Understanding Cat Communication: Interpreting Vocalizations and Body Language


Ru Chen

- Updated April 22, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Context affects the meaning of a cat's vocalization or body language display
  • Familiarize yourself with the common ways cat communicate
  • Over time you can understand feline signals like second nature
  • Unusual sounds and displays should be checked by a vet
Understanding Cat Communication: Interpreting Vocalizations and Body Language

Bonding with your cat doesn’t just involve giving them food and shelter. Cats have their own unique vocalizations and body language, which can feel confusing to people unfamiliar with them.

This guide is for anyone who wants to understand cats better. Let’s dive into how to interpret cat vocalizations and body language cues.



Cats possess a wide vocabulary for communicating with humans and each other, from meowing to growling. Here are common vocalizations you might encounter as you spend time with a cat.


Meows are the all-purpose noise. Interestingly, adult cats don’t meow at each other – instead, meowing is reserved for communicating with people.

If you notice your cat is meowing a lot even though their food and water stations are full, your cat might be developing behavioral issues. Excessive vocalizations may be caused by boredom, illness, or a desire for attention.


A cat’s purr sounds like a low rumble. It’s how cats express contentment. Cats might purr when they’re relaxing, spending time with you, or eating.

However, context is important when it comes to deciphering what a cat means. Sometimes, cats will purr to self-soothe, which can feel necessary when they are sick, in pain, or distressed. Try to provide your cat with comfort if they are purring out of anxiety.


Hissing is a sign of fear, hostility, and annoyance. It might be a good idea to leave a hissing cat alone. If you approach them now when they are most agitated, they might attack you because they feel threatened. This can lead to a hurt human and a hurt kitty.


Similar to hissing, growling is an expression of anger that is often rooted in fear. A cat might growl when they feel like their territory has been infringed upon.


Cats make sounds that can be described as chirping. If a cat is chirping or trilling at you, they likely want you to follow them. Cats often chat with each other using chirps.


Yowling and howling are drawn-out meows filled with distress. If a cat yowls, they might be looking for you and need help.

If your cat is intact, yowling is also a part of mating behavior. Female cats in heat might yowl as they seek a male, whereas a male cat might scent a nearby female cat.

Elderly cats sometimes yowl out of disorientation. Consider taking your senior cat to the vet if they start making unusual noises since there could be an underlying medical condition.


Body Language

Decoding a cat’s body language cues can help you figure out whether they’re happy, angry, or expressing any other emotion.

Ear position

Cats have 32 muscles in their ears, giving them excellent control over the direction and range of motion of their furry ears. You can learn a lot about a cat’s emotional state from their ear position.

Forward: This means the cat is alert and attentive. If your cat is happy, their ears are likely positioned forward.

Flattened: Ears turned backward, flattened, or held sideways show that the cat is fearful or anxious. Beware approaching a cat with ears twisted out or back since they might react aggressively.

Swiveling: A curious and alert cat will swivel their ears around to remain aware of their surroundings.

Facial expressions

Eyes are considered the windows to the soul. Reading your cat’s eyes can help you better understand your feline friend.

Slow blinking: A cat that trusts you completely and is feeling content might slow blink at you to express their love. You can slowly blink back at them to reciprocate the sentiment.

Squinting: A cat with half-closed, squinting eyes is usually peaceful and happy.

Dilated pupils: This is a tricky one that requires context. Large cat pupils can mean the cat is afraid, or it can mean they’re excited and having fun.

Staring: A cat staring at you or another animal can be a way of asserting dominance and control.

Constricted pupils: Slitted pupils may mean excitement or fear. Use context clues and other signals your cat is expressing to determine what your cat is feeling.

Body posture

Your cat’s body posture can reveal what they’re feeling.

Loose: A loose, neutral body posture means your cat is relaxed. They might be feeling happy or playful depending on other cues and noises they’re making.

Kneading: Cats enjoy making a kneading motion with their paws (as if they’re kneading dough).

Arched: An arched body posture suggests that your cat is tense and defensive. They might be anxious, angry, or afraid of something.

Crouched: A cat crouching low to the floor means they might be trying to hide. Look around to see if there are stressors causing your cat to feel scared. Give a scared cat their own space, provide accessible escape routes at home, and reduce anxiety-inducing stressors around them.

Tail position

Upright: A straight tail going up signals your cat is confident and friendly. Cats are more likely to approach other cats if they have an upright tail.

Swishing or twitching: A twitching cat tail might mean your cat is hunting, annoyed, or playing. Cats playfighting with you might have tails twitching at the end.

Whipping: If your cat’s tail is whipping side to side rapidly, this is typically a sign of aggression. Be alert to see what is alarming your cat in this moment.

Hooked: If your cat’s tail looks like a candy cane, standing upright but is curled at the end, this suggests your cat is feeling friendly and relaxed. Playful cats often have these hooked tails as they approach you for social interaction.

Low: A lowered tail is a warning sign that your cat may be scared or pained.

Wrapped around the cat: A defensive cat will often wrap their tail around themselves. Check to see if your cat is anxious or in pain if they have their tail wrapped securely around themselves.

