How to translate cat-speak

We love our cats – but sometimes it can be deeply frustrating, for us and them, when they’re trying to communicate and we have no idea what they’re attempting to tell us. But according to Dr Gary Weitzman, author of the new book ‘How to Speak Cat’, it’s not hard to translate – once you know what each noise and behaviour means.



Cats have 16 different types of meow – but they only ever use them on people. Cats don’t communicate with each other using noise, but with body language, hissing or growling.

They can mean ‘food’, ‘affection’ or ‘let me out’ and vary in tone and pitch. This is because cats quickly learn that they can get their needs met by people purely by making a noise. They do not meow for ‘things’ in the absence of humans, because there’s no point.

Chattering teeth

Involuntary trembling of the jaw and a high-pitched chirruping is a hunting response – the cat’s seen a bird, or other prey, and is entirely focused on its movements. It won’t do this at humans, only things it might eat.


A slow blink is a welcoming gesture that acknowledