Cat communication

Cat communication

A note from Alfie, our Chief Executive Meowfficer:

So… you wanna speak cat. HA! As Fuzzball’s CEM, I’ve seen many humans walk through these doors. Most of whom have failed. Obviously.

If you have any questions, DO NOT DISTURB! It’s way past my catnap hour.

As humans, a major flaw is that we don’t speak cat. But cats do find ways to communicate through their body language, sounds, the angle of their tail, and much more. Here are a few pointers to help you speak the universal language of cat.

Visual Signalling

Cats are clever! They can communicate their mood and intentions via visual signals, like their body posture, expressions, pupil size, and even hairs that stand up on their body. Tail positioning is a great example of this. A happy cat has the ‘up’ position of the tail! A tail slowly moving from side to side though could indicate stress, whereas a tail tucked between the back legs often means they are scared. Tails say a lot, but there are other visual signals too.

Tactile Communication

Cats love to communicate via touch. They do this by:

  • Allorubbing – This is when two cats rub their faces or bodies against each other.
  • Allogrooming – Two cats grooming each other. That’s why they touch their noses, rest or curl up together. Allogrooming usually happens among related cats or cats who know each other well.

Cats also tend to treat each other as ‘pillows’ which is a behaviour that sees them back up against one another and even intertwine their tails. Us humans tend to think that this is a type of social bonding. So instead of having a girl's night out, all cats have to do is use the other as a pillow. Sounds like a cheaper and way more relaxing option, to be honest.

Vocal Communication

Cats can be vocal just like us and have been said to have one of the widest vocabularies (different vocalisation patterns) of all carnivore species!

Generally, cats have three primary forms of vocal communication:

  • Murmuring sounds - these are usually formed with closed mouths and are used to greet, garner attention, acknowledge and show approval. This includes purring. Later in life, purring is generally used as a greeting and is often used during allogrooming.
  • ‘Miaowing’ or ‘vowel’ sounds - These are used to communicate different messages. Generally, the miaow is used in friendly interactions with humans but they can carry a variety of specific messages (e.g. high-pitched miaowing for hungry kittens)
  • ‘Protective’ sounds are all made with the mouth held open and are likely to be growls, yowls, snarls, hisses, shrieks, and wails. All the scary stuff.
  • ‘Chittering’ is the funny chattering sound cats make when they see a bird through the window for example. This cute noise likely reflects excitement and frustration – they want to get at the creature!

Communication through smell or scent

Cats have an extremely well-developed sense of smell that helps them communicate. Cats can exchange their scents by rubbing against one another, or against objects in their home to share their scent in the form of chemical messages and mark their territory. When cats rub their heads against objects, this is known as ‘bunting’, which appears to be associated with comfort, reassurance and friendly social interactions. Signalling through smell also allows a cat to identify its territory, identify other individuals, indicate sexual receptiveness, and so much more.

Although we can’t have a riveting conversation with our feline friends, cats communicate in several ways with us mere mortal humans. We can still see flashes of their wild cat beginnings when they’re hunting or playing around with us, but the common domestic cat indeed rules the household kingdom nowadays. And probably always will.