Cats which communicate mostly with other cats use mainly on body language and scent - this is their "native language".
There are at least nineteen different types of "miaow" which differ in pitch, rhythm, volume, tone, pronunciation and the situations in which they are used.
Purring and vocal communication is discussed in detail in "Cat Communication - Vocal Language (Cat Chat)". Cats kept with other cats are communicating with each other all the time through body language and scent.
Cats have different personalities and this affects how much they want to "speak" to humans.
Most cats tend not to vocalise with strangers unless the stranger approaches them (less often the cat approaches a stranger for food or fuss).
Cats have scent glands on the chin, lips (in the corners), temples and at the base of the tail.
They use this scent to mark areas and objects around them, other cats, humans and other animals in the household. When a cat scratches a tree, scratching post, wallpaper or doormat (or even the furniture) this does several things.
Spraying, middening and scratching ensure that cats are communicating with each other even when not physically present. The most dramatic body language occurs when rival males meet, during courtship or over fiercely protected territory (in general, cats are happy to let other cats pass through their territory or even time-share it, but the core territory may be fiercely protected).
The aim of body language is to convey a message and to avoid or end physical confrontation. Body language has to be read by looking at the whole body - the face, the posture and the tail position. If the cat keeps its head down, pulls in its chin and turns sideways to prevent eye contact it is conveying a lack of interest and the fact that it is not threatening. The back-turned ears and the posture (pulling away, but head turned to face the person approaching it) shows that this young cat is flinching away (see later for details on posture). Cats have excellent peripheral vision and tend not to stare directly at something unless they are getting a fix on a moving object in preparation for pouncing.
Some owners deliberately engage in "blink kissing" with their cats - when looking directly at a cat the owner blinks in a slow and deliberate manner. Interestingly, behaviourists have tried the "gaze and blink" trick with big cats in zoos and have reported that lions and tigers will blink back at them.
Nutmeg, the cat in the photo is alert and interested (whiskers pricked forwards), but her dilated pupils indicate apprehension. The eyes alone cannot convey a whole message and if the cat is blind, its permanently dilated pupils cannot convey a message at all.
When content and relaxed, a cat sits with its ears facing forward but tilted slightly back. If one ear is flattened and the other isn't, the signal is more ambivalent and the cat isn't yet sure how to react to what is going on around it. Ear flicking or "ear flagging" (flattening and horizontally moving one ear) has been reported by some of my readers. Flower, the cat in the photo is yawning - its whiskers are pricked slightly forward, its ears are pricked (the flattened one is actually listening to a sound!) indicating alertness.
Relaxed, alert and confident - ears pricked, whiskers slightly drooping, tail drooping from horizontal. These two ferals first greet each other by stretching and then by rubbing and tail-twining to mix scents to reinforce their bond.
When a cat is relaxed, confident and alert, it walks with its tail horizontally behind it or even slightly drooping. When kittens greet their mother, they run to her with their tails upright like small flag-poles. When a cat is at rest, but readying itself for action, it sweeps its tail erratically from side to side. As previously mentioned, a defensive cat erects its fur to appear bigger than it really is. An aggressive cat will straighten its legs (the hind legs are longer than the forelegs, so its rear end will be higher than its shoulders) and erect the hair along its spine and tail into a ridge to make itself look more impressive. Although his ears and whiskers indicate alertness, Tsar's tail is held firmly beneath him in a sign of submissive fear.
A faux pas some owners commit is to hug their cats tightly and wonder why the cat is struggling to escape. Not all feline communication or feline behaviour is easily understood, even by those ho are used to cats. Without knowing the familial relationship (if any) of the cats, it is hard to say what was going on. On another occasion the same witness saw three cats sitting in the "Egyptian sphynx" position.
Linda Louis-VanReed (St Louis, Missouri, USA) had a similar experience of feline follow-the-leader. Ann Romney and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gave speeches Tuesday night at the 2012 GOP Convention in Tampa.
