By Dr. Becker
Cats have a reputation for being silent and difficult to know, unlike dogs, who are typically much more vocal and physically demonstrative.
Of course, some cats are more outspoken than others and as their guardians will attest, do indeed communicate with their meows and other vocalizations.
Whether your feline friend is a chatty cat or the strong silent type, learning about his body language, behavior, and the sounds he makes can deepen the bond you share with him, and improve communication between you.
The good news is that it's not really that difficult to learn to read many of Tiger's communication signals, including what that look in his eyes means, or the tone of his meow, or the position of his ears, or the way he's holding or moving his tail.
Interpreting Your Cat's Vocalizations
Cats actually have a rather extensive repertoire of vocalizations. You may know the difference between your cat's dinnertime meow, for example, and the way she sounds if she's frightened or annoyed. But many kitty sounds and intonations are more subtle and don't fit a particular pattern, which can make them harder to interpret.
Here's a cheat sheet for decoding some common kitty chatter:1
Vocalization How It Sounds What It Means Translation Meow The classic mee-yoww Usually just a shout-out to whoever is around "Hey there!" Purr Similar to a low idling motor; made by contracting the muscles of the larynx A sign of contentment in most cats; rarely, a sign of anxiety or illness "Backrub feels great… don't stop!" Murmur Soft rhythmic "thump" made on exhalation A request or greeting "Pet me?" Growl, hiss, spit Low-pitched, severe, "I mean business" sound Kitty is feeling fearful, stressed, defensive, or aggressive "Back off!" Shriek or screech High-pitched, loud, harsh scream Kitty is either in pain or about to cause some "Ouch!"
"Don't touch me!" "Get away from me!"
Chatter Teeth chattering; jaw vibrating Feline hunting sound; frustration from being unable to hunt visible prey "Let me at it… let me at it… let me at it!" Howl or yowl Loud, drawn out calls Cognitive dysfunction in older cats; aggression; distress "Where are you?"
"Where am I?"
"Why am I yelling?"
Moan Long, low, throaty cry Prelude to vomiting, bringing up a hairball "Get here quick I'm about to make a mess!"
Reading Feline Facial Expressions
Now let's take a look at Miss Kitty's facial expressions, because they are also important in understanding her moods and how she's feeling:2
Facial Feature How It Looks What It Means Eyes Constricted pupils Kitty is either content, or he's on the offensive and could become aggressive Slightly dilated pupils Kitty is feeling nervous and/or submissive Fully dilated pupils Either defensively aggressive, or aroused and feeling playful Ears Angled forward It's all good (kitty is feeling alert, interested, happy, and/or relaxed) Erect and turned so the opening points to the side Irritable, stressed, and/or potentially aggressive Flattened, tipped backward, or sideways Fearful, frightened, irritable, and/or stressed Pivoting Kitty is alert, attentive, and/or listening to every sound Mouth Closed Kitty is relaxed Open tight with teeth showing, or wide open with hissing or spitting Indicates fear and potential aggression Slightly open with flicking tongue and lips curled back slightly Kitty smells something unfamiliar
Understanding Your Cat's Body Language
Finally, the way your cat holds his body can also give you information about how he's feeling and whether he might need reassurance, some space, or a nice kitty massage:3
Body Part How It Looks What It Means Back Arched with fur standing on end Kitty is very fearful and defensively aggressive Arched with flat fur Kitty is asking to be petted, stroked Lying on back purring Relaxed and looking for a tummy rub… or maybe not Lying on back growling and visibly upset Prepare to be scratched or bitten Head Held high Kitty may be feeling neutral, confident, happy… or aggressive Low or pulled toward the back Fearful, submissive Tail Erect, with fur laying flat Kitty is alert, curious, and/or happy Horizontal Either relaxed or unsure Vertical and quivering Kitty is feeling happy, excited, and may be about to urine mark Vertical, tense, with fur standing on end Angry or frightened Held very low or tucked between legs Kitty is feeling insecure, anxious, and/or fearful Jerking back and forth Kitty is not happy and potentially aggressive