Communicating with your cat is not simply a parlor trick you can perform to amuse your dinner guests. It's an important part of training your cat and reinforcing your bond with her.

Teaching your cat simple commands like "DOWN" and "NO!" will make her a better pet, while words like "Treats!" and "Dinner!" will help her associate you with something pleasurable.

Cats rarely vocalize with other cats (other than to hiss and growl at trespassers); they reserve verbal interaction for humans.

Feline language is a complex mix of facial expression, tail position, ear position and other forms of body language in addition to scent and sound. Cats learn to make demands of us by observing which of their sounds cause which human responses.

Understanding Your Cat

Some cats (like the Oriental breeds) are vocal and have extensive vocabularies. Other cats scarcely "speak" at all, or have a one-size-fits-all yowl that covers all the bases.

Whether your cat is vocal or not, she will be fluent in body language, a key component of her interactions with you and other animals. By tuning in to both her body and her voice, you can learn to differentiate between "Feed me" and "HELP! Timmy's in the well!"

The following vocalizations are fairly common to most cats:

  • Short meow: "Hey, how ya doin'?"
  • Multiple meows: "I'm so happy to see you! Where've you been? I missed you!"
  • Mid-pitch meow: A plea for something, usually dinner, treats, or to be let outside.
  • Drawn-out mrrraaaaaoooow: "Did you forget to feed me, you idiot? I want dinner NOW!" or similar demand.
  • Low pitched mraaooww: "You are so lame. The service around here sucks," or similar complaint.
  • High-pitch RRRROWW!: "OUCH!!! YOU STEPPED ON MY TAIL YOU IMBECILE!"
  • Purr: Most often a sign of contentedness, but can also be used when in pain or afraid -- an instinctual response to hide weakness from predators.
  • Hiss: "Steer clear. I'm angry and I'm not afraid to draw blood."
  • Clicking sounds: Cats who are tracking prey will make a distinctive clicking sound.

Most Cats Use the Following Gestures to Communicate:

The Tail:
  • Tail straight up or straight up with a curl at the end: Happy.
  • Tail twitching: Excited or anxious.
  • Tail vibrating: Very excited to see you.
  • Tail fur sticks straight up while the tail curls in the shape of an N: Extreme aggression.
  • Tail fur sticks straight up but the tail is held low: Aggression or frightened.
  • Tail held low and tucked under the rear: Frightened.
Eyes:
  • Dilated pupils: Very playful or excited. It can also indicate aggression.
  • Slowly blinking eyes: Affection, the equivalent of blowing a kiss.
Head:
  • Ears pinned back: Fear, anxiety, aggression
  • Tongue flicking: Worry, apprehension
  • Rubbing head, flank and tail against a person or animal: Greeting ritual, ownership claim
  • Head-butting: Friendliness, affection
  • Face sniffing: Confirming identity
  • Wet nose kiss: Affection
  • Licking...