Mamihlapinatapai (sometimes spelled mamihlapinatapei) is a Yaghan word (from the Yagan people of Tierra del Fuego) and is considered by many to be one of the most succinct words in the human experience. Dating & Romance Nonverbal Communication Secret # 1010: What Makes the Twinkle in Her Eye? Nikki Haley, the current Governor of South Carolina (left) and Sarah Palin, the previous Republican Vice Presidential candidate and past Governor of Alaska are pictured here at a campaign event. During the interview Scott Pelley asks Romney about why he took a swipe at President Obama. At the 3:37 mark Clifton Murray exhibits a palmar touch to his lower sternum - demonstrating sincerity and a strong "heart-felt" emotional tone. Analysis # 2055: Three Wise Monkeys - Hear no evil, See no evil, Speak no evil - Body Language Interpretation vs. Their body language is subtle, but many owners and cat workers learn to read the more obvious cues.
The familiar purr may be used for contentment, self-reassurance or an invitation for close contact. They are communicating with their owners all the time too, it's our problem that we can't understand their language. Personalities are partly controlled by genetics and partly by upbringing so both factors contribute to how much an individual cat talks. It is blind, deaf and defenceless but it has well-developed senses of smell and touch (including warmth detection) to guide it to the mother cat's nipple.
Though these behaviours may be annoying to owners, to cats these scent laden markers are signposts, boundary markers and personal advertisements.
The aggressor or challenger would prefer to win its case without resorting to teeth and claws since it could be badly injured in a fight. Looking at one of these in isolation is misleading since they all combine into an overall message.
If its head is stretched forward, the cat is encouraging touch or trying see its owners or another cat’s facial expressions. This is a friendly action and often ends up as a whole body rub and maybe also tail-twining.
When a cat realises it is being watched or stared at, it may stop whatever it is doing, assess the "threat" and then continue with its activity, but in a far more self-conscious way. As well as dilating or contracting according to the amount of light around, they contract or dilate to indicate mood.
She was, in fact, rather apprehensive of the strange apparatus (the camera) pointed at her at relatively close range. The make the ear signals even more visible, especially at dusk and dawn when cats are most active.
The cat is at ease - neither aggressive nor defensive and though relaxed, it is still alert to its surroundings. This seems to show relaxation and contentment or that the cat has become interested in something.


Sometimes yawning at a timid cat (and blinking slowly while gazing into space) will help it to relax. It is highly mobile: side to side, up and down, graceful and slow, thrashing and whip-like. When a cat meets its owner and wants to extend a friendly greeting, the tail goes up and quivers, but there is no spray of urine.
They droop, twine or rub their tails around their mother's rump or tail to solicit food from her.
This indicates that the cat feels seriously threatened and has become defensively aggressive i.e. The first inch or so of the tail is horizontal and the remainder points straight downwards. A dominant cat will also try to look bigger than it really is, perhaps swaggering a little. Playful cats roll over in order to use all four paws, claws sheathed, to "defend" itself, sometimes mock-biting the other cat or the owner.
We are not attuned to pheromones or to reading the more subtle nuances of their body language. The centre cat was largest and slightly forward of the other two, both of which were angled slightly away from the centre cat so that they were in an arrow formation.
Here is a link to my guest commentary on Patt Morrison's show on National Public Radio (NPR) - KPCC Southern California Public Radio. Haley has a sincere smile although it was held too long and thus her bottom teeth are beginning to show. This is characterized by her tight and raised upper lip, the tightened area above the upper lip (aka the "mustache area" regardless of sex), her flared nostrils and her mildly wrinkled chin.
Although this is obvious to most political junkies, in smaller venues and in everyday life - the R2E2 is one (of many) signal(s) which can tell you what others are thinking (both consciously and subconsciously). The group had never met Celine Dion - and Oprah Winfrey had arranged for a surprise visit in the midst of their performance of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah". Celine closely (but not exactly) mirrors his body language by covering her mouth along with a slight nose rub (an anxiety component as well) (3:29).
