A cat owner talks on the phone while her pet relaxes beside her.

How Do Cats Communicate With Humans?

Overview of Cat Communication

Cats have unique ways to communicate with humans and with each other. Cats are mysterious creatures that are fascinating to watch as they interact with each other and with humans. Everything they do is a form of cat communication in one way or another. The way they move their bodies, look around the room, look at you, open or close their eyes, position of their tail, overall body position and gestures and so much more is telling you something.

By carefully observing your cat’s behavior and movements, you can understand many of their moods including happy, relaxed, loving, angry, agitated, angry or fearful.

Training You to Better Understand Your Cat’s Mood

Below are ways cats use their bodies, gestures, and movements to show some common feelings. Below are ways to read a cat to help you better understand how cats communicate with humans and with each other.

Happy Cat

Cats that are happy often have a contented demeanor, alert ears, relaxed tails, with their body facing you. Their ears will generally face forward with their tails either straight up or in a relaxed position behind them. The tail is still. They will generally hold their head toward you and sometimes extend their necks to encourage a touch or pet. Happy and relaxed cats will commonly rub up against objects or you and they may purr.

Loving Cat

Cats that want to show their love to humans will often walk in front of you back and forth entwining themselves around your legs. They are communicating a need for love, attention and potentially a snack. Head rubbing, also known as bunting, is a loving signal that involves marking with special biological scents, called pheromones.

Relaxed Cat

Relaxed cats are fun to look at. They are content and readily show their vulnerabilities. They will sleep curled up in a ball with their paws tucked in and under. Sometimes they will have their head to the side with a paw over the eyes. Some relaxed cats will lay on their sides stretched out with their belly partially exposed or even sleep on their back with all four feet in the air which is a sign of relaxation and trust. Relaxed cats will also have a good stretch in front of you which is a sign of vulnerable and trust. Their eyes may be half-closed and they may purr. There is no tension in their bodies.

Cat Ready for Aggressive Attack

Cats that take on an aggressive posture are ready for attack. Aggressive cats will lower their bodies to the ground with their ears rotated back and flat against their heads with very focused eyes on their target. The tail will be low or raised with the hair raised, which is sometimes called a bottlebrush tail sign. Some cats will thump their tails or quickly move them back and forth as their agitation increases. Some cats may not vocalize at all while others will vocalize with growls, hiss or a screech. We sometimes call this “offensive aggression”.

Agitated Cat

A cat that is getting agitated will stiffen his body, straighten his legs, with a tail that is stiff but can be straight or curled. They overall go from a relaxed posture to one of tension. Some cats will be silent while others will hiss or growl. As they get more agitated, they can quickly go into either an aggressive or angry posture.

Cat Ready on Attack Defense

Cats that take on this defensive posture are responding to a potential attack. We sometimes call this “defensive aggression”. A cat will recoil or cower back, ears back and nearly flat against the head, and head withdrawn. The legs are pulled tight against the body. The facial muscles are tense, often displaying teeth. If the cat is also going offensive, it will appear as described above.

Scared or Fearful Cat

The frightened cat shares some similarities to the aggressive cat, depending on the level of fear or anger. Scared cats will arch their backs and the hair on their tail and the back will stand straight up trying to make themselves appear as large as possible. Other cats will get into a crouching position with their back feet firmly planted ready to run if they need to. Some cats will stick their tails straight up in the air. The cat’s pupils will often dilate to allow them to better see and respond to a threat.

Annoyed Cat

A cat that is annoyed will flatten his ears and stiffen his body posture. The tip of their tail may begin to switch and they may vocalize into a low growl. They will often withdraw their attention from whatever is annoying them and often move away. If you continue petting your cat when he is annoyed, the next step is a swat or a bite. Another signal of annoyance in some cats can be urine marking and furniture scratching.

Predator Cat

The sequence of the predator cat is to stalk, pounce, kill, remove and then eat their prey. When a cat is in stocking mode, they will move slowly, often with pauses while they “wait”. They will sometimes shift weight in the rear legs as they get ready for a quick sprint and pounce action. Then the cat pounces, he lifts off with his back feet and pounces on their prey. Once he catches the prey, he quickly kills it with a fatal bite then takes off to a safe location where they do not feel vulnerable and exposed to have their snack.

Angry Cat

The angry cat shares many of the same visual cues with the scared cat. They will fluff up and arch their backs to make themselves appear as big as possible. They will often flick their tail tip quickly. The angry cat may be silent or hiss and/or growl. Their legs are stiff and tense; ears go from relaxed to flat against their heads. Their eyes are focused and pupils may be narrow.

Grooming Cat

The grooming cat is generally relaxed and can manipulate themselves into a variety of positions to lick their fur. Cats have barbs on their tongue that helps loosen tangled hair, remove parasites, and clean their fur. Grooming is a natural behavior that can provide comfort and help them stay cool in hot weather. Grooming can take up almost half of their waking hours.

How to Communicate With Your Cat

One way you can communicate with your cat is through eye contact. Direct eye contact with a blink can suggest love and affection. When a cat looks at you and blinks, they are communicating affection and comfort to you.

You can also offer treats and loving pats as a way to communicate your love.

How Smart Cats Are

Cats are smart, probably smarter than you think. In fact, cats have twice as many neurons as dogs. Learn more about feline intelligence in this article How Smart Are Cats? Everything You Need to Know.

Cats get a bad rap when it comes to their intelligence sometimes because they are so independent and choose not to come running when called. Learn more about Why Don’t Cats Listen When They’re Called?

Cats also have amazing ways to communicate but you have to be able to read their language of communication. Here are two fascinating articles:

List of the Most Intelligent Breeds of Cats

Have you ever wondered which cat breeds are smartest? Find out.