What is Your Cat Trying to Say: Part I

Updated: Apr 11, 2019



Cats are very interesting creatures and each one of them has their own unique personality. Along with that comes their distinctive ways of communicating with you. Most of us know our cats fairly well and can tell when something is amiss; however, we could also be misinterpreting things. So, how DO our cats communicate with us? There are many ways and I’ll discuss a few in this article.


Purring

A cat's purr is generally within the range of 40 - 200 Hz. In sound therapy, these frequencies are believed to heal injuries and relieve pain.


The most common perception of purring is that it means your cat is happy and/or content. In a lot of cases that is true, but not always. For instance, with my previous cat, Ally, she did not like to be picked up. When I did pick her up for one reason or another, she purred like crazy, but it was because she was nervous. I was surprised to learn this was the case!


What are some of the reasons cats purr?

  • They are happy.

  • They are nervous.

  • Sometimes they purr when it’s mealtime: these purrs are usually accompanied by a bit of a meow as well.

  • Mother-kitten connection: purring can help a mother bond with a kitten and also serves as a sort of lullaby.

  • Relief and healing: many cats purr when they are in pain in order to soothe themselves. This has been likened to a baby sucking its thumb. This can also serve as a self-healing method for things such as healing bones and wounds, building and repairing muscles, to ease breathing, and to lessen pain and swelling. This might help to explain why cats can survive falls from high places or require less surgeries than dogs with similar injuries.

Did you know there are also human health benefits associated with a cat’s purr?

  • Stress relief: petting a purring cat is very calming and soothing.

  • Breathing: the sound of a cat purring eases shortness of breath in both cats and humans.

  • Blood pressure: interacting with a purring cat can help lower your blood pressure.

  • Bone healing: it’s been found that sound frequencies between 25 and 200 Hz promotes bone strength.

  • Heart attack: cat owners are at a 40% less risk of heart attack than a non cat owner.

  • Infections/Swelling: the vibrations associated with purring can help heal wounds on your body.

  • Muscles/Tendons: those same vibrations can help sooth soft tissue injuries.

Meowing

Meowing is an interesting vocalization in that adult cats don't actually meow at each other, just at people. Kittens meow to let their mother know they're cold or hungry, but once they get a bit older, cats no longer meow to other cats.

I have found that meows in cats are like cries in babies. After a short while, you will begin to be able to decipher what your cat needs or wants according to the particular way they are meowing.

So, what are some of the reasons your cat might be meowing?

  • They are hurt: While most of the times cats are really good at hiding their symptoms from you when they aren’t feeling well, they will definitely let you know if you touch them or pick them up in a way that causes them pain. Also, if they are meowing excessively it could be because there is something medically wrong. You probably know your cat well enough to know if these extra vocalizations are out of the ordinary and need attention.

  • They are saying hello: Sometimes, a meow from your cat can simply be a greeting, either when you return home or even if you just encounter one another in a room. I know with Ally, I would sometimes come into a room where she was sleeping or resting and she would meow to me in greeting. I loved that feeling!

  • They are hungry: Never fear. Your cat will never be shy about meowing at food time. In fact, their meows might even be exaggerated and loud, especially as you prepare the food or present it to them. They just get really excited. Jessica’s cat, Charming, has a very distinct two note meow when he is excited about feeding time. I find it cute and very endearing. Also, cats are very routine oriented and if you are involved in a project or are distracted and you miss their feeding time, do not be surprised if they are very persistently meowing to remind you.

  • They want attention: Sometimes people forget since cats are pets that they can be very similar to human children. They want attention and affection. Also, just like people, cats get bored if they aren’t stimulated. Therefore, they may meow at you if they are trying to get your attention or are wanting you to play with them.

  • There is a closed door: Cats are NOT fans of closed doors. The fact is, they may not even actually want to be IN that particular room, but they want to know what’s going on in there. They are not only very curious creatures, but they also want to be near you. I am sure all of you cat parents have experienced the incessant meowing outside of the bathroom door, or even the paw under the door, to express how they cannot believe you would have the nerve to leave them out of whatever you might be doing in there.

  • They are in heat: A female cat in heat will meow incessantly. Spay. Spay. Spay!