Injured or sick cats (and even dying cats) may purr because the sound frequency has been shown to soothe the cat and to promote healing. Cats work out which sounds elicit suitable responses from humans (positive feedback) and learn to make those sounds in order to achieve a particular aim e.g. If fearful the cat may hiss or growl and thrash its tail (agitation) to warn the stranger not to approach any closer. They are less likely to vocalise because dogs can interpret scent signals and can learn some feline body language.
A kitten recognises its own scent on the nipple and aims for the same nipple each feeding time. A new cat must literally rub up to superior members of the group to mix their scents before becoming an accepted member of the group. Many visual signals are displayed when cats play, either on their own, with other cats or with humans. The classic case is when several people are in a room for a social occasion and the host's cat walks in. Dilated pupils accompany fear, aggressive excitement and also the mild excitement of seeing its owner, a feline friend or even dinner! Ear tufts, such as seen in the lynx and caracal, also emphasise the movement and position of the ears and may help short-tailed species (e.g. If the cat's attention is caught by a noise or a movement, its pricks its ears more upright, maybe swivelling one or both to track the source of the noise. The more anxious or fearful the cat is, the flatter the ears until they are lying straight backwards, flat to the skull. While considering, the ears shift and change as it processes stimuli and possible responses. Her ears are pricked (the flattened one is actually listening to a sound!) indicating alertness. This prevents it from fouling in low-hanging shrubs and prevent the prey from seeing a telltale tail. It can be a sleep coil folded around a sitting or sleeping cat, a fluffy scarf across a curled cat's nose or an erect bristling bottlebrush when the cat is frightened.
If it meets a friendly cat or friendly human, the tail goes up like a flag-pole to convey its friendliness.
It is the cat's version of "I am SO happy to see you, I am overcome with emotion." Many owners refer to this as "feather-dancing" because the upright tail resembles a quivering feather.
As it becomes more alert or more emotionally charged, the tail swishes faster, wider and in a more regular manner. The "Inverted U" or "Horseshoe" tail, often with the fur erect, is defensive aggression, but can also be seen during the "mad half hour" when the cat rushes around as though it has the wind under its tail.
It arches its back and positions itself side-on to its aggressor to make itself look larger still. Some cats roll over to greet their owners - this appears to be leftover kitten behaviour when it invited mother cat to "groom" her kitten's belly. Her tail is in the normal horizontal position, but is moving into the friendly upright position. All three cats were staring straight at a fourth cat who was also sitting in the sphynx position directly facing the centre cat. Note also her partially closed eyelids, the concave-up furrows in each lower eyelid, and her relaxed forehead - all required of a sincere, Duchenne smile (Ekman). Palin's facial expression is in strong dissonance with her "friendly" (feigned) waving nonverbal as well as Haley's body language. Victor Micallef spots her next (3:23) and her appearance brings a sincere smile to his face.
The "miaow" and purr are just two of at least thirteen different categories of sound made by cats: caterwaul, chatter, chirrup (chirp), cough-bark (rare in pet cats), growl, hiss (with or without spit).
Also, some owners are good at reading cat body language and the cat simply doesn't need to vocalise quite so much. If friendly it will meow or purr and its tail will stick upwards (greeting) inviting attention, or possibly begging for food. Sometimes the cat must reinforce its unspoken message with a hiss if the other animals ignores or fails to understand body language. Two important differences are that big cats such as lions, tigers, jaguars and leopards cannot purr because their throats are built for roaring.
This scent is then transferred to objects the cat rubs against - a fencepost, twiggy plants, a doorway or a person's legs. Its home territory also has a smell profile and any new smell - another cat or even a new piece of furniture or a scent carried in your shoes or clothing - can cause insecurity and lead to a frenzy of marking activity!
