There's a perception that cats are not very social animals, at least when compared to dogs who are more expressive in their emotional states toward other dogs. Cats have many ways to communicate with each other that are uniquely feline.
The Social Lives of Cats
Cats can be solitary animals in that they have evolved over centuries from their wild ancestors to hunt for prey. Because their type of hunting for animals involves stealth and quick motions to startle and catch their prey, hunting alone is the most efficient way to be successful. Cats are also territorial with other cats, even within one household, which can cause stress and conflict.
Why Is This Important?
If you're wondering how all of this relates to the question of how do cats communicate with each other, it is all based on their social structure. In order to "keep the peace" cats have complex relationships with other cats. These relationships are established through their communication within groups of cats that live together as well as cats outside their household group. Cat communication between other cats can be grouped into three categories that all relate to their inter-cat relationships.
Scent-Based Cat Communication
Like dogs, cats have a much stronger sense of smell than we do. They are also similar to dogs in that they have an organ dedicated to processing scents called the Jacobson's organ, which is not found in humans. They use their highly developed olfactory abilities to communicate to other cats.
Dealing with cat spraying can definitely be annoying. Anyone who's owned cats can tell you how hard it is to get rid of.
- The reason for this scenting behavior is a cat's attempts to announce his territory to other cats, whether It's cats in the same home or unaffiliated cats outside your home.
- By spraying urine, and sometimes feces, on vertical spaces such as walls and fences, this is a big, clear message to other cats to stay out of his area.
- This is why spraying behavior is often found among multi-cat households, particularly with unsterilized males, and when cats from outside the home wander onto your property and upset the resident cat.
Rubbing Other Cats
Another way that cats use scent to communicate with each other is by rubbing against each other.
- This rubbing is seen in areas around their head and neck. This is known as "bunting."
- When cats bunt with each other, they are exchanging pheromones from their scent glands with other cats and is a generally friendly behavior.
- You may also see cats rub against your furniture, walls and other vertical spots and this is somewhat like spraying. The cat is using his pheromones to claim his territory.
Cat Communication Through Body Language
Cats use body language in both subtle and dramatic ways to have "conversations" with other cats. Humans not schooled in the basics of cat physical cues can often be confused by what's going on and miss messages between their cats that could indicate friendliness, fear, anxiety or aggression.
Friendly Signals Between Cats
If cats are expressing positive social interaction with other cats, you will observe the following changes in their body language:
- Ears will be forward
- An erect tail that is either vibrating or up but appears relaxed
- Dilated pupils in the eyes, which may also indicate aggression, based on other body language signals
- Overall body language along with their sides and back looking relaxed and their fur looks normal
- May purr and/or rub against each other
Anxious Body Language Between Cats
A cat that feels stressed by the presence of another cat will display specific physical cues. This is often seen when a new cat is brought into a home, or one cat is bullying the other cat. These visual signals are:
- Ears may move back, and forth which indicates they are wary of their environment
- "Hackles" will be up, which means their fur looks like it is moving up and spreading away from each other
- The same erect fur will be visible on the tail, with the tail tucked under their body
- Pupils will be dilated
- Their back may be arched, or you may see them lower their body to the ground
Inter-Cat Signals of Aggression
Cats that are moving in an offensive posture to other cats will display obvious visual communication. This is a message to you intervene to prevent any injury to the cats as well as protecting the more defensive cat from further fear and stress. If one of your cats shows this behavior to other cats or both display it, you should strongly consider contacting a cat behavior professional or veterinary behaviorist for help with building harmony among your felines.
- Ears will be pointed back and will appear pressed against their head
- Tail will be moving in an agitated, fast motion that will increase the more aggressive the cat is
- Pupils will be constricted
- Back will have "hackles" which looks like their fur is spread up and out
- Back will also look arched
- Overall body language will appear taut and stiff
Vocal Communication Among Cats
The final way that cats communicate with other cats is through a variety of sounds they make which can range from happy to fearful to aggressive. Some cats will be more "talkative" than others based on their individual personalities and breed.
- Yowling, or caterwauling, occurs when you have unsterilized cats and it's mating season. Both male and female cats will yowl when they perceive the presence of the other. Yowling can also get quite loud, particularly as cats in heat and seeking mates get closer to each other.
- Yowling can also occur when your cat is distressed and ill or in pain.
- Another time you will hear yowling is when cats are about to fight or are fighting already.
Like howling, cats may make this sound when they see another cat intruding on their territory. It's both a sign of frustration and an attempt to tell the other cat to go away.
- Hissing is another behavior that cats will make when disturbed by other cats.
- If a cat greets a new and unfamiliar cat, they will hiss to tell the other cat to back away and leave them alone.
- Usually cats are in a defensive posture when hissing, but you can also see hissing happen prior to a cat attacking another cat.
- Hissing can also be accompanied by growling.
- Cats who are aggressive towards one another, or if one cat is aggressive to another cat, will engage in growling noises.
- Cats may also growl when stressed at the presence of a new cat.
Cats meow to greet their humans. The will occasionally do the same to other cats although it's mostly seen with kittens meowing to their mothers.
Another noise associated with kittens is the chirp which the mom makes to her babies to get their attention.
Cat to Cat Communication
Cats have complex relationships with each other and use social extensively to make their feelings known to both their feline housemates and unfamiliar cats. If you learn more about how cats speak to each other, you can understand how they are relating and getting along, or not, in your household. It also allows you to intervene faster when you sense there's a problem and you need professional help.