Cat Dictionary: The Meaning of Cat Gestures

How fun is it if you can talk to your cat and vice versa? Now you can make sense of their puzzling behavior – like why they are being loud all of a sudden when there is absolutely nothing wrong in the house or why they keep trying to lick your face like you’re a giant piece of tuna.

Guess what, while you can’t talk to cat, you can actually understand the meaning behind certain cat’s gesture. This way, you can guess what they want from you and give them exactly what they need. It’s satisfying exchange for both you and your cat. So, are you interested to learn more about cat language? If you are, here is the list of cat gestures currently known to human and their meaning.

Part 1: The Meow

There is only one word in cat’s language: meow. This is a multifunction word and to translate it, you’ll have to look at the other clue – the situation, the tone, and the body language – to create the context. When a cat is hungry, she will say “meow”, when she feels like playing with you, she will say “meow”, when she wants you to pet him, she’ll say “meow” too.

Whatever the translation means, the meow has one big meaning: your cat wants you to look at her and pay attention. She will later guide you to what she wants you to do from there on – she may indicates you to follow her to her empty food bowl (then she’ll want a refill) or she may leap on your lap and proceeds to nap there.

Meow is a language cat use to specifically communicate with human. When cat interacts with other cats, rather than using meow, she will use body language, touch, hiss, or even yowl. So, when your cat is meowing, you know that she is talking to you and want you to look at her.

Part 2: The Sound

The sound is easier to interpret than the meow since there are several of them and each of them has their own meaning. The sound range (from the calmest to the most agitated) from purr, hiss, to howl (or yowl).

Purring sound comes from the cat when she is feeling content. You will usually hear this sound when she is napping, after eating, or when doing nothing. This is a good clue that your cat currently has everything she wants – she is full, happy, and not in pain.

Hissing is a sign that your cat feels annoyed or threatened and wants you (or whatever it is standing on her way) to move. Kitten makes this sound as they aren’t capable to howl when you approach them and they aren’t familiar with you. Mother cat may make this sound as well when you are getting too close with her kittens. Cat in general may throw hiss at you if you disturb them (particularly when they’re eating) or force them to do something they don’t want to (bathing or nail trimming – yikes!).

If the cat is howling, she is usually in distress. She may get stuck somewhere she can’t get out or climb down or she may be in pain. Either way, she needs you and it is urgent. If you have no idea how that sounds; imagine howling sounds as a loud and long hoarse meow.

If your cat is not neutered but howls in the middle of the night, it’s more likely that he is looking for a partner in mating. If your cat is old and suddenly howling in the middle of the house when nothing is seemingly wrong, it can be a symptom of senility or dementia.

Part 3: The Body Language

Body language is more diverse even than the sounds. You can pick up clue from their eyes, ears, tail, and posture.

Cat’s ear moves according to the emotion she feels. If the ear is pointing forward, it means the cat is feeling excited and ready to do something exciting (like pouncing on a poor mouse toy). She is also being alert of her surroundings. If the ear is pointing backward, it means the opposite. She is feeling unhappy, angry, or frightened. She has switched into defensive mode. If the ear is moving, swiveling, it means she is observing the surrounding using her hearing.

You can read cat’s emotion through her eyes. Her pupil constricts when she feels there is no danger around. She is content and happy. However, if her pupil is somewhat dilated, she is nervous or showing submissive sign. If her pupil is full-blown dilated, she is angry.

Cat’s tail speaks more than his meow. If the tail is erect but the fur is flat, the cat is happy and excited. She may also feel curious and is planning something. If the fur is standing, the cat is angry and wants to assert dominance. If the tail is limp and stuck between his hind legs, she is afraid and shows her submissiveness.

You may notice your cat arching his back from time to time. If he is arching his back when you touch him and his fur is standing, it means he is angry and want your hands off. If he is arching his back but his fur is flat, it means he is happy and is enjoying your touch.

Part 4: The Action

This is the trickier part of cat’s language. Cat’s action may range from cute to puzzling to annoying. Here are the most common actions you may get from a cat: rubbing, nose-touching, kneading, and licking.

Kneading is when your cat makes kneading motion with her paws. This is a leftover instinctive gesture from her kitten days when she milked her mother. When adult cat does this, it means that she is feeling very happy and content.

Cat rubs their body to something to mark her possession. When she does this to you, well, she is claiming you as her possession. Cat does rubbing to everything – the furniture, the wall, the floor. When they rub their body with you, that’s what they have in mind.

Nose touching means – once again – marking her territory, but in more serious way. Cat has a special gland located near upper gum, and by touching you with his nose, she wants to mark you by rubbing this gland to your skin.

Finally, licking is the final form of marking her possession. She loves you and trusts you and she wants to make you hers and she wants the world to know about it. You should be proud when your cat does this. Cat rubs their body to every surface they want to claim, but they only lick their kitten to show possession.

If she licks you, then you’re officially adopted by her (remember, not the other way around). However, make sure you didn’t just prepare her food and had some leftover on your skin, because in that case the cat just doesn’t want to waste food.

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