Wrapped around your legs: If a cat touches you with their tail or wraps it around you, this is a sign of affection.

Bristling: A tail that is puffed out or bristled indicates alarm and hostility. This is a display of aggression that often serves as an attempt by the cat to appear larger, scaring potential threats off.


Interpreting Combined Signals

Like humans, cats are complex. Body language and vocalizations shouldn’t be interpreted independently from each other. Ideally, you should take into account everything your cat is conveying to you through sounds and physical behavior. Sound tiring? Don’t worry – once you’ve grown more familiar with cats, interpreting combined signals will become second nature.

Let’s review how cats blend vocalizations with body language to communicate with their humans. You should also know when to be worried about a cat’s excessive vocalizations or concerning body language.

1. Combined signals of playfulness

A cat with their tail hooked upright as they squint at you is likely happy and playful. They should have a relatively loose body posture and may meow occasionally.

2. Combined signals of fear

Notice your cat has dilated pupils and ears flattened back? These are signs your cat is afraid. Their tail might twitch and they might let out warning hisses and growls if you or the perceived threat gets closer.

3. Hunger or thirst

A cat meowing at you repeatedly with a loose body posture might be just trying to tell you that it’s mealtime. Make sure that your cat has access to a full bowl of food and an abundance of water.

4. Behavioral or medical issues

If your cat is exhibiting confusing body language or vocalizing excessively, they might have underlying medical issues. For example, a cat with tremors should be urgently seen by a veterinarian as they may have contracted a serious disease. If your cat has one dilated pupil and one constricted pupil, this is also a medical emergency that must be treated immediately.

5. Visit a cat behaviorist

Cats can take a long time to trust someone, especially if they have had a rough history with humans. Sometimes trying to decode a cat’s body language and vocalizations can be mystifying. It might be time to consult a cat behaviorist. They can help you decipher what your cat is going through and help you devise a strategy for better understanding your cat.

Pet Insurance for Cats

Pet insurance offers valuable financial protection to cat owners when they need to pay for veterinary expenses. When your cat needs to visit for the vet due to an illness or accident, pet insurance could help you save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

If your cat has behavioral issues, physical impairments, or other issues related to communicating with you, pet insurance could cover a significant amount of veterinary expenses.

Comprehensive pet insurance: Provides financial reimbursements for a wide range of illnesses and accidents. Covered illnesses include cancer, diabetes, and thyroid disorders.

Accident-only pet insurance: Only covers accident-related vet expenses, such as emergency pet bills for broken bones, toxic ingestion, and cuts. Cheaper than accident-and-illness policies, but will provide much less coverage.

Add-ons: You can request add-ons for your pet insurance policies to broaden and personalize your coverage according to your cat’s needs. Wellness plans are recommended since they cover preventive care pet expenses, such as routine health exams, dental cleanings, behavioral therapy, and physical therapy.

How to find the right insurance coverage

Searching for pet insurance for your cat? Keep the following elements in mind when comparing pet insurance policies.

Premium: Pet insurance premiums determine how much you pay for active coverage every month. A higher premium generally means better coverage or higher deductibles, but you will need to budget more toward pet insurance each month. Cat insurance averages $32 a month.

Deductible: You need to pay veterinary bills out-of-pocket and reach the deductible amount before pet insurance coverage kicks in. Most cat owners choose a deductible of around $250.

Coverage type: Premiums and coverage options vary greatly based on which pet insurance policy you pick. Choose carefully between accident-only coverage and comprehensive coverage when obtaining insurance for your cat.

Restrictions and exclusions: Most pet insurance policies have breed restrictions, age restrictions, and pre-existing condition exclusions. It’s ideal to obtain pet insurance before your cat is diagnosed with a health condition – that way any new diagnoses your cat receives can be covered by the policy.

Insurer reputation: Reading reviews can give you valuable insight regarding the claims process and customer service of a pet insurance provider.

Feeling lost about what pet insurers to consider? Here are some of the top pet insurance providers for cat owners.

  • Pumpkin: Voted the best comprehensive coverage by Business Insider. Offers a 90% reimbursement rate, along with a multi-pet discount policy.
  • ASPCA: A 30-day money-back guarantee, along with the ability to visit any vet in the US (including specialists), makes ASPCA pet insurance a great choice for cat owners.
  • Embrace: $100 deductible and unlimited coverage available. 30-day money-back guarantee and various policy options make Embrace an excellent option for those wanting to try out pet insurance.
  • Lemonade: Extremely affordable pet insurance rates that start at $10 a month. Optional wellness package can help cover a wide range of routine cat needs.


Understanding the feline form of communication lets you strengthen the bond between you and your cat. Cat owners should observe their cats’ vocalizations and body language closely to learn about their needs and emotions.

Remember, building mutual trust requires patience. To foster a happy and harmonious relationship with your feline companion, take the time to learn about the meanings behind combined vocalizations and body language cues.

About The Author

Ru Chen

Ru Chen

Content Writer

Ru Chen is a content writer with several years of experience in creating engaging and well-researched articles. She mostly writes about insurance, business, digital marketing, and law. In her free time, she can be found watching horror movies and playing board games with her partner in Brooklyn.

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