How to Communicate with Your Cat

Three Methods:Reading Cat Body LanguageCommunicating with Your CatListening to Your Cat

Scientists have discovered that cats have developed an elaborate communication system with hundreds of vocalizations to tell humans what they want or need.[1] Developing an understanding of how your cat is communicating with you and how cats interpret human communication can help you cultivate a more nuanced relationship with your feline companion. [2]

Method 1
Reading Cat Body Language

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    Watch your cat’s tail. Like dogs, cats communicate with the positioning and movement of their tails.[3] Knowing the signals of tail position in conjunction with vocalizations can help you understand the needs and wants of your cat. Some common tail positions include:
    • Tail straight up with a curl at the end: this indicates happiness.
    • Tail twitching: your cat is excited or anxious.
    • Fur on tail sticking up or bushy: your cat is excited or feels threatened.
    • Tail vibrating: the cat is very excited and happy to see you.
    • Tail fur sticks straight up while the tail curls in the shape of an N: this is a sign of extreme aggression and may be present during fighting or self-defense.
    • Tail fur sticks straight up but the tail is held low: your cat feels aggressive or frightened.
    • Tail held low and tucked under the rear: your cat feels frightened.
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    Look at your cat’s eyes. Gazing into your cat’s eyes can help you bond with him and read his feelings. Be aware, however, that direct staring without blinking may be interpreted as a position of aggression that makes your cat uncomfortable.
    • If your cat’s pupils are dilated, she is feeling either very playful or excited or quite fearful or aggressive; use other behavior cues to determine which it is.[4]
    • A cat staring into your eyes indicates that she trusts you and is comfortable around you.
    • A cat slowly blinking his eyes may be showing affection, indicating the cat is comfortable with whoever might be around him.
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    Notice other body language. Since cats are more "fluent" than humans in body language, certain gestures will accompany vocalizations to reinforce their message.
    • A cat lifting her nose and tilting her head back slightly is saying "I acknowledge you." Cats sitting in windows may greet you in this manner as you walk by.
    • A cat may lay her ears back if she feels fear, anxiety, or playfulness. This may also be seen when cautiously sniffing something she wants to know more about.
    • A cat who flicks his tongue out slightly and licks lower lip is showing that he is worried or apprehensive.
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    Identify communicative behaviors. Some of a cat’s communication with you is based on how she behaves when she is around you. Certain behaviors have consistent meaning among most cats.[5]
    • A cat rubbing against you is marking you as his or her property.
    • A wet nose "kiss" is an affectionate feline gesture in which the cat taps her wet nose to you. This means that she likes and feels comfortable around you.
    • A cat rubbing his head, flank and tail against a person or animal is showing an act of greeting.
    • Playful head-butting is a show of friendliness, affection.
    • Cats will sniff a person’s face to confirm her identity based on the familiarity of the smell.
    • A cat will rhythmically knead with his or her paws, alternating between the right and left feet, as a sign of happiness, contentment, or playfulness. Kneading is an indication that your cat knows and trusts you.
    • A cat licking you is showing the ultimate sign of trust. Your cat may consider you to be a part of her family, like a mother cleaning her kittens.
    • If your cat tries to eat your hair, she may be trying to "groom" you. This means your cat really loves you and trusts you.
    • Some cats will show they really love you by copying what you do. You can test this by playing “dead” on the floor. The cat may sniff or nudge you, then play dead too.
    • If your cat bites you with little force, it is a warning for you to leave her alone.

