Cats have curious ways of communicating, and some are more vocal than others. Talking to a cat is important, because you want your cat to understand commands like “no” and “get down”.
If you’re wondering how to speak cat or how to communicate with your cat at all, it starts with learning to listen to and understand feline language.
There are different facets of cat language, many of which are non-verbal. Cats usually save vocalizations for their human cohabitants, and are rarely vocal toward one another (except in specific circumstances). That’s why understanding your cat is key for learning to speak cat language.
What is my cat saying non-verbally?
Like dogs, cats communicate with body language, behavior and facial expressions more often than they do with vocalizations. While some cats are more vocal than others, cats typically reserve their vocalizations for communicating with you, so make an effort to collaborate with and listen to your cat’s vocalizations, so you can learn to understand one another.
Your cat’s non-verbal cues include their tail behavior, facial expressions, posture and even pupil dilation. Learning to talk cat starts with recognizing this non-verbal communication and observing your cat’s behavior as you learn to coexist.
Your cat’s tail is always an indicator of the way your cat is feeling. Their normal tail posture of straight up or straight up and slightly curled is how cats say, “I am content and unbothered,” especially if your cat is otherwise behaving normally.
When cats are scared or feeling aggressive, the fur on their talesand backs might puff or stand up. Tail positions pointed backward, downward, or tucked under the body is your cat’s way of saying they feel vulnerable, afraid, or on edge about something.
Twitchy or vibrating tails often indicate excitement or anxiousness, and might be paired with vocalization while your cat tries to tell you “fill my food bowl faster, please” or “I missed you so much today!”
Other body language includes facial expressions like the annoyed, single or double ear pull back and glance away. Some of your cat’s expressions might be intuitive, while others, like the affectionate head-butt or slow blink might seem silly or strange. The important thing is to closely observe and honor your cat’s language patterns as they grow and you grow together.
Licking can indicate a number of different things, but when your cat licks you, it’s likely to show their affection and acceptance. Read more on that in our recent article, “Why Does My Cat Lick Me”.
How to speak cat language
When you think you have a good understanding of your cat’s non-verbal language, it’s time to decode their vocalizations. Remember this type of “cat talking” is mostly reserved for human interaction, so as your cat gets to know you, they’re building a set of vocalizations to communicate with you, and observing your responses to each.
Talking with cats is like talking with people: the experience varies from individual to individual. While some cats naturally have a larger range of vocalizations available to them, others aren’t as vocal because they don’t need or want to be. Your cat’s language will evolve based on the way you interact with them, so your cat’s vocalizations might be very different from another’s.
Typically, cats will communicate in short meows when making “small talk”. This includes when they’re asking for a quick pet, want to say hello or see how you are, or when they casually speak but do not stop to wait for a response from you.
Longer, more drawn out vocalizations can indicate a request for something, like food. The longest cries are an indication that your cat wants your attention now. These might mean they have an urgent need, like that they’re very hungry or desperately want affection.
Trilling is a feline communication tool that’s somewhere between a meow and an open-mouthed purr. It sounds like your cat is using a sing-songy voice to say “hello,” because they probably are. You might hear this vocalization in combination with a flank rub or headbutt: your cat wants some affection.
High-pitched screams are, you guessed it, similar to human screams. You cat is in a panic, and might be in pain. This is the same cry and emergency response your cat exhibits when someone steps on their tail.
SImilarly, low howls, growls, or hisses indicate another high-stress situation. These include that your cat perceives a person or another animal as a threat to them. Be careful when your cat switches to these low tones; they’re warning everyone around them that they’re not afraid to fight.
Purring often means that your cat is content, but can also mean they need some attention from you. Sometimes, cats purr when they’re afraid, in pain, or giving birth. This might seem counterintuitive, kind of like a nervous laugh.
Other vocalizations, like chirping, clicking, and sounds that might be unique to your cat indicate a variety of other things. Sometimes, cats click or chirp when they’re pursuing prey. Other times, they might click or chirp as an anxious or excited response, or as a special cue they’ve developed to help train your behavior.
Does your cat make other sounds that you can’t understand or explain? It’s likely a learned response from human interactions they’ve had in the past.
Talking to cats: teaching cats commands
Good news cat lovers! You don’t have to communicate in cat vocalizations to get your cat to understand you. Once you’ve figured out your cat’s language, you can use simple, consistent, repetitive human language to teach your cat to be well behaved at home.
Cats can remember a limited number of human words, and will try to memorize those words in order to understand you and your commands. However, your body language is just as important when giving commands. Most important of all is consistency. Choosing commands and consistently using the same word and paired body language will help your cat understand your command.
For example, if your cat jumps up on the countertop and calls to you for affection, it will only confuse and make communication difficult for your cat if you give the command “no” but continue to pet them. Make sure when you give the command of “no” or “get down,” you use facial expressions and body language that reinforces the boundary. Applying this practice consistently as you teach your cat will help them better understand what you need from them.
Be patient with your feline friend and remember that learning a new language is hard. Learning to communicate across species is nothing short of miraculous, so give your cat time to figure it all out and consistently comply. If you need help socializing your cat or other furry friends, our expert pet sitters and dog walkers can help you be successful in learning about and training your cat. Get in touch today to learn more!