For many years we underestimated our feline friends – believing they were solitary creatures only communicating with each other at the very edges of their territories – which in itself was probably limited to aggression.
We now know that this is not true! Cats can and do live in very complex social groups and have well-developed signaling methods:
Anyone with a cat knows they make a wide array of sounds. Clever cats have even learned to vocalize at the same pitch as a baby crying to make it harder for their human slaves to ignore!
So what do the most common noises actually mean?
Purr – anyone with a pet cat will be familiar with this cute sound. This is the noise cats make when they are either looking for some contact or enjoying something.
Miaow – this noise is rarely heard in cat-to-cat communication – but is heard often when humans are around. It is thought to have developed as a way to communicate with people (who are very auditory communicators). Cats make a different sounding miaow in different situations and their humans are trained to react accordingly!
Chatter – this is the amazing sound cats make when they are watching a prey object they cannot reach!
Growl/hiss/spit/snarl/yowl – I don’t need to tell you these noises indicate aggression!
Cats use their face, body and tail as their main signaling methods (thanks to google for the pictures – most have been adapted from Leyhausen 1979).
Cats live in a variety of situations depending on the amount of food available – varying from huge family groups to solitary living. Smells are like written messages to us and can be left in areas where other cats may visit without having to actually see the other cat.
Cats also have a very well developed secondary smell organ –the vomeronasal organ. This lets them sense pheromones too. These are chemical messengers which can affect their emotions!
Urine – urine marking or spraying is a relatively common behaviour ‘problem’ I see in cats. Cats tend to spray more in domestic situations as a result of anxiety. However the true meaning of this spraying is not yet know. It is thought it could help cats to time share space, or may provide information about the size, sex, health and reproductive status of cats living in the same area.
Scratching – scratching is thought to have a variety of uses – firstly claw health but also signaling. It acts as a visual signal (the scratch), but they also have a large number of scent glands between their toes and leave signals within their territory with these.
Skin glands – Cats have lots of scent glands in their skin. The one we most commonly see being used is the face – cats rub on familiar things (you, their environment) to mark them as familiar. This makes them feel more relaxed in their environment.
If you need any more information on reading your cat, or understanding what your cat is trying to tell you then contact Dr Julie @ Life on Four Legs