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The language of cats: Deciphering 9 signs to help you understand your cat

By Emilie Heyl Content Writer

Updated on the

Since they can’t talk, cats communicate with one another and their owners in their own language. Facial expressions, sounds, body language: it is not always easy to understand what your cat means

Learning to read your cat is fascinating. The cat’s behaviour is full of mystery, you will need to know what his body language mean. Look at the cat’s eyes, body posture, body and tail to understand when your cat is letting you he loves you, is happy or on the contrary is anxious or ill.

Here are 9 deciphered feline behaviours that will help better understand your cat and how to meet his needs

1. Purring

Purring is the most known characteristic of cats. It is associated with pleasure, purring is a sign of well-being and relaxation. If your cat purrs when he is snuggled up, it’s because he is happy and is enjoying this tender moment.

Good to know: Sometimes, a cat’s purr can be a sign of pain. For example, cats can sometimes purr whilst giving birth.

2. Meowing

Kittens have 16 ways of meowing but adults cats have just 9! These can be divided into two categories, positive and negative.

Positive meowing: When a cat meows almost continuously without any pauses, this signifies that he is excited.

Negative meowing: When the meow is short with long pauses. This is a more worrying scenario when the cat is calling for help.

3. Rubbing against your legs

When your cat rubs himself against you, it is a way of marking his territory. It is his way to show his affection. “This is where he leaves his territorial pheromones on us. But he’s also picking up our own pheromones that we release at our feet.” explains Marie-Hélène Bonnet, cat behaviourist.

4. Yawning

A yawning cat is not a bored or stressed cat. Yawning is a sign of absolute relaxation.

5. Rolling onto his back

If your cat rolls onto his back and shows you his tummy it is because he trusts you and is asking to be stroked. However, a cat lying on its back is also a submissive cat, in a state of fear. Cats who have been abused may act like this. Cat loves to get cuddles, but be aware of his body posture when he gets fed up.

6. Wagging his tail

Cats have several ways of wagging their tail: if he swings his tail slowly when he sees you, he is just saying hello. On the other hand, if he moves his tail quickly and nervously from right to left, he is angry and ready to attack. "Beware, some breeds move their tail in joy like dogs, they are rare but it happens" underlines the behaviourist.

7. Hissing and/or spitting

When a cat hisses or spits he is being aggressive because perhaps he feels threatened. It is not uncommon to see a cat hissing or spitting at another when defending his territory. Equally, he could act like this when hunting. However, if your cat is acting like this towards you, it is best not to approach him as he may attack.

“In this case, get changed and have a shower and if the cat continues, it is best to check his health with a vet, and if it persists, consult a behaviourist” advises Marie-Hélène Bonnet.

8. Biting

There can be many reasons for a cat to bite. For example, cats that have not been socialised from a young age can react aggressively towards people. This can lead to biting if the cat does not like to be touched.

Territorial aggression, pain and stress or even age could explain why a cat bites. If your cat has bitten you, consider whether you have done anything in particular to upset him. If your cat bites a lot, you should consider visiting an animal behaviourist.

9. Attempting to scratch you

You must not forget that at their origin, cats are predators. For a cat, catching things is instinctive. So if your cat tries to catch your ankles of scratch your feet etc, it is his way of channeling his instinct on what is nearby… in other words, you!

“Avoid playing with your cat using your hands and feet, it is better to use toys if he has a tendency to scratch, this can result from poor social weaning and means the cat may not know his limits” Marie-Hélène Bonnet explains.

Good to know: For your cat to stop scratching you, it can help to find some sources of distraction that will let him unwind. Play with him for as little as fifteen minutes a day using a feather duster or a toy mouse and you will soon see the difference.

“Postures etc only work if seen. The main communication method used by cats is olfactory, using pheromones, which are detectable for months after they are deposited" the behaviourist remarks.

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