Cat Language 101: Body language

In a recent post we looked at cat vocalizations, including common cat sounds like meows, purrs, growls and howls. However, cats actually communicate predominantly with their body, what is sometimes described as ‘cat sign language.’

If you want to know what kind of a mood your cat is in, the best way is to pay attention to the following body parts and cues:

Ears:

The position and movement of their ears often betray cats’ feelings. The more they move backwards, the greater their arousal or distress. Backward ears accompanied by a hiss is a rotund ‘stay away!’

Ears are a great indicator of your cat’s mood.   ©  Supplied

Ears are a great indicator of your cat’s mood. © Supplied

Tail:

The movement and position of the tail is also a good barometer of a cat’s state of mind. Both height and motion are relevant. A flailing or thumping tail usually means that you better keep your distance, while a tail that swishes back and forth often signals they are in a playful mood.

Pay attention to your cat’s tale for hints to his/her state of mind.   ©  Supplied

Pay attention to your cat’s tale for hints to his/her state of mind. © Supplied

Eyes:

Their eyes can tell a lot about how they are feeling. Both the eyelids (how open or closed) and the dilatation of the irises are important. For example, a sudden dilatation of the irises denotes sudden arousal, often due to fear, interest or another strong emotion.

Cat’s eyes are not only fascinating, they are also a window into their state of mind and mood.   ©  Supplied

Cat’s eyes are not only fascinating, they are also a window into their state of mind and mood. © Supplied

Fur:

Happy, relaxed cats have beautiful fur that rests smoothly against the body. If that’s not the case, then something is probably wrong. After all, cats are self-grooming animals, and a healthy cat will almost invariably maintain a healthy-looking fur.

The fur can also express strong emotion. For example, a sudden fluffed coat, including a ‘bottle brush’ tail, is a sign of aggression. Stay away!

This cat’s coat, standing on end, is a clear sign that she feels threatened.    © Supplied

This cat’s coat, standing on end, is a clear sign that she feels threatened. © Supplied

Smells and scents:

Cat use a range of scents to mark their territory. Some of the most common ones include urine and feces, bunting behavior (also know as head rubs, or head butts), and clawing. They are like Post-it Notes that they leave for other cats to read.

Posture

A cat’s overall body posture indicates everything from confidence, fear, submission, etcetera. For example, if they arch their back upwards as you extend your hand to pet them, you can assume that your petting is welcomed. If they shrink away, you better stop it!

All these body parts and cues should be taken into consideration when determining just how your cat is feeling. Familiarising yourself with the different ways cats express emotion will help you determine whether residents at the upcoming Ministry of Cat are to be pet and played with, or whether it’s better to leave them alone!

Donate to our crowdfunding campaign to help make Ministry of Cat at reality!

Cat language 101

Most cats only meow to humans.  © maxpixel.com

Most cats only meow to humans. © maxpixel.com

At Ministry of Cat, we will have 7 to 10 cats roaming around the cafe. After consulting with vets and cat experts, including our partners Animal Mama, we decided this is the ideal number of residents to have.

To help you understand what they are trying to communicate when they walk around the cafe meowing, purring, chirping, trilling and howling, we decided to write this post on common cat sounds.

Cats use a complex combination of vocalization, sign language and scent cues to express themselves and communicate with their humans and the world around them.

While they rely primarily on non-verbal cues (e.g. movement of the ears and tail, shape of the irises and scents), which we will address in a future post, they have a long list of sounds in their repertoire to convey everything from “why is this human petting me?” to “yay! food!”. These are some of the most common ones:

MEOWS:

First and foremost, you should know that adult cats do not meow to other cats. Meowing is used by mother cats to communicate with their kittens, which has led some researchers to conclude that they view us, humans, as their helpless, pitiful kittens.

In cat-human interactions, ‘meows’ don’t have a definite meaning. Context is everything, since ‘meow’ is sort of an all-purpose word. For example, when they meow outside your door at 5am, they are probably telling you it’s time to wake up (or so they think). If they throw a ‘meow’ at you as you pass them down the corridor, they might just be begging for a snack.

This little guy is probably just saying 'let me in!'  © maxpixel.com

This little guy is probably just saying 'let me in!' © maxpixel.com

These are some of the most common types of meows:

Short meow: “Hey, what’s up?”

Multiple meows: “You’re back! Where you’ve been? I’m so happy to see you!”