They mix with other cats when mating, raising kittens and in sociable groups such as feral colonies or multi-cat households. Sometimes it is so subtle that humans cannot tell there was potential conflict - the dominant cat, having won the confrontation, simply walks away from the loser, sits down and looks in another direction (or start grooming - a favourite feline activity). The same basic posture means two very different things depending on the facial expression, whether the fur is bristling and the eyes and the ears. In conflict, an assertive or confident cat may raise its head, but an aggressive cat will lower its head.
When cats meet, they sniff each other's faces - sniffing the scent glands around the lips to determine the identity of the other cat and whether it is a family member or not.
The more fearful a cat is, the wider its pupils expand - it is as if the eyes are trying to take in as much information as possible.
If you can read human body language and facial expression, a little practice is all that is needed to learn the cat's facial language. A similar highly mobile state occurs when the ears are panning round to catch noises, but the cat's entire demeanour will be one of alertness or interest, probably with a slightly twitching tail. As the cat becomes more interested in something around it, the whiskers perk forwards, ultimately coming forwards in front of the muzzle (a good position for the shorter whiskers to detect the bite point on the prey's neck).
She is neither aggressive nor defensive and though relaxed, it is still alert to its surroundings.


If it is friendly but cautious of the other cat or person, the upright tail is hooked over at the tip indicating a degree of uncertainty.
It may pull its upright tail slight forwards over the back, kinked down a little at the tip and give a little chirp at the same time.
They entwine tails with friendly cats as they rub against each other (the tail has scent from the anal glands on it from where the cat has washed it). The tail doubles in size and the hair on the cat's spine also stands erect (pilo-erection). You might see this if you address your cat as it is walking around - the cat acknowledges you, but has its mind set on other things and is making a "So what!" exclamation.
If the other cat still threatens, the victim will roll over onto its back, turning its head to face its attacker. Owners often misinterpret "belly up" as being submissive, or an open invitation for tummy-tickles, and wonder why their cat bites or scratches them. Numerous suitors have been seen trailing after a single oestrus female until she is ready to mate, but rarely in such an orderly fashion.
Sarah's hand waving is conscious and deliberate act while her facial expression - is unconsciously displayed and betrays her true emotional tone.
When Fraser Walters spots the megastar he mouths, "Oh my God" (3:27), immediately looks away, closes his eyes and covers his mouth - all strong nonverbal signals of emotionally processing a new and dramatic event. If it lasts longer than two seconds there is usually a component of insincerity (An exception being psychological shock upon witnessing or hearing about a very dramatic event.
This body language is much more common in women, although men have several analogs to this very telling nonverbal (which are particularly useful in negotiations, the court room and sales-type scenarios).
Since humans are in charge, it makes sense for the cat to learn to communicate vocally though it must sometimes be frustrating to a cat which has clearly communicated its mood using facial expression to have to explain things vocally to humans.
Stray cats living around restaurants learn to beg appealingly to diners - this is linked to food begging, though some do enjoy interaction and a fuss.
Feral cats with little or no contact with humans don't learn so much "spoken" language as do housecats. For example, most of my doors have a grey greasy mark at cat's cheek level where Cindy marks them over and over again. When stroked, cats raise their rumps even higher (almost standing on tiptoe) to invite you to sniff their anal glands!
Feline body-language is complex and subtle with ate least twenty-five different visual signals used in sixteen combinations. Note: in experiments with caracals, the ear tufts also help pick up sound vibrations, caracals whose ear tufts were trimmed off were less able to hunt small prey in long grass.
The teeth-bared grimace is not a dog-like snarl, it is the cat's flehmen reaction - one way in which a cat analyses scent signals. Licking the lips may indicate anxiety or anticipation depending on what is happening around it.