  • They are stressed: It is very common for a cat to meow a lot and loudly when they are stressed. A good example of this is something I’m sure most of us have experienced and that is the famed car ride to the vet where they meow the entire way.

  • They are angry: This sound is really more of a yowl and usually happens when cats are fighting or if they are startled enough. Sometimes this can happen if you accidentally step on their tails.

  • Being alone: When cats are left alone for extended periods of time they can become very anxious and when this happens they can meow quite incessantly.

  • Aging: Sometimes as cats age and begin to lose their cognitive functions they can become disoriented and confused. This can cause them to meow as well. An old cat meow is very distinctive, any senior cat owner can tell you it's easy to know if it's the old cat talking even from another room.

Chirping/Trilling

Chirps and trills are melodic little noises that cats make, usually to indicate that they want you to follow them. Mother cats direct this towards their kittens. If your cat does this, it is often to direct you to what they view as an empty food bowl. I have seen the cats go to the window and mimic birds and things like that, but I have never actually experienced true chirping until I rescued a Maine Coon. He is the most talkative cat I have ever encountered. He chirps when he lays down, when he gets up, when he turns over, meows when he uses the litter box, chirps when he comes into a room, etc. I find it very endearing and it’s fun to have “conversations” with him.


Hissing

Hissing is usually a sound cats make out of fear. While it seems quite intimidating and does serve as a warning, please try to be gentle and understanding if your cat hisses at you. There must be something that is making them fearful so do your best to put them at ease.


Growling

When a cat growls, this is usually a warning. This can be directed at other cats, humans or other animals. Reasons for this can be fear, anger or territoriality. Be a bit more careful when a cat is growling. I would keep some distance and once again, try to figure out what might be triggering it.


Biting

There are several reasons a cat might bite. Most of the time they are just playing with you and some cats even bite you ever so gently and then lick you afterwards as if to say, I’m only playing...I didn’t mean it.


There are cases, however, where cats will nip at you to get your attention. My cat currently does this and I am struggling with finding a way to redirect his attention. The advice is to redirect with a toy or to spray them with water if they don’t respond.



The same advice is given for rough play. Do not use toys that bring attention to the hands such as gloves or toys that dangle from your fingers. This makes your cat associate your hands with playtime and they will bite you even when it’s not playtime, as your hands are presented to them as toys. If they start to get too rough, the best advice is to just walk away from them completely. Cats love their playtime and if they get the hint that whenever they start to bite playtime is over, they will adjust their behavior.


Aggressive biting is a bit more of a rare occurrence, though it is often confused with rough playing. If your cat is truly being aggressive, growling and hissing will most likely accompany this behavior.


Whichever the case, do not physically punish your cat for rough play. This can either cause them to become fearful of you or turn actual play into real aggression. Though it seems odd, ignoring your cat for a while is the best punishment. Also note: do not pick up your cat to put them in another room when they are in bite mode. They will most definitely think you are playing and will be even more persistent in biting your hands. You simply immediately stop with play and leave the room.

Headbutting

This is a way for cats to bond with you and mark you with their scent. Cats do that by activating the scent glands, which excrete pheromones on the area of their head just above the eye but below the ear. Cats are simply making you smell like them so you are part of their colony.


What is your cat saying with its tail?

You can figure out how to gauge your cat’s moods by learning what he or she is saying to you with their tails. Have a look at the handy chart below and use it as a guide.



Exposing the Tummy

If your cat is exposing its tummy to you, feel honored! This is a sign of trust and shows they are completely relaxed around you, they are exposing their most vulnerable area. However, be careful not to fall into this trap. There is nothing more tempting than seeing that fluffy exposed tummy and wanting to pet it! However, most cats do not respond well to this and will let you know that. This is mostly likely when any rabbit kicking will take place.


So saying, some cats DO allow you to pet their tummies. Pay attention to their vocalization and get to know your cat before you try this, however.


I could go on and on for days about ways your cat is communicating with you, but there will be other articles and other specific things to touch on later. In the meantime, I hope you have enjoyed this piece and I hope you have learned a bit about what your cat is saying to you.


To learn more about ways your cat is communicating with you, visit the following links:

www.humanesociety.org/animals/cats/tips/cat_communication.html

nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/04/your-cat-is-trying-to-talk-to-you.html

www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/10-strange-cat-behaviors-explained

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