Cats communicate with each other and their owners in a myriad of ways, many of which may go unnoticed if signals are mis-read or ignored. Things like a deep or light purr, for example, relay a different message to the purree (the one who is listening). According to Sarah Hartwell’s article, “Cat Communication,” a loud purr usually indicates an invitation for closer contact, while a lower one may mean just general contentment. There are more than 30 different “meows,” and their number and variety depend upon the degree of communication between the cat and other cats and those of us who are non-cats and walk on two legs (most of the time). Cats are intelligent and they do learn, through trial and error, which meows elicit specific responses. For those cats that communicate more with other felines than humans, their form of “Catineese” is limited mainly to scent and body language.
The first language a kitten learns is that of smell. Each cat has its own scent and a kitten can instinctively recognize its own. This scent is transferred through licking and cleaning to everything the cat comes in contact with, and it is this tool that “marks” humans and objects in the cat’s world. A new cat in a household of other cats must mix its scent in with the others in order to be accepted. Even a blind cat can navigate through its memory and scenting ability.
Body language is used to convey a message of either avoidance or confrontation. It must be read in its entirety in order to understand the complete message. The position of a cat’s head, for example, if stretched forward may be encouraging touch, but if it is lowered may signal aggressive action. Head signals must be read in conjunction with the tail in order to fully understand them. If the tail is up, it is a sign of friendliness, if bristling and erect, a sign of fright. If the cat is anxious, its ears move slightly back and flatten down. The more anxious, the flatter the ears until they are lying straight backwards, which indicates total terror. If one ear is flattened and the other isn’t, your kitty is experiencing the human condition of ambivalence, and isn’t sure yet how to react to whatever is going on.
Read more about cat language and signals, and while you will may not make the world safer for democracy, you will make it a nicer place to live in for your cat!