Any cat lover knows that the theory that cats are anti-social is all wrong. We tend to assume this because of their strong sense of independence and mostly quiet nature, but cats have a full repetoire of ways to communicate, often using subtle body language to express themselves. Each cat is slightly different, but if you can translate these signals you are one step closer to understanding what your cat is saying.
Ok, so you might think that deciphering this aspect of cat communication is obvious, however things aren’t as simple as they seem. Cats do not just purr when they are happy, relaxed and content, but often use their purr to signal that they want something. Scientific studies have shown that cats purr at their owners when they want fed, and some cats purr when they feel threatened, as a form of self-comfort, or possibly as an attempt to try and ‘befriend’ their ‘enemy’, for example a vet or groomer.
Another interesting fact is that scientists have never proven just how cats purr. There are several theories regarding which parts of the throat make the noise, but as yet, no one has conclusively discovered how the mechanism works.
The Head Butt
Cats often press the tops of their heads against someone who they feel close to as a sign of affection. This action is slightly different from rubbing their face against the owner, which is a form of marking their scent and is a more territorial gesture although still indicating affection.
The Paw Swipe
Cats will swipe at their owners to show displeasure. This is often done if someone stops giving them attention or takes away their food. If the cat is feeling a little neglected, this gesture may be similar to a human reaching out to touch someone to get their attention. Although you may be unfortunately enough to get caught by a particularly sharp claw, cats will usually perform this swipe with their claws in. A strong swipe with extended claws is a far more aggressive action and cats will normally only do this if they are threatened. All other instances of swiping at humans or other animals with extended claws is bad behaviour and should be actively discouraged.
Cats sometimes spend several minutes pawing and kneading at their bed, or the lap of their owner before settling down. Cats learn this action from birth, as they knead their mother’s nipples to encourage the flow of breast milk when they are hungry. The behaviour then becomes a form of relaxation that results in a strong feeling of happiness and contentment.
Your cat talks volumes with his tail. Held high and erect, your cat is confident and energetic. If he is sweeping it slowly in wide arcs, this shows that he is unhappy with something or someone nearby, and can be viewed as a warning. Smaller, jerkier movements can often be seen when your cat is hunting or playing, and are often a sign that he is about to pounce. The tiniest of flicks of the tip of his tail are said to signify stress or upset.
Some cats are more vocal than others. While one cat may rarely utter a sound, others will chatter away almost constantly. Cats also have different types of meows with different meanings. If you listen carefully you may grow to recognize meows designed to ask for food, to call out to other people or animals, to be allowed in or out or to signify happiness.
Rubbing Against Your Legs
Although having your cat walk in a figure of eight between your legs can be frustrating while you are trying to walk, this is your cat’s way of expressing their affection for you as well as claiming you as their own.
Did you know that the position of your cat’s whiskers is a great way to tell what mood they are in? Whiskers pointed forward and downwards indicates that they are feeling playful and curious while whiskers pinned back show a cat that is frightened. If the whiskers are very far forward and tilted upwards this is a sign of aggression.
Of course, every cat is different, and cats may use other behaviours such as blinking, yawning or shaking their paws to express themselves. Take some time to study your cat and you are sure to strengthen your bond.