If your cat maintains a good distance it probably means they are quite comfortable and have no desire for interaction at the moment.

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