Method 2
Communicating with Your Cat

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    Talk back to your cat. Cats are always learning how to communicate with us. The more that you communicate with your cat, the faster he or she will learn.[6]
    • Use a slightly raised tone of voice to indicate friendliness and a lowered tone of voice to indicate displeasure or aggression.[7]
    • Using repetition will help your cat learn to anticipate consistent activities. You may want to repeat a word such as sleep or bed each time you go to bed. Eventually, your cat will begin to associate the repetitive word sound with your actions and may even get to the bedroom before you.
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    Use nonverbal communication cues. Cats can be trained to understand words, but they will instinctively understand nonverbal cues. Creating a warm environment with clear expectations and few surprises can help strengthen your initial bond with a new cat.
    • If you blink slowly when making eye contact with your cat, she will usually respond by coming over to be stroked. This is seen as a very non-threatening gesture.
    • Try not to stare directly into a cat’s eyes. It tells her that you're unfriendly or aggressive.[8]
    • If your cat wants to go somewhere such as next to you on the couch, but he seems unsure, pat the space and use a soft, reassuring voice to invite him to join you.
    • Be consistent in your intent and expression. A common blunder many pet owners make is to say "no" but pet the cat at the same time. This is very confusing to the cat. So for example, if you want your cat to go away, a firm "later" and a gentle push, without showing affection, will let the cat know that her presence is not desired at this time. Most cats will try two to three times to invade a person's space, often from different directions. When saying "Later", be patient.
    • Never yell at or physically discipline a cat. This only frightens and angers the cat, and is counterproductive. Instead, to show displeasure, you can add a hard edge to your voice. The cat will pick up on that and sense unhappiness.[9]
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    Deliver commands to your cat. Being consistent with the wording, tone, and other accompanying signals while giving your cat training commands will help both of you agree on and understand clear expectations.[10]
    • Develop a commanding tone to use with your cat when he or she is doing something that you consider to be wrong. Use a voice that comes naturally to you and can be replicated easily, but that is also distinct from your everyday talking voice. If you use this voice sparingly but seriously, your cat will learn to associate the voice with the idea that she is displeasing you.
    • Make a quick and sharp hiss or spit sound as a "no" command. This is similar to the sound made as a correction or warning in “cat language” and using it can communicate your intent more clearly to your cat.
    • With patience, cats can be trained to respond to commands, much the same as dogs. You can even teach your cat to shake your hand.

Method 3
Listening to Your Cat

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    Understand how and why cats communicate. Vocalizing is generally not your cat's preferred mode of communication. A cat's "first language" consists of a complex system of scent, facial expression, complex body language, and touch. Cats soon realize that we don't understand the non-verbal signals they send to each other, so they vocalize in an attempt to communicate in our language. By observing which sounds elicit which actions from us, a cat is always learning how to make requests or demands.
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    Observe meowing circumstances. If you watch what your cat is doing when he or she meows, you may be able to distinguish which meows are associated with which requests (or protests). While specific meows can vary from cat to cat, there are certain types of meows that are usually associated with specific cat emotions, such as purring or hissing.
    • The short meow is used as a standard greeting and general acknowledgment.
    • Multiple meows indicate excited greetings. You may notice a more enthusiastic greeting with increased meowing if you have been gone for a longer period of time than usual.
    • A mid-pitched meow may indicate a plea for something like food or water.
    • A longer, drawn-out "mrrroooow" is a more persistent demand for a need or want.
    • A low-pitched "MRRRooooowww" indicates a complaint, displeasure, or preparation to fight.
    • A loud, lower than mid-pitch "Meow" often signals more urgent begging for something such as food.
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    Identify common non-meowing cat communication. While meowing is the sound that we most often associate with cat vocalization, cats make other common sounds as well.[11]
    • Purring, a throaty vibrating sound, invites close contact or attention. While cats can purr for a variety of reasons, purring is most commonly associated with easy contentment.
    • Hissing is a cat’s clearest sign of aggression or self-defense. It indicates that your cat is very unhappy, feels threatened or frightened, or is fighting or preparing to fight.
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    Notice other specialized vocalizations. While other types of vocalizations may be rarer than meowing, hissing, and purring, understanding them can help you interpret your cat’s communications more fully.[12]
    • A high-pitch RRRROWW! often indicates anger, pain, or feeling fearful.
    • A chattering sound can be a sign of excitement, anxiety, or frustration.
    • A chirrup, a cross between a meow and a purr with rising inflection, is a friendly greeting sound, often used by a mother cat to call to her kittens
    • A loud yelping or “reeeowwwing” sound may indicate sudden pain, as when you accidentally step on your cat’s tail.


