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Learn to Speak Cat

By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views

Whenever I see a cat, I greet him by blinking slowly. Cats, like dogs, don’t like it when you stare at them. It’s intimidating; no one likes to be stared at!

When a cat stares at something, whether it’s a bird or a toy ball , it is often ready to attack. So, blinking reassures them that you are not a threat. Usually, when I blink, cats blink back and slowly approach me, allowing me to pet them. To me blinking is just one form of cat communication.

Cats ears are straight up and pointed slightly forward means she's attentive. Photo from Alley Cat Allies

Decoding Your Cat’s Body Language
Speaking cat or dog entails observation and understanding body language. With cats, ears and tails say a lot about their moods. A cat’s ears are quite amazing. Cats have over 20 muscles in those tiny ears and they can make them move in all sorts of directions. They can swerve forward, backward, up and down, and move in different directions.

Straight up, slightly pointed forward ears are signs of a happy cat. If you pet her and her eyes close, you have a very content kitty.

Twitching ears, just like twitching people, are nervous. A soft coo from you will ease the situation. If the twitching persists and the ears move from front to back, it’s a good idea to back off. And if their ears are flat against their heads, stay far away. Flat ears means she is about to attack. It’s also a form of self defense; keeping her ears close to her head protects them.

If you ever see a cat with one ear in the forward position and one in the back, these opposite movements means ambivalence. Gently reassure her and speak softly. Blinking is good too.

A Cat’s Tail
If your cat’s tail violently moves back and forth in a swishing motion, she is agitated. This is a good time to toss her a toy that she can pounce on or leave the room until she quiets down.

If her tail is held high and is slightly quivering, your cat is happy to see you. The same can be said if her tail is straight out with a slight quiver and curl at the end.

A raised tail with a soft curve in it means he is alert and happy.

If your cat’s tail is low and puffed up, he is fearful. Any time your cat bristles his fur, he is doing so to appear bigger to scare enemies away.

What observations have you noticed about your cat?

16 comments to Learn to Speak Cat

  • Thanks Michele for sharing this nice story about cats tail it is very interesting,I don’t have any cats but it is nice to know this about them.Hugs Mary

  • Oh, the blinking always works like a charm. Some people say the blinking is the equivalent of a cat’s kiss. They do it when they are relaxed and happy, and they appreciate it when we kiss them back. 🙂

  • Helen Vassos

    I just loved this article about cat language and it is so true.. actually I thought that when my cat was blinking at me, she wss sending me kisses?

  • Catherine Tayler-Houle

    Good article, it could have been a little longer as there are lots of other parts of a cat’s body language.
    As a lifelong cat guardian, I am well versed in cat language. They are extraordinary beings and I love them all.

  • One of our cats makes the “Halloween cat” shape, arching her back way up. Is she trying to appear bigger? Any idea why some cats do that and some never do?

  • The familiar Halloween-cat pose makes the frightened feline appear more physically imposing.–Michele

  • Catherine, Would love for you to write about some of the other cat body language.–Michele

  • Thanks for the article. I know dog behavior but I’ve always wondered about cats behavior.

  • Your article is quite spot-on! My cat always blinks to indicate a friendly cuddly “hello” – sometimes even to put me out of mystery if I see him gazing at me and I am wondering what he’s thinking.

    Cat’s faces are also very very expressive, just like human faces. We’ve all seen the shocked “what! no you can’t leave me!” look on a kitten’s face if you are leaving the room and he doesn’t feel very certain you’ll be back soon.

    Then of course there is the “Halloween Cat” with arched back, bushy tail, and hissing. Usually indicates self-defense, with fear and defiance at the same time, I think!

  • Anna, That is so true. Cats faces are quite expressive. Thanks!–Michele

  • Hi Michelle, Here is the Learn to Speak Dog post: http://petnewsandviews.net/2011/03/learn-to-speak-dog/. Thanks for reading!–Michele

  • Jill

    Thank you for the lovely article Michele!

  • A spot-on post! Dog people always try to relate to cats as they would to dogs, and are frustrated when it doesn’t work. But cats are very different from dogs and require different methods of communication.

    Cats like to come to people rather than the other way around, too. I’ve noticed that if you speak to a dog when you see one, he’ll come to you, but a cat will answer you. Sometimes he’ll sit down if he finds you particularly intriguing, but especially feral cats won’t come closer until they have good reason to do so.

    I’ve read that humans are the only ones to whom cats meow; they never use that sound to other cats. But I could swear I’ve heard them “talking” to each other, so I don’t know if that’s true. They do have different meows for different meanings. They have a number of other sounds to communicate things like excitement at seeing prey, anger, irritation, etc., as well. Cats are fascinating creatures, and those who say they don’t like cats usually just don’t understand how to communicate with them.

  • Rena

    I love it when I can get a strange cat to come over to me by using a combination of blinking and noises. It does not always work but more often than not a cat will come to me only after I have communicated with it.

  • Terry

    My first cat was regal, proud, and hellish. He was fond of leaping out from behind the couch and biting my ankles. He liked to be petted, but would turn and sink his teeth into my hand. This and a list of other destructive behaviors went on for years. Get rid of him? Couldn’t. Wouldn’t. One day it occurred to me that maybe a way to reach him would be to learn to ‘speak cat’. Since he marked furniture, whatever, by rubbing his head against it, I decided to do the same with him. I carefully shielded my face (I’m no fool) and leaned down to the table where he wasn’t supposed to be, and gently rubbed my temple to his. Once. Again the next day. And the next. And from then on … he was really a changed animal. No more biting. I loved him til the day he died, and beyond.

  • What a lovely story Terry, and a great solution. –Michele