Communication between cats

Those of you who have more than one cat will know that the way which they communicate with each other is very different to how they do with us, and often very hard to read. Following the success of their 2013 study, BBC’s Horizon recently aired the findings of their Cat Watch 2014 – a scientific study to track cats’ behaviour and language. This included looking at how cats communicate with other cats, a language which contrasts greatly to the one we have with our feline friends.

It’s been known for some time now that meow sounds have been developed as a result of the domestication of cats. Kittens have been proven to meow to their mothers after birth as a cry for attention, but adult cats do not use these sounds for each other – only to us humans! It seems the clever creatures recognise the effects of certain meow noises, depending on their pitch and sound, and use these to manipulate our actions, be it for feeding or petting. When it comes to other cats, however, the noises they exhibit are much different, with sounds such as yowls and chattering to acknowledge the presence of other cats and mark their territory.

Body language is another way in which cats communicate to one another; just like humans, they use physical affection for familiar felines, which can include touching noses and rubbing the sides of their faces and bodies together as a greeting. The posture and position of their tail is another way of communicating their disposition. A very upright, straight in the air tail is a welcome sign to other cats, and most will feel comfortable approaching as a result. Whereas, all fluffed up with an arched back and raised bent over tail is very hostile body language and would immediately make other cats cautious and alert to possible conflict. With their extraordinary sense of smell, the other main way that cats communicate is through scent messages, something we’re unable to pick up on. They do this during contact with each other, through which they’re mixing their scents and leaving a trail of their own; likewise, cats leave scent messages for other cats in their ‘areas’ as a way of marking their territory.

So next time you see your cat with another, it’s worth spending some time observing how they act and speak to each other. It will remind you what a fascinating species they truly are, and may make you more aware of the ways they communicate with you too as a result.

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