  • If a cat gently 'bites' you, or just puts their mouth around your finger or hand without biting down, it's a love bite. A love bite is a show of deep affection. Most people mistake a love bite for a sign of anger or displeasure. When this happens, do not move away. Think of it as a great compliment, because it is.
  • Treat your cat with love and respect, and it will become a very happy and loving companion and friend.
  • In order to ask a cat if you can pet him/her hold out your hand. Make sure you middle finger is slightly slower. Your cat will rub their muzzle/nose to your hand. The cat will rub their head against you so that your hand ends up in the desired petting location.
  • The cat might go into hiding and will only come out either when it is alone or it hears a reassuring voice.
  • Siamese and other Oriental cats have been observed to be especially vocal, while some breeds of longhaired cats tend to be quieter.[13] Of course, exceptions always exist.
  • If your cat walks or runs away from you, you'd best leave it alone; it is showing that it would like its own space.
  • Cats feel threatened if a person stares directly into their eyes. Instead, try blinking normally and try not to hold eye contact for too long. This allows them to feel at ease. If the cat starts slowly blinking, that is a very good sign. Cats tend to blink slowly while being shown pleasant affection.
  • If you have younger children make sure that they hold the cat/kitten properly. You need to support them from underneath otherwise they could start to feel unsafe, try to get down and scratch in the process.
  • When setting your cat down,try to make sure his or her feet are safely on the ground before letting go. This allows your feline friend to learn to feel safe with you,that they can count on you to not let them feel unsafe or have to suddenly adjust when they jump out of your arms. If this is done consistently through his or her life it may prevent injuries when they are elderly and more prone to injuries.
  • Never make loud noises when your cat is afraid. It shows to the cat a sign of fear.
  • If your cat is wagging its tail strongly from side to side, it generally means it is angry or playful, so it is best to leave it alone.
  • Sitting criss-cross on the ground and looking at the cat is a sign that you are welcoming the cat, so they may come up for you to stroke them.
  • Some cats enjoy tummy strokes, though most are wary of exposing their vulnerable underside. Overcome this fear slowly, and with patience. Most cats are less protective of their chest than their belly. Stroke your cat’s chest a little, every day, but stop if you sense the cat becoming tense. He will gradually come to trust you to stroke him. This approach works best if you begin when the cat is young.
  • If your cat bites, it isn't always a sign of aggression. It can sometimes be a "love bite" or a playful nibble. Most "love bites" will be gentle and the cat won't hurt you in the process.
  • If you have a rather grumpy cat, speak softly to it and bond with it every day if you can. This can include brushing the cat, feeding it, or playing with it.
  • Time and space mean almost as much to cats as gestures and sounds. For example, the cat will likely not be fooled if you say "dinner time" 6 hours earlier than usual. If you pay attention to where the cat is sitting, in addition to its tone of voice, you can more easily determine what it wants. For example, a cat who wants to play might sit on the spot where you are most likely to initiate play.
  • When a cat bites you it can sometimes be in a playful mood or has had enough of something.
  • If your cat growls when its held then don't hold it as much. Slowly get it used to the idea of cuddling. Cats can get used to a certain thing very quickly. You have to be careful to not upset the cat.
  • In some cases, the cat may not do some of these things, for example, licking or hissing, but that doesn't mean that your cat doesn't love you as much as other cats love their owners. They simply aren't angry at you.
  • If your cat gently bites or scratches you, then licks you, this is a sign showing that they are sorry or didn't mean it.


  • Hold your cat carefully, not tightly when you pick him up. Holding too tightly may be seen as a sign of aggression and you could be severely scratched and hurt.
  • Urinating, spraying, and depositing feces in a prominent spot are often a cat's attempt to mark territory that he or she feels is being threatened by another cat or pet. It may also be an indication of urinary tract, bladder infection, or other serious health issues. If this is a problem, the cat may need to be treated, or separated from other cats. Consult your veterinarian.
  • All cats should be spayed or neutered as soon as they are old enough to avoid behavior problems and unwanted kittens. Male cats, in particular, should be altered before they are sexually mature to prevent spraying from becoming ingrained.

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