How Your Cat Communicates

Understanding Your Cat & His Emotions

Want to know how your cat communicates if he’s happy or upset? Cats are just as emotive as people, even if it’s often non-verbal. Here are a few ways your cat can tell you how he’s really feeling.

Tummy Display

Feline body language is more nuanced than that of dogs, says Karen Sueda, DVM, Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.

“Part of the problem arises when people take their knowledge of dogs and apply it to cats,” says Sueda.

Have you ever wondered, for example, why your cat’s seemingly flirtatious behavior of rolling over to expose its belly may be met with overt aggression when you try to stroke it?

When your cat is content and relaxed, she may stretch out and roll over.

But in other situations, when a cat feels cornered and cannot escape, this pose — followed by fully extended claws and sharp teeth — may be highly defensive, indicating that she is prepared to fight, says Pam Johnson-Bennett, a Certified Animal BehaviorConsultant in Nashville, Tenn.

As with other feline-human interactions, it is important to learn what your cat prefers.

The Fluttering Blink

When a cat greets another cat or a person with slow, languid blinks, it’s communicating affection.

Why? Because in the feline world, closing one’s eyes in the presence of another is the ultimate sign of trust.

By blinking slowly at your cat, you are communicating that you are aware of its presence and pose no threat. So the next time your cat blinks at you, try returning the gesture.

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What Your Cat’s Headbutts Mean

Wondering what it means when your cat headbutts and nuzzles you? There are many different ways your cat can communicate with just his head. Here’s a look at two of the most common, the nose touch and bunting, or headbutting.

Nose Touching

Cats touch each other’s noses to engage in a friendly greeting. They are also sniffing each other’s pheromones to identify each other.

When cats touch noses, they are taking part in a behavior called “allorubbing,” which may be something like a handshake or a hug in human terms.

Allorubbing is more common in feral cats than in housepets. Your cat uses a variation of this behavior, lip rubbing, to mark objects (rather than people or other animals) with her scent.

Head-Butting (Bunting)

Head-butting and allorubbing are pieces of the same puzzle. Head-butting, also called “bunting,” takes place between cats who know each other well.

It is usually a mutual behavior: that is, the two cats will gently touch the crowns of their heads or their cheeks together in order to express affection.

Head-butting often leads to full-body rubbing and to tail-twining. When your cat touches her nose to your face or head-butts you, she is showing her affection and bonding with you.

Petting your kitty in response to allorubbing, head-butting, or body rubbing reinforces that bond and may be reassuring to your cat.

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Do you understand how your cat communicates with you?

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