Cat Language 101

cat language

How proficient are you in Cat Language 101?

Like love, cat language is universal. You know this is true, but you’re having the darndest time figuring out what it all means. Your cuddly companion sidles up to you and gently brushes against the side of your leg, but when you reach down to pick her up she runs. Or she stares at you until she has your attention, but then begins a slow blink as though you’re boring her to tears. Having trouble figuring out what your cat is trying to say to you? Well, you’ve come to the right place because, at Fetch! Pet Care, we speak fluent cat and we’re going to share a beginner’s cat language course with you today.

Before we begin, you must understand that your cat is supremely intelligent and very patient with those she loves…namely, you! She has no problems communicating and never grows tired of saying the same thing over and over again until you finally understand her. Your kitty probably doesn’t think you’re the brightest bulb in the pack because you can be a little slow to oblige her commands at times, but you belong to her and she doesn’t mind waiting until you catch up. With all of that said, please don’t take her patience for granted. Follow the basics of her unique cat language and you’ll discover the mysteries she’s been waiting to share with you.

Cat Language From Head to Toe

Much of your cat’s language involves sound, but even more of it involves body language. Carefully observe your cat and don’t be shy about tuning into her world. Sometimes this will mean allowing her to lead the way…literally. Be prepared to also humble yourself to her correction anytime you misinterpret her movement or sound. Remember, she’s an excellent communicator, so if you key into her unique personality and follow her lead, you’ll be speaking cat language sooner than you think.

Basic Cat Language Translations

Aside from watching and learning from the best (your beloved kitty!), here are some basics to help you become a better cat communicator right away. First, let’s start with body language.

Mouth open, head bobbing and a bizarre facial expression

Translation: I’m tasting the air because I think another cat may be lurking nearby.

Flat ears

Translation: I’m very, very annoyed. I may even be ready to pounce and explode on someone right now. I’m in no mood to be bothered, so please just LEAVE ME ALONE! (Yes, the all caps are intentional…your cat is literally yelling at you to retreat or else!)

Arched back (with fur standing on end)

Translation: I am extremely angry or afraid right now and I wouldn’t come any closer if I were you!

Arched back (with fur lying flat)

Translation: It’s cool to pet me now. In fact, I’m going to insist that you do so in 5, 4, 3, 2…

Arched back (while petting)

Translation: This is nice, but I’ve got to tell you that it’s feeling a little too good and I’m edging toward overstimulation. Let’s stick to scratches under the chin and behind the ears for a little while, eh? If you keep giving me full body strokes, I’m going to have to stop you with a little nip or a scratch. I’m not being mean, I literally just can’t take anymore.

Fur standing on edge (on tail or over entire body)

Translation: I’m either very afraid or I’m preparing for a brawl. Maybe both.

Tail standing straight up

Translation: I’m feeling happy and very confident. It’s a purrrrfect day in my world!

Tail extending straight behind

Translation: I’m pretty relax and having a normal, ordinary day.

Tail between legs

Translation: I’m not having the best day. In fact, I’m a little depressed and could use a hug.

Slow blink

Translation: I love you.

Staring at your profile

Translation: Hello, is anybody home? I need some attention! (NOTE: when you make eye contact with her stare, you are inviting her to jump in your lap…or on your keyboard…or on the 900 piece puzzle you’ve been assembling all weekend.)

Silently staring directly at you while sitting

Translation: I want to go outside. Or I need my box cleaned. Or I’m just basking in your beautiful presence.

Silently staring directly at you while standing

Translation: Follow me.

Dilated or Enlarged Pupils

Translation: I’m afraid. If it’s playtime, however, this can also mean that I’m excited about all the fun we’re having together.

cat language

Now that you’ve gained a better understanding of your furry one’s body language, it’s time to move on to the next lesson in cat language and what it means when she initiates physical contact with you. Here we go:

Biting or scratching while being petted

Translation: I’m definitely overstimulated. Back off and just give me a few minutes to calm down.

Rubbing the side of your leg

Translation: Feed me. Also, you belong to me, so don’t forget it, ok?

Batting your feet, biting your toes or trying to trip you as you walk by

Translation: Let’s play!

cat language

It’s all coming together now, isn’t it? See, cat language isn’t too hard to learn and it’s actually fun once you get the hang of it. We think you’re ready for the next and final lesson, vocal sounds. By some estimates, cats can make over 100 different vocalizations. And it may surprise you to know that meow sounds made by adult cats are only used for communicating with humans. Now, kittens meow for all sorts of reasons, but if your adult cat meows, here’s what she’s really trying to tell you:

Meow with a stare

Translation: Follow me. Also, may I have your attention, please?

Excessive meowing

Translation: I’m bored. Please either adopt another cat or call a pet sitter to come and spend time with me while you’re busy or away. (NOTE: In senior cats, this can also be a symptom of aging, cognitive decline and/or disorientation. Take your fuzzy buddy to a vet if excessive meowing persists.)

Yowling at another cat

Translation: Back off, this here territory is mine! I don’t want any trouble, but there’s going to be plenty of it if you don’t walk away right now! (NOTE: If an adult cat isn’t neutered or spayed, this yowling sound can also be an invitation to mate.)


Translation: I am feeling verrrry relaxed and content right now. In fact, I think I’ll take a nap. (NOTE: purring can also be an attempt to soothe pain. If kitty seems a bit irritable, doesn’t want to be touched or picked up and is purring excessively, take her to a vet right away!)

Great Job, Human!

As you can see, cat language is pretty complex, but you can master it if you make a sincere effort to do so. Refer to this primer as often as necessary until you get the hang of communicating with your fur-baby. Also, focus your energy on learning even more about cat language whenever you can. With time and practice, you should be fluent in no time flat!

Questions or Comments About Cat Language?

What do you think about our cat language lesson for beginners? Do you have any questions or anything you’d like us to translate for you? If you speak cat language, feel free to leave your own advice for better mastery in the comments section below.