When it comes to working out what your favorite feline companion is trying to communicate, it can sometimes seem like we have our work cut out for us. While sometimes insinuated that cats aren't nearly as expressive as, for instance, dogs, nothing could be further from the truth.
What is true is that cat communication tends to be a little more nuanced - interpreting it requires more of a delicate observation in certain instances. Here, we'll take a look at some of the more common forms of cat behavior and how they relate to what Mittens is trying to get through to you.
Rolling around on her back
If your cat is spread on her back, rolling around on the floor, she is feeling particularly content. This is always a pleasure to behold as it's generally agreed to communicate that your cat is enjoying life, at least for the moment!
While this form of body languages signifies vulnerability and trust in her surroundings, it should not necessarily be interpreted as an open invitation to rub or scratch her belly. If you do fall prey to that temptation, you may find yourself with a few scratches of your own! In truth, many cats are extra sensitive when it comes to their stomachs, and often have an instinctive, knee-jerk reaction when it comes to being rubbed there.
When all is said and done, it's probably best to enjoy this sight from a distance!
Cat kneading is another classic behavior that owners quickly pick up on. This is often witnessed when a cat is trying to settle in or get comfortable, usually before a nap.
The theories differ on exactly why a cat kneads, but the most common seems to be that it is an instinctive winding-down behavior from kittenhood. Kittens will typically push or knead at their mother's nipples to stimulate milk flow. However, exactly how that translates to kneading your favorite blanket (or your new sweater) is up for debate.
Generally speaking, a purr indicates contentment and happiness, and is often employed as a social bonding tool when a cat is looking to get close to their owner. The sound itself appears to originate deep in the throat and is still a mystery to many a cat expert insofar as precisely how it's generated!
Do be aware however, that purring can also signify pain or nervousness. In this instance, a cat may purr to self-soothe, so it's important to always examine the context in which a cat is purring. If she appears happy and relaxed, chances are that she is simply expressing contentment.
Meowing and vocalizations
This is a fairly broad subject within the realm of cat behavior, and as such it should be subdivided.
A quick, upbeat meow or a "chirp" - this is often used as a greeting. It even sounds like a friendly hello! Cat owners will often hear this from their feline companion when they have returned home after a long day out.
A long, plaintive meow - this can indicate hunger, or loneliness. Giving your cat some love, affection, or kibbles will often do the trick.
An unpleasant caterwaul - this can signify that a cat is distressed or in pain. Sometimes they will be extra hungry or starved for attention. If you hear this, try giving your cat some TLC, or calm them down by stroking them gently over the top of the head. Oftentimes, a cat will quieten down once it is given what it wants.
It should be noted that cats don't typically meow to each other in the wild, so when they do, it can be a sign that they are trying to gain our attention, by showing that they too have a voice. In that sense, they may be attempting to mimic human speech. When their meows or vocalizations are acknowledged and responded to, the behavior is often reinforced. A cat may then store up that particular "tactic" for future use.
Ears flat back
We've all witnessed moments where our cat is alarmed or appears shocked or frightened, which usually involves a wide-eyed look accompanied by the ears pressed back, flat against the head.
As you might expect, this is a telltale sign of fear, often in response to commotion or a loud noise. Fortunately is usually only temporary, and a cat will settle back down once the sound or sight has passed.
This is also a fairly large topic in the cat world, and there are some basic things to watch out for:
A light trembling or trilling of the tail - this can indicate low grade irritation or stimulation.
A heavy side-to-side swishing - this is often a telltale sign of annoyance or anger.
A tail flat against the floor - this can indicate fear, or submissive behavior when a cat is feeling distressed or perhaps sensing the presence of another cat or human with a higher status than their own.
An upright tail with the tip forward- this is a classic cat greeting, often witnessed by owners. If your cat approaches you with its tail held tall and the tip arched forward (towards the head), she is expressing curiosity and openness. This behavior denotes that she is genuinely interested in you and feeling sociable. This type of friendly greeting definitely warrants a cuddle and a scratch behind the ears!
A hiss denotes anger and gives off a strong warning to not come any closer. This is often displayed when a cat is in a stressful situation such as trying to place them into a carrier, or when seeing another cat. Cats can be fiercely territorial, and may not welcome another of their kind trespassing on their area. The fear of having to share resources or compete for their owner's affection is a strong motivator for this type of behavior.
Some owners report seeing their cat swipe or scratch at them as they walk by. This can be upsetting as an owner may interpret it as aggression. Chances are that your cat simply wants your attention or feels like playing. Do not respond to this by way of anger or aggression, tempting as it may sometimes be. Instead, have your cat chase something such as a toy or laser pointer.
Spraying or marking elsewhere
Sometimes, a cat will urinate or defecate outside of their litter box. While an annoyance to owners, it can also give a clue as to how your cat is feeling. If she is in pain, feeling disgruntled, or their litter box is dirty, a cat may decide to act out in this way. Try cleaning the box, making it more easily accessible for your cat, and creating a calmer and more stable home environment for your cat where possible. Always remember that they enjoy stability and a peaceful, affectionate home life.
In short, it really is worth paying attention to the subtleties and behavioral nuances displayed by your cat. It will help a great deal if your goal is to forge and nurture a loving and long-standing relationship of trust and affection between you and your favorite fuzzball.