Mid-pitch meow: They are asking you for something, perhaps they want food or they want to be let outside

Low-pitch mrrrrraaaow: “This sucks. You call this food? I wanna see you eat it!”

PURRS:

We are all familiar with the sweet, sweet sound that a cat makes when purring. Many find it as soothing as rain hitting the roof when you are snuggled up in bed. We associate purrs with happiness and content, and this is generally right. If your cat is purring as you pet them, they are probably very relaxed and happy.

However, cats have also been found to purr as a way to comfort themselves, perhaps because they are experiencing some discomfort or stress.

If your cat is purring he is probably comfortable and relaxed.  © Adolfo Perez-Gascon

If your cat is purring he is probably comfortable and relaxed. © Adolfo Perez-Gascon

CHIRPS AND TRILLS:

These bird-like sounds are usually emitted by a mother when she wants her kittens to follow her. Aimed at you, they want you to follow them, probably to their food bowl. They may also be excited in an anxious sort of way, and trying to direct your attention to something that’s nagging them, like the huge rat that’s hiding in the cupboard!

Cats may chirp to attract people's attention.  © Supplied

Cats may chirp to attract people's attention. © Supplied

GROWLS AND HISSES:

Doesn’t take a genius to figure this one out. If your cat is growling or hissing, they are angry, annoyed, or aggressive, and totally against what you are doing. So stop it.

Back off human!  © Supplied

Back off human! © Supplied

YOWLS AND HOWLS:

This one sounds like a long, drawn-out meow. Eerie and troublesome, it indicates that something is wrong. Your cat is in distress, and you should follow the sound until you find them. They may be locked inside the closet, or perhaps stuck in a treeThis is also the sound an unneutered/unspayed cat makes when they are in heat. It is part of their mating rituals, so to speak.

CHATTERING, CHITTERING AND TWITTERING:

No, your cat is not crazy. He has simply spotted a sneaky squirrel.  © Eric Walli

No, your cat is not crazy. He has simply spotted a sneaky squirrel. © Eric Walli

Does your cat ever stare out the window looking forlorn and miserable while muttering? Don’t worry. This is common feline behavior. They are probably looking at birds in the balcony or squirrels up in the trees (or rats in the telephone lines).

Some believe this noise signals frustration, but the most accepted theory is that it is a sort of “predatory excitement”, as they visualize sinking their teeth into that juicy, juicy squirrel.

Creating Cambodia's first rescue cat cafe: Ministry of Cat

Adolfo and Georgia with their rescue cats, Comet and Mr Paws.  ©   Miguel Jeronimo

Adolfo and Georgia with their rescue cats, Comet and Mr Paws. © Miguel Jeronimo

Hey everyone!

We are working on creating Phnom Penh’s first Rescue Cat Cafe & Adoption Center!

My name is Adolfo, and this has been a dream I’ve had for a long time. After living in Cambodia for several years and witnessing firsthand the suffering of the street cat population, my friend Georgia and I have decided to finally go ahead and do something about it.

Introducing Ministry of Cat. It will be a relaxing space where you can come enjoy a cuppa while spending some quality time with our feline friends. You might even fall in love with one and take them home.  

© Kerri Pfeifer

© Kerri Pfeifer

To make Ministry of Cat happen, we’ve partnered up with Animal Mama — a veterinary and pet wellness center as well as a social enterprise — who shares our excitement for the project and are giving us their support. They will provide the ready-for-adoption, fully vaccinated and sterilized cats that will reside in our cafe.

Ministry of Cat will be a social enterprise with the aim of providing a foster home to some of the city’s strays, and promoting their adoption so that they can eventually find a forever home.

Comet, my very talkative rescue kitten.  © Adolfo Perez-Gascon

Comet, my very talkative rescue kitten. © Adolfo Perez-Gascon

We understand that many cat lovers are unable to adopt a pet here and are craving some animal interaction. Ministry of Cat will be a superb place to get your daily caffeine fix in a inspired, vintage setting while also soothing your stress with a dose of kitty cuteness.

After all, who wouldn’t like to have their morning coffee or afternoon nibble in the company of cats, a species that has been scientifically proven to be the cutest on the planet? (That’s a fact, google it).

We will be running a crowdfunding campaign starting in September to raise some of the funds we need and to spread the word.

Please sign up here to follow our journey, and share this post if you’d like to see Phnom Penh’s first Rescue Cat Cafe & Adoption Center become a reality.

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