The tail also conveys a cat’s interest and concentration with a twitching movement as it corners its prey. A mother cat's upright tail is a signal for her kittens to follow and their upright tails may help littermates or their mother to spot their whereabouts. Though this is most often associated with anger, it may also indicate another highly charged emotion - some cats thrash their tail in ecstasy when being groomed. As well as indicating the cat's state of mind, it makes the cat look bigger than it really is in an attempt to make the aggressor leave it alone.
If the attacker pauses, the victim may move sideways in a crab-like fashion (frequently seen in playing kittens); it moves slowly away from its aggressor, watching for any sign of attack. Celine also blushes here - which is of course a strong biological display consistent with sincerity - for a blush cannot be feigned (3:42).
In a household setting, cats and dogs are in close enough proximity for long enough that they can learn each other's body language to some degree. They have no need to learn a vocalised "second language" because they are communicating with native speakers of "cat body language". It will mark its territory by rubbing its chin or cheeks onto upright objects (posts, chair-legs, door edges etc) and also by spraying or depositing faeces.
Slowly blinking breaks up an aggressive stare and is a reassuring signal between cats and between owners and cats. It may be ready to provoke a fight and by narrowing the pupils it can focus better on detail and also reduce the risk of damage to that part of the eye.
If the cat is fearful, it pulls its whiskers back alongside its cheeks to signal that it is non-threatening.
Cats may lick their lips slightly as food is presented (as part of the flehmen action where it is sniffing what's on offer), but reserve real lip-licking to clean away food debris after eating.
You can also see this twitching movement, usually just the tip of the tail, when a cat sees something interesting through a window.
This both marks the leg or object and, if they are tail-wrapping part of the owner, is an attempt to get attention, fuss and food!
Unlike the dog, which will go belly-up in full submissive mode, a cat on its back is still a formidable opponent. Kittens will follow their mothers in this way; since domestic cats often retain juvenile behaviour, perhaps this was the case.
Quite possibly this was a boundary dispute with two cats staring each other out over an invisible (to us) territorial boundary.
Scent is so important that blind cats can navigate around their indoor territories using a combination of memory and scent trails.
Not only do they pan around like radar dishes, scanning for any sound, the ears are important instruments of communication - they act like semaphores signals.
When a cat is crouched low to the ground, edging forward towards prey, the slight twitch of its tail indicates how hard it is concentrating.
A swishing or thumping tail is sometimes an invitation for another cat to join in a bout of play.
It has done its utmost to avoid conflict, but if the aggressor continues to press the attack, the victim is able to fight back with all four sets of claws and with teeth. It brings to mind the curious parade of cats out of an English town some hours before it was bombed during World War II. The two smaller cats were probably from the same household as the cat they sat with, shared its territory and were "interested parties" in the dispute. The number of sounds a cat makes depends on how much the cat communicates with (a) other cats and (b) other non-cats e.g. When relaxed, most cats have their eyes half-open, giving the appearance of being half-asleep.
In this position, if the aggressor jumps on its victim, victim's fore legs can clasp the aggressor close to the victim's teeth. Meanwhile, the hind legs are especially dangerous as they may disembowel the other animal (and are sometimes used in this way against same-size prey such as rabbits which have not been killed outright - something which can be seen when a cat plays with a stuffed toy).
Sometimes there is a touching of the person who is being spoken to - or an abbreviated gesture of reaching toward them.
Cats which communicate with humans a lot have a wider spoken vocabulary because they learn that humans understand sounds but cannot easily understand feline body language. Cats learn which sounds elicit the desired response from their human companions and some cats have a wider "vocabulary" than others.
Neutered and unneutered cats of both sexes will spray and Siamese cats (either sex, neutered or entire) are often notorious sprayers.
The people who don't particularly like cats are not making eye contact - to the cat, they are signalling that they pose no threat.
Big cats have not been through thousands of years of evolving a domestic subspecies and have not needed to communicate with humans.
Cats also roll as a way of scratching their backs, often rolling on hot pavements or in dust-baths.



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