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Your cat is definitely trying to tell you something if they're meowing every morning at 6 a.m. until you get up to feed them, or they're backed into a corner with their tail puffed up when your friend brings their dog over. But because cats are less domesticated than dogs, they're generally more complex, mysterious, and difficult for us to understand.
Cats are just generally "more" than dogs in a lot of ways, and that's part of what makes cat people love them so much. But if you haven't grown up around cats, you might have some trouble speaking their language. After all, cats communicate with us in a wide variety of ways. Here's how to interpret cat language, according to two veterinarians.
You can learn a lot from their body language and sounds
Sean McCormack, head veterinarian at subscription dog food brand Tails and author of The Happy Dog Cookbook, tells Woman's Day that a cat's main vocalization is the classic "meow," which is reserved just for humans. "It’s usually a generic attention seeking cry," McCormack said. A meow usually means something like “Feed me!," "Stroke me!," or "Notice me!”
When it comes to their body language, cats will rub themselves against us, often with their head, neck, and chin, "to bond with us or perhaps even mark us as their own," McCormack said. "Cats produce a pheromone called Feline Facial Fraction F3 from glands around the chin and neck, and it’s calming to them to have this in their environment. Hence their rubbing on surroundings, including furniture and people."
Dr. Caroline Wilde, a veterinarian with Trupanion, which provides medical insurance for pets, tells Woman's Day that when you're looking at a cat's postural cues, you should look at the cat's whole body. "Don't just pay attention to the eyes or the position of the head, but look at the whole position of the cat as a whole," she said. "When a cat is friendly and relaxed, it's more likely to have a relaxed posture, whereas a cat that's fearful or anxious is more likely to crouch and lean back."
Here's what the heck is up with purring
It's not hard to figure out that purring is seen as a sign of contentment and happiness in cats. Wilde noted that researchers have done studies to figure out what exactly purring is and how cats do it and it's still not totally clear. "They do know that it's not specific to one part of the cat body, but it is caused by vibrations in the throat area," she said. It's less of a vocal cue, and more a sound made by the vibrations of the cat's throat.
Usually we associate it with cats being happy, content, or relaxed, but cats also use purring to self-sooth, Wilde said. "I've had cats that are really scared purr while they're sitting on the exam table, or even cats that are really sick will be purring."