How do cats communicate?

White and gray cats touching each other. It is a way how cats communicate
Olfactory Communication / Scent & Chemical Cues   | Vocal Communication / Vocal Cues   |

Tactile Communication / Physical Touch   | Visual Communication / Marks  

Body Language   | 

How do cats communicate? My little son startled me with this question. I had never thought about it and wasn’t ready to answer this quick question. By the way, have you ever thought about how cats communicate? A similar Nope like me would be your answer probably! However, the question aroused my curiosity and made me discuss it with some vet behaviorists. I also explored the web to look for what recognized pet websites say about it. Read on to learn what I have explored about how cats communicate.

Every meow, purr, yowling, and growling of cats has meaning. These are the vocalizations that cats use to express and share their feelings with other cats and humans. Besides, cats can communicate in different ways with each other and other species. They use different modes such as smell, sound, touch, vision, and body language in communication. Understanding how and why they communicate will help you determine their mood and needs.

Olfactory Communication / Scent & Chemical Cues

Olfactic communication is the most intricate non-verbal but highly engaging communication method that cats use. In this communication process, cats use scent and chemical cues. They use it as a part of their social and territorial interactions, say the experts at PetMD. Cats have scent glands which they use to leave their scent on objects and surfaces by rubbing on them. These glands have pheromones and are present on their paws, tails, feet, foreheads, and cheeks. They establish a familiar scent on their favorite people, cats, and furniture by headbutting.

Cats also use chemical cues to mark their territory by spraying urine. Usually, this behavior is seen in outdoor cats. It is more common in male cats than in females. Their urine contains isovalthene and felinine (amino acids) which is one of the reasons for the specific urine smell. Cats also exhibit a Flehman response, which is curling back their lips and inhaling different smells. This behavior allows them to better analyze and process pheromones.

Vocal Communication / Vocal Cues

Cats use several vocal cues for communicating with their owners or other cats, as experts at National Geographic researched. Through vocal communication, the cats express their feelings, intentions, and needs. They make different sounds to show their presence. Common vocal cues include:


Cats have different meowing sounds to show a variety of emotions through them. A short or quick meow displays a greeting or acknowledgment. A loud meow is used to show excitement, demand attention, or convey pain or distress. Persistent meowing is to get attention, especially when they want food, affection, or play. Meowing is used mostly when interacting with humans.


Mother cats use soft gentle chirping sounds to communicate with their kittens. They also use it to show friendliness. A chirping and clicking sound is also made when the cat is in hunting mode. They make this sound when observing their prey.


This vocal cue is used to show contentment and healing. Cats often purr when they are relaxed and happy. They make this sound when cuddled and petted. Cats may also purr when they are injured or unwell. The frequency of purring is 25 – 150 vibrations and can be used for healing.


Cats usually yowl during the mating season to attract potential mates.

Growling or Hissing:

When they feel threatened or scared, cats growl or hiss to display an aggressive mood. These vocal cues are used as warnings.

Tactile Communication / Physical Touch

Two cats doing Tactile Communication
Image by nikitabuida on Freepik

One of the common forms of communication in cats is physical contact. Physical contact includes cats rubbing against each other. This is called Allorubbing and it is a sign of love or to show affection. The cats rub their bodies together – especially around the cheek or mouth area, and the body or tail regions.

Another form of tactile communication is Allogrooming in which the cats groom each other. This usually occurs in cats who are related or have a strong familiarity with each other. Cats also touch their nose, foreheads, and chin together. If the cats are familiar with each other or do not feel threatened by one another, they greet each other with the touch of their noses. This is called a polite handshake in the cat’s language. Cats also rub their faces on other species, humans, or objects to show their acceptance of them or to mark the territory with their tiny scent glands, as mentioned above.

Resting and curling up together have also been seen in cats’ habits. This behavior is common in feral and domestic cats both. They use each other as cushions or pillows to rest. They may also intertwine their tails together or back up against each other to display a sign of social bonding.

Visual Communication / Marks

Cats have another way to communicate, that is, by leaving visual marks for us to understand. They make eye contact by either directly staring or slowly blinking. When cats stare for a long time, consider it as a threat and aggressive action. On the other hand, when a cat slowly blinks at you, it is a sign of trust and bonding. Cats are often seen scratching on surfaces. This leaves a visual mark and a scent mark for marking their territory.

Body Language

It is very important to understand your pet’s mood. You can do it by observing your cat’s body language. According to the vets at, posture, facial expression, and tail movements are all cues or indicators of body language. You can understand their body language by the following signs:


Observe your cat’s ears. If they are forward, it shows that the cat is relaxed or just excited and curious. If the ears are erected or turned backward, it means that the cat is scared or stressed.

Tail Position:

A straight tail and relaxed fur mean that your pet is confident and in a good mood. When a cat wraps its tail around another cat or a human, it is a sign of friendliness and comfort. If the tail is tucked between the legs, it shows that the cat is submissive. When the cat is agitated, feeling threatened, or scared, its tail becomes erect and puffed up. It also twitches back and forth.

Body Posture:

Cats are often seen showing their bellies up. It is a sign of trust and usually, they let you touch or scratch them on their bellies. Cats also knead their paws on their favorite soft surfaces to show comfort. Unwell and scared cats usually hide and isolate themselves. Have you seen a cat with an arched back? It is a common pose, associated with Halloween cat pose, when a cat is fearful or feeling threatened. The fur also stands on the end and the tail becomes puffed. In this situation, it is best to leave the cat alone to settle down and become relaxed.


Notice the cat’s whiskers too. Forward whiskers indicate a curious cat while pulled-back whiskers show anxiety or fear in the cat.

Let’s Wrap it Up!

There you go! Now you know how cats communicate and based on it can judge your cats’ behavior and moods. You can now better communicate with your pet by paying attention to their body language, the sounds they make, and also by their touch. Understanding the above non-verbal cues and signals will help you build trust with your cat. Keep an eye out for aggressive behavior or physical triggers, like illness, stress, or pain, to help out your cat. Happy communicating with your feline friend!


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Jehanzaib Ahmed
Meet Jehanzaib Ahmed, the Paw-some Force Behind Wildlypet!

As a lifelong animal lover, he has turned his passion into a profession. With an unwavering love for all creatures, he founded WildlyPet to provide top-notch care for your pet friends. With good experience in the pet care industry, he is a seasoned expert in ensuring the health and happiness of pets. His knowledge extends from pet nutrition to behavioral training, making him your go-to guru for all things pet-related.

Beyond his business, he is deeply involved in the local pet-loving community. He actively supports rescue organizations and advocates for pet adoption, believing that every pet deserves a loving home.