Learning to talk cat is more than just an entertaining parlour trick for your dinner guests. It’s a crucial component of cat training and strengthening your relationship with her. Simple orders like “DOWN!” and “NO!” will help your cat become a better pet, while phrases like “Treats!” and “Dinner!” will help her associate you with pleasant things.
Cats rarely converse verbally with other cats; instead, they reserve this for people, hissing and growling at intruders. In addition to scent and sound, cat language involves a complex combination of face expression, tail posture, ear position, and other body language cues. Cats learn to demand things from us by monitoring which of their noises elicit which reactions from humans. Here’s how to speak to cat.
How to understand cat
Some cats (like the Oriental breeds) are vocal and have extensive vocabularies. Other cats scarcely “speak” at all, or have a one-size-fits-all yowl that covers all the bases.
Whether your cat is vocal or not, she will be fluent in body language, a key component of her interactions with you and other animals. By tuning in to both her body and her voice, you can learn how to speak cat.
The following vocalizations are fairly common when learning how to speak to cat
- Short meow: “Hey, how ya doin’?”
- Multiple meows: “I’m so happy to see you! Where’ve you been? I missed you!”
- Mid-pitch meow: A plea for something, usually dinner, treats, or to be let outside.
- Drawn-out mrrraaaaaoooow: “Did you forget to feed me, you idiot? I want dinner NOW!” or similar demand.
- Low pitched mraaooww: “You are so lame. The service around here sucks,” or similar complaint.
- High-pitch RRRROWW!: “OUCH!!! YOU STEPPED ON MY TAIL YOU IMBECILE!”
- Purr: Most often a sign of contentedness, but can also be used when in pain or afraid — an instinctual response to hide weakness from predators.
- Hiss: “Steer clear. I’m angry and I’m not afraid to draw blood.”
- Clicking or chirping sounds: Cats who are tracking prey will make a distinctive clicking sound.
When learning cat language, body language is equally crucial
- Tail straight up or straight up with a curl at the end: Happy.
- Tail twitching: Excited or anxious.
- Tail vibrating: Very excited to see you.
- Tail fur sticks straight up while the tail curls in the shape of an N: Extreme aggression.
- Tail fur sticks straight up but the tail is held low: Aggression or frightened.
- Tail held low and tucked under the rear: Frightened.
- Dilated pupils: Very playful or excited. It can also indicate aggression.
- Slowly blinking eyes: Affection, the equivalent of blowing a kiss.
- Ears pinned back: Fear, anxiety, aggression
- Tongue flicking: Worry, apprehension
- Rubbing head, flank and tail against a person or animal: Greeting ritual, ownership claim
- Head-butting: Friendliness, affection
- Face sniffing: Confirming identity
- Wet nose kiss: Affection
- Licking: The ultimate sign of affection. Or an indication that you need to clean up after a sardine snack.
Here’s how you can speak to cat
When learning how to speak cat, the words you use are less important than how you say them and the body language that accompanies them. If you say “DOWN!” or “NO!” in the same tone you use for, “Good kitty! Here’s a treat,” you’ll confuse your cat and she’ll misinterpret what you’re saying. Consistency is the key to successful communication with your cat.
To correct behavior, use a loud, firm, authoritative voice, and use this same tone consistently in conjunction with body language. For example, when ordering your cat “down,” make a stern face, and use one of your hands to point down.
For praise, or when calling your cat to dinner or offering treats, use a higher-pitched “happy” voice, smile, and beckon with your hand.
If your cat is begging for attention when you are trying to work or accomplish some other task, you will need to say “NO!” firmly, and gently push the cat away without showing affection. Cats don’t have much respect for the human’s personal space and will try repeatedly to invade it, so you may need to repeat this several times before Fluffy gives up and leaves you alone. If you say “no” and pet your cat instead of pushing her away, she will interpret your actions as a welcome signal.
Most cats will also respond to a sharp hissing or spitting sound as a “no” command when they are doing something seriously wrong and need to be stopped.
How to speak cat – Bottom Line
If you consistently use the same voice, facial expressions and hand gestures, most cats will have no trouble understanding what you say. The more you communicate with your cat, the better the two of you will become at understanding each other.