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Cat communication

A primary method by which cats communicate is through body language, such as the position of the ears.

Cat communication is the range of methods by which cats communicate with other cats, humans, and other animals. Communication methods include postures, movement (including "quick, fine" movements not generally perceived by human beings), noises and chemical signals.[1]

The communication methods used by cats have been affected by the domestication process.[2]


Auditory communication methods

Cats vocalize with purrs, growls, hissing and meows. Meows are one of the most widely known cat sounds. In nature, the meow is a sound used by a cat to signal a request to its mother. Adult cats do not meow to each other, and so the meowing to human beings that domesticated cats exhibit is likely partly an extension of the use by kittens of this plaintive meow signal.[3]

The word "meow" is onomatopoeic. Different languages have correspondingly different words for the "nyan" sound, including "miau" (Belarusian, Finnish, Lithuanian, German, Polish, Russian, Portuguese, Romanian, Malay and Spanish), "niau" (Ukrainian), "niaou" ( [4], Greek), "miaou" (French), "nya" ( , Japanese), "miao" ( , Chinese (Mandarin), Italian), "miav/miao" or "mjav/mjau" (Danish/Norwegian), "mj " (Icelandic), "ya-ong" ( , Korean) and "meo-meo" (Vietnamese).[5]

In a recent study, Dr. Susanne Sch tz of Lund University Sweden, provides an acoustic analysis of a number of felid vocalizations, including chatters. miaows, murmurs and combinations of theses sounds. [6]A phonetic pilot study of vocalizations in three cats

Most cats meow, hiss, or growl when angered or feeling threatened, which serves as a warning to the offending party. If the warning is not heeded, a more violent attack may follow. Some may engage in behavior or poking with their paws, with claws either extended or retracted. Cats sometimes make chirping or chattering noises when observing prey.

A "caterwaul" is the cry of a cat in estrus (or "in heat").[7]


A purr is a sound made by most species of felines. A tonal buzzing can characterize differently between cats. Domestic cats purr in a frequency of 25 to 150 vibrations per second. Purring is often understood as signifying happiness;[8] however, cats sometimes purr when they are ill, or during tense, traumatic, or painful moments.[9]

There is no unique anatomical feature that is clearly responsible for the sound.[10]

The mechanism by which cats purr is elusive. This is partly because the cat has no unique anatomical feature that is clearly responsible for the sound.[10]

One hypothesis, backed by electromyographic studies, is that cats produce the purring noise by using the vocal folds and/or the muscles of the larynx to alternately dilate and constrict the glottis rapidly, causing air vibrations during inhalation and exhalation.[11] Combined with the steady inhalation and exhalation of air as the cat breathes, a purring noise is produced with strong harmonics.[12] Purring is sometimes accompanied by other sounds, though this varies from cat to cat; in the audio samples that accompany this article, the first cat is only purring, while the vocal production of the second cat contains low level outbursts sometimes characterized as "lurps" or "yowps".

Domestic cats purr at a frequency of 25 to 150 vibrations per second.[13] Eklund, Peters and Duthie, comparing purring in a cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) and a domestic cat (Felis catus), found that the cheetah purred with an average frequency of 20.87 Hz (egressive phases) and 18.32 Hz (ingressive phases), while the much smaller domestic cat purred with an average frequency of 21.98 Hz (egressive phases) and 23.24 Hz (ingressive phases).[14] Sch tz and Eklund studied purring in four domestic cats and found that the fundamental frequency varied between 20.94 and 27.21 Hz for egressive phases and between 23.0 and 26.09 Hz for ingressive phases. They also observed considerable variation between the four cats as regards relative amplitude, duration and frequency between egressive and ingressive phases, but that this variation generally occurred within the same general range. A follow-up study of purring in four adult cheetahs found that egressive phases were longer than ingressive phases in four cheetahs. Likewise, ingressive phases had a lower frequency than egressive phases in all four cheetahs. Mean frequency were between 19.3 Hz and 20.5 Hz in ingressive phases, and between 21.9 Hz and 23.4 Hz in egressive phases. Moreover, the amplitude was louder in the egressive phases in four cheetahs.[15]

It was, until recent times, believed that only the cats of the Felis genus could purr.[16] However, felids of the Panthera genus (Tiger, Lion, Jaguar and Leopard) also produce sounds similar to purring, but only when exhaling. The subdivision of the Felidae into purring cats on the one hand and roaring cats (i.e. non-purring) on the other, originally goes back to Owen (1834/1835) and was definitely introduced by Pocock (1916), based on a difference in hyoid anatomy. The roaring cats (lion, Panthera leo; tiger, P. tigris; jaguar, P. onca; leopard, P. pardus) have an incompletely ossified hyoid, which according to this theory, enables them to roar but not to purr. On the other hand, the snow leopard (Uncia uncia, or P. uncia), as the fifth felid species with an incompletely ossified hyoid, purrs (Hemmer, 1972). All remaining species of the family Felidae ( purring cats ) have a completely ossified hyoid which enables them to purr but not to roar. However, Weissengruber et al. (2002) argued that the ability of a cat species to purr is not affected by the anatomy of its hyoid, i.e. whether it is fully ossified or has a ligamentous epihyoid, and that, based on a technical acoustic definition of roaring, the presence of this vocalization type depends on specific characteristics of the vocal folds and an elongated vocal tract, the latter rendered possible by an incompletely ossified hyoid.

