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Just for Kids: How Your Cat Communicates

By: Virginia Wells

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Do you ever wish your cat could talk to you? Wouldn't you like to know what he's thinking sometimes? Well, your cat "talks" to you all the time. If you pay attention, you may be able to "hear" him. Although he may not actually speak, your cat communicates in several different ways.

These are some of the ways your cat communicates:

Body Language

Just like humans, cats use body movements and facial expressions to let you and other cats know what's on his mind.

  • When your cat is relaxed and contented, he turns his ears forward, closes his eyes halfway and purrs.

  • When your cat is alert, his eyes open completely and his whiskers stand out.

  • When your cat is afraid, he draws his ears back and folds them down.

  • When your cat is feeling aggressive, he has flattened ears, taut facial muscles, bared teeth and dilated pupils. He also brings his whiskers forward.

  • When your cat feels threatened, he stares. In fact, when you look at your cat, it's a good idea to blink your eyes occasionally to let him know it is a friendly look.

  • When your cat feels threatened, he arches his back and puffs up his fur. This makes him appear larger to other cats.

  • If your cat trusts you, he may roll over and show you his belly. This is a very friendly sign. Don't try to rub his belly, though. He may not like that and may claw your hand.

    The Tail End

    Moving his tail is another way your cat "talks" to you.

  • Tail held erect for the full length – friendly greeting to another cat or human
  • Tail curves gently down, then up at the tip – cat relaxed and at peace with the world
  • Tail raised slightly and softly curved – cat becoming interested in something
  • Tail lowered and possibly tucked between the hind legs – sign of defeat or total submissiveness
  • Tail swishing from side to side – angry cat about to attack
  • Tail held still but with tip twitching – mild irritation

    Cat Talk

    Your cat may also use his voice to communicate. Cats make over 100 different vocal sounds, from meows to gurgles to purrs. The more you talk to your cat, the more he will talk back to you. Soon you will recognize his sounds and know what he wants.

    Generally, the more rapid, intense and loud your cat's sounds are, the more panicked, scared and anxious your cat may be. And the slower and less intense the sounds, the more confident or potentially assertive your cat is.

    Following Their Noses

    You've probably noticed your cat nuzzling up to you. He takes his face and rubs it against your hand or your face or even your foot. He may also nuzzle up to other things like chairs or his scratching post. It feels like a hug, doesn't it. What your cat is doing is leaving his scent through a special substance called a pheromone (fer'-a-mon). This substance is secreted from glands found on your cat's cheek (he also has these glands on underside of the paws and under his tail).

    Smells are one of the most important ways your cat learns about his environment and other cats in it. If your cat lived outside, he would use urine in addition to his pheromones to mark his territory. He would back up to some object, lift his tail and spray it with urine. This would leave a very strong odor that other cats would smell and know it was marked territory.

    When your cat deposits his scent around the house, it makes him feel comfortable. The house seems familiar to him. If you have more than one cat, you will notice them butting heads and rubbing their cheeks on each other. Only cats comfortable with each other will engage in mutual rubbing.

    I Love You

    Does your cat say I love you? I'll bet he does. When he wants to let you know he loves you he might nuzzle your face and touch your nose with his. Or he might bring you a "present" like a lizard that he has killed. Or he might just try to be with you wherever you are in the house. Your cat may do something else to say I love you. But I'll bet it's the easiest to understand of all.

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