Unraveling the mystery that is your feline friend can be quite challenging. Cuddly and welcoming one moment, then spitting fire the next, a cat’s mood may change in an instant, seemingly without cause. Cats can communicate using the slightest change in body posture, often making it difficult for owners to identify and interpret mood shifts. Learning the signals given by vocalizations, motion of the tail, position of the ears, and the look in your cat’s eyes will help you interpret what she is trying to communicate.


Vocal cues

Vocalizations that your cat may make are the easiest cues to interpret. Some cat breeds are much more talkative than others—the Siamese and Oriental shorthair are known for their lengthy conversations. Learn these “words” in the feline language:

  • Meow — This noise is reserved solely for human interaction. While kittens meow to their mothers, adult cats usually only meow to people. This may be due to the intelligence of cats—they’ve learned that we do what they want when they meow at us, whether it’s providing more food, doling out attention, or picking up their dead mouse.
  • Yowl — Similar in sound to a meow, a yowl is more drawn out and musical. You may hear this caterwauling when tomcats are fighting over female companions.
  • Chirp — Used by mother cats to tell their kittens to follow, this sound is often employed to entice you to follow your cat to her empty food dish. Cats also tend to converse with one another in this manner.
  • Purr — Often an indication of contentment heard during mealtimes and petting, purring may also signify that a cat is anxious or ill. This magical sound has also been shown to help heal bones, muscles, and tendons, as its frequency is conducive for tissue repair and wound healing. Not only is a purr a sign of happiness, but it can also soothe and heal both you and your cat.
  • Growl, hiss, or spit — These vocal cues need no explanation. If you hear any of these sounds, watch out!


Body language cues

A little more difficult to interpret, body language signals hold the most meaning in feline communication. To fully understand your mysterious pet, study up on these postures and positions that will clue you in to how your cat is feeling.

  • Tail position or motion
    • A fully erect tail signals a greeting, or a request for food or attention.
    • A fluffed tail means beware—regardless of position. An arched tail indicates a cat is torn between being aggressive or defensive, while a fluffed tail pointed down or straight out signals aggression.
    • A flicking tail is a sign that a cat is losing patience and is becoming irritated. Veterinary team members understand this tail cue to mean it’s time to wrap things up.
    • A swishing tail is a step beyond a flicking tail. This usually signals that a fight is about to break out between two cats, or that chaos is about to occur.
    • A tail that is wrapped around a cat’s body may mean that she is content, or may demonstrate anxiety in a nervous cat.
    • A tail that is held down is commonly seen with an arched rump, indicating aggression toward another cat.
  • Eye signals
    • The slow blink is a powerful communication device in the feline world, signifying reassurance. If your cat gives you a long, slow blink, consider it the ultimate compliment, as she is saying that she trusts you.
    • The continuous, hard stare has the opposite effect, used to threaten and unsettle feline opponents in territorial battles.
    • Dilation of the pupils is commonly seen in the defensive cat, providing her with a wider field of vision.
    • Constriction of the pupils helps an aggressive cat in attack mode by strengthening depth perception.
  • Ear position
    • Forward-pointing ears indicate a confident, curious cat.
    • Ears flattened for protection signal a defensive posture.
    • Flattened, but forward-pointing, ears indicates the aggressor between two cats.
  • Body posture
    • An arched back with fluffed-out fur means you need to be cautious—this signals a frightened or upset cat.
    • An arched back with flat fur is a much more welcoming pose, indicating your cat would enjoy some attention.
    • Lying on her back while purring or kneading the air is the picture of contentment in a cat.
    • Lying on her back while growling with flattened ears signifies that a cat is ready to defend herself. This position allows her to utilize her powerful hind legs and claws.

Is your feline friend still a mystery? Give us a call and we will help unravel her secrets.