Cat communication is the transfer of information by one or more cats that has an effect on the current or future behaviour of another animal, including humans. Cats use a range of communication modalities including visual, auditory, tactile, chemical and gustatory.
The communication modalities used by domestic cats have been affected by domestication.
Cat vocalisations have been categorised according to a range of characteristics.
Schötz categorised vocalizations according to 3 mouth actions: (1) sounds produced with the mouth closed (murmurs), including the purr, the trill and the chirrup, (2) sounds produced with the mouth open and gradually closing, comprising a large variety of miaows with similar vowel patterns, and (3) sounds produced with the mouth held tensely open in the same position, often uttered in aggressive situations (growls, yowls, snarls, hisses, spits and shrieks).
Brown et al. categorised vocal responses of cats according to the behavioural context: (1) during separation of kittens from mother cats, (2) during food deprivation, (3) during pain, (4) prior to or during threat or attack behavior, as in disputes over territory or food, (5) during a painful or acutely stressful experience, as in routine prophylactic injections and (6) during kitten deprivation. Less commonly recorded calls from mature cats included purring, conspecific greeting calls or murmurs, extended vocal dialogues between cats in separate cages, “frustration” calls during training or extinction of conditioned responses.
Miller classified vocalisations into 5 categories according to the sound produced: the purr, chirr, call, meow and growl/snarl/hiss.
The meow is one of the most widely known vocalizations of domestic kittens. It is a call apparently used to solicit attention from the mother.
Adult cats commonly vocalise with a "meow" (or "miaow") sound, which is onomatopoeic. The meow can be assertive, plaintive, friendly, bold, welcoming, attention soliciting, demanding, or complaining. It can even be silent, where the cat opens its mouth but does not vocalize. Adult cats do not usually meow to each other and so meowing to human beings is likely to be an extension of the use by kittens.
Different languages have correspondingly different words for the "meow" sound, including miau (Belarusian, Croatian, Hungarian, Dutch, Finnish, Lithuanian, Malay, German, Polish, Russian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish and Ukrainian), mnau (Czech), meong (Indonesian), niau (Ukrainian), niaou (?????, Greek), miaou (French), nya (??, Japanese), miao (?, Mandarin Chinese, Italian), miav/miao or mjav/mjau (Danish, Swedish and Norwegian), mjá (Icelandic), ya-ong (??, Korean), ????? / Miya?un_ (Urdu) and meo-meo (Vietnamese). In some languages (such as Chinese ?, mao), the vocalization became the name of the animal itself.
The call is loud, rhythmic sound made with the mouth closed. It is primarily associated with female cats soliciting males, and sometimes occurs in males when fighting with each other. A "caterwaul" is the cry of a cat in estrus (or "in heat").
A cat lying with its belly exposed communicates trust and comfort (this is also typical of overweight cats, as it is more comfortable for them); however, a cat may also roll on its side or back to defend itself with its claws.
Calm cats tend to stand relaxed with a still tail. If they become aggressive, the hind legs stiffen, the rump elevates but the back stays flat, tail hairs are erected, the nose is pushed forward and the ears pulled back slightly. This is to elicit deference by the competitor. The aggressor may attempt to make challengers retreat and will pursue them if they do not defer. A fearful, defensive cat makes itself smaller, lowers itself toward the ground, arches its back and leans its body away from the threat rather than forward. The cat tries to avoid combat, which could result in injury. Fighting usually occurs only when escape is impossible.
Flattened ears generally indicate that a cat feels threatened and may attack. Having the mouth open and no teeth exposed indicates playfulness
Cats often use their tail to communicate. Cats holding the tail vertically generally indicates positive emotions such as happiness or confidence and is often used as a friendly greeting toward human beings or other cats (usually close relatives). A half-raised tail can indicate less pleasure, and unhappiness is indicated with a tail held low. In addition, a cat's tail may swing from side to side. If this motion is slow and "lazy", it generally indicates that the cat is in a relaxed state, and is thought to be a way for the cat to search and monitor the surroundings behind it. Cats will twitch the tips of their tails when hunting or when irritated, while larger twitching indicates displeasure. A stalking domestic cat will typically hold its tail low to the ground while in a crouch, and twitch it quickly from side to side. This tail behavior is also seen when a cat has become "irritated" and is nearing the point of biting or scratching. They may also twitch their tails when playing. Sometimes during play, a cat, or more commonly, a kitten, will raise the base of their tail high and stiffen all but the tip into a shape like an upside-down "U". This signals great excitement, to the point of hyperactivity. This may also be seen when younger cats chase each other, or when they run around by themselves. When greeting their owner, cats often hold their tails straight up with a quivering motion that indicates extreme happiness. A scared or surprised cat may erect the hairs on its tail and back. In addition, it may stand more upright and turn its body sideways to increase its apparent size as a threat. Tailless cats, such as the Manx, which possess only a small stub of a tail, move the stub around as if they possess a full tail.
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