Cat Communication: More than Just Meows, He Speaks Purr-fect Body Language

cat communication

Our pets – especially our cats – often find unique and intuitive ways to communicate with us, and, at other times, the message is much more easily conveyed. For example, when your cat stands near his food bowl and meows in a demanding way, it’s fairly obvious what he is suggesting to you.  “Feed me!”  Other means of cat  communication are not as obvious. He may seem moody, depressed or even standoffish.  He may suddenly stop using his litter box or react strangely to a fight between you and your spouse.

Cats are attuned to sounds, sights and smells in a far superior manner than humans. Emotionally, cats sense positive and negative moods swings in humans and in other animals. The challenge for us, then, is to be receptive to what our cats are trying to communicate to us, as their vocal range is somewhat limited.

Your cat is actually bi-lingual. While he can speak though his vocal repertoire (purrs, hisses, growls, chirps and trills), he often relies more on his body language to send a message.  Does your cat arch his back when you bend down to pet him? Consider that a pleasurable response.  Does he shy away at the slightest touch? Save the petting for later!

Cat Communication:  Eyes, Ears, Body

The Humane Society educates us to look to our cat’s eyes, ears, body and tail – all of which collectively and independently tell a great story. Forward ears mean he is alert; backward falling ears suggest irritation or anger; swiveling ears mean he is taking in all the sounds around him.


Dilated pupils may point to being nervous or submissive, perhaps even somewhat aggressive if fully dilated.


A cat standing with his back arched and fur standing on end indicates he’s angry or fearful.  Back arched and fur flattened? Let the petting begin!  Is your cat is lying on his back and purring? He’s content and relaxed. A cat growling in this position, indicates a strike may be imminent!


Is your cat’s tail erect with the fur flat? He is most likely happy or curious. Fur standing on end, however, indicates a cat is frightened or angry. A cat’s tail thrashing back and forth, signals agitation. The faster the tail moves, the angrier he is!

Cat Communication: When Cats Are Happy

Does your cat rub up against you with his chin and/or body? That is a strong message of love….to an extent.  He is also marking his territory. In fact, he will most likely rub everything in his domain – the chair, the door, his toys – you name it. This is his way of saying “Mine,” while also communicating endearment towards you!

And a tell-tale sign of pure happiness and joy comes in the form of kneading, when the cat works his paws on a soft surface, mimicking the kneading of bread dough. Cats develop this habit as kittens.  When your grown cat does this, it is highly indicative of a happy kitty!

What types of messages do you receive from your cat outside of the vocal ones, and what do they mean to you?

Written by Ann Butenas

Ann Butenas

An internationally-recognized author and writer, Ann began her professional writing career at age 12 and began speaking while in college. She has been published thousands of times over the past three decades in all media forms, was former editor and publisher of KC Metro Woman magazine, and has also hosted three talk radio shows in the Kansas City area.