A cat hissing and arching its back to make itself appear larger to ward off a threat. A surprised cat. kneading]] a blanket before a nap. Note the forward position of the whiskers, indicating happiness or curiosity. A Tortoiseshell cat puffing its tail and raising the hair along its spine in excitement.

Body language

Cats communicate a variety of messages using body language. Examples include arching their backs as a signal of fear or aggression, and slowly blinking to signal relaxation. A cat that chooses to lie with its stomach and chest exposed conveys trust, and comfort (this is also typical of overweight cats, as it is more comfortable for them); however, a cat may also roll on its side or back to be able to defend itself with all four sets of claws. Usually other signs (like ears and whiskers folded backwards) give an indication of the cat's overall mood. Flattened ears mean that the cat feels threatened, and may attack. Mouth open and no teeth exposed suggests a feeling of playfulness.[17]

The tail is often used as a signaling mechanism. A tail held high (vertically) suggests happiness or confidence, and is often used as a friendly greeting toward human beings or other cats (usually close relatives), while a half-raised tail shows less pleasure, and unhappiness is indicated with a tail held low. In addition, a cat's tail may swing from side to side. If this motion is slow and "lazy", it generally indicates that the cat is in a relaxed state, and is thought to be a way for the cat to search and monitor the surroundings behind it. Cats will twitch the tips of their tails when hunting or when irritated, while larger twitching indicates displeasure. A stalking house-cat will typically hold its tail very low to the ground while in a crouch, and move it very quickly from side to side. This tail behavior is also seen when a cat has become "irritated" and is nearing the point of biting or scratching. They may also twitch their tails when playing.[18] When greeting its owner, cats often hold their tails straight up with a quivering motion that indicates extreme happiness.[19] A scared or surprised cat may puff up its tail, and the hair along its back may stand straight up and the cat will turn its body sideways to a threat, in order to increase its apparent size. Tailless cats, such as the Manx, which possess only a small stub of a tail, move the stub around as if they possess a full tail.

Touching noses, also known as "sniffing noses", is a friendly greeting for cats, while a lowered head is a sign of submission. Some cats will rub their faces along their guardian's cheek, hands, or ankles as a friendly greeting or sign of affection. This action is also sometimes a way of "marking their territory," leaving a scent from the scent glands located in the cat's cheeks. More commonly, a cat will do a "head bonk" (or "bunt"), i.e., bump someone with the front part of its head to express affection.[20]

Cats also lick each other and people (e.g., their owners). Cats lick each other to groom one other and to bond (this grooming is usually done between cats who know each other very well). They will also sometimes lick people for similar reasons. These reasons include wanting to "groom" people and to show them care and affection.

Cats may paw their human companions, or a soft object on which they may be sitting, with a kneading motion. Cats often use this action alongside purring to show contentment and affection for their companions. This can also indicate curiosity. A cat may also do this when in pain or dying, as a method of comforting itself. It is instinctive to cats, and they use it when they are young to stimulate the mother cat's breast to release milk during nursing. Pawing is also a way for cats to mark their territory. The scent glands on the underside of their paws release small amounts of scent onto the person or object being pawed, marking it as "theirs," the same way they would urinate to mark their territory. Since the nature of the activity is an instinctive response related to the mother's care for the kitten, it may be an expression of need, indicating an empty water bowl, hunger, an unappealing litter box, or the need for some attention from the caregiver.


Although a gentle bite can signify playfulness, bites that are accompanied by hissing or growling do not signify playful behavior. During play, a cat can become overexcited, which can result in bites that, while intended only to be playful, can be strong enough to draw blood.

Cat bites carry a high risk of serious infection, potentially fatal in some cases. It is important to wash the wound thoroughly and monitor closely for signs of infection, seeking medical attention immediately if any signs of swelling or other symptoms are detected.[21]

When cats mate, the male tom bites the scruff of the female's neck as she assumes a position conducive to mating.[22]


Cats can communicate through scent via urine, feces, and chemicals in skin glands located around the mouth, tail, and paws. They also use scent in order to mark their territory. If another animal tries to invade the cat's territory, it will fight for the territory, or the cat will scare the animal off. Urine spraying is also a territorial marking.[23] Cats rub up against furniture or doorways to mark the items as "theirs". When cats rub people, they are marking them with their scent, claiming them as "theirs", in much the same way they would mark each other as neighbors in a natural setting. In addition, they are picking up the peoples' scents.

See also


ca:Comunicaci felina de:Kommunikation der Hauskatze fr:Miaulement ko: la:Communicatio felium hu:A macska kommunik ci ja nn:Mjauing ru: simple:Meow

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