You might not always know what your cat is trying to say, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t trying to convey certain feelings, moods, or preferences. Indeed, their behaviors and proclivities can be quickly translated from feline to human if you know some the basics of cat communication.

Beyond the Meow

Cats use all their senses in their day-to-day routines. They rely heavily on their hearing, eyesight, and smell to understand the world around them. When it comes to communication, they employ vocalization and body language to get their point across. Recognizing this, we can get a little closer to knowing – and better appreciating – our cats.

Cat Voice

Amazingly, cats don’t really meow to one another in the wild (save for young kittens vying for their mother’s attention). Instead, domestic felines typically only meow when in the presence of humans. Why? Because it works! They meow when they’re hungry, looking for a snuggle partner, or when they want to go outside. In short, they meow to let us know they need something. Brilliant!


Cats also use their voices to yowl (think yelling and howling combined), whine, growl, snarl, cry, trill, and chirp. These sounds may be called upon when hunting, preventing an attack, or as battle-cries when launching into a territorial fight. It’s important to note, these vocalizations can signal a range of things from wanting attention to warning us of danger, so always be on the lookout for potential threats.

Little Purr-Balls

Everyone’s familiar with the sound of happy, contented purring, but it’s less common to associate this with pain or fear. Possibly employed as a method of self-soothing, purring is a major component of cat communication. Don’t be alarmed if you notice it in conjunction with fighting, physical injury, or illness.

Visual Cues

Body language is a highly effective means of cat communication, and people can learn a lot by observing how their cat positions their body:

  • Eyes – Dilated pupils usually signal anger or aggression. Eyes that are half-closed convey absolute comfort. Lastly, a slow eye blink directed at their owner is full of love and affection.
  • Ears – Flattened, pinned-back ears signal aggression or defensiveness. Erect ears show alertness or curiosity.
  • Body – Puffed up body fur is supposed to make a cat look bigger, especially when approached by another animal. With an arched back and puffy tail, cats immediately go on the offensive. Alternatively, a scared cat wants to look smaller and will sort of ball themselves up.
  • Tail – A twitchy, straight up and down tail is attached to a happy cat. A swishing, lowered tail signals a possible attack. A neutral feline holds their tail up or slightly downwards, but never puffed up (that’s reserved for perceived threats).
  • Head – Tactile cat communication can take the form of head-butting, rubbing against your legs, or attempting to groom you.

Olfactory Cat Communication

Scent plays a large role among cats. Leaving scent markers helps them map out their environment and signals to other cats to keep on moving down the block. Interestingly, cat owners are staked out just like property. With scent glands on their chin, forehead, and paws, your cat will mark you, identifying you as “home.”

In Tune

Knowing what constitutes normal cat communication will help you discern whether your cat is suffering from an illness or injury. If you ever notice any changes in how your cat communicates, we encourage you to contact us. Our team is always here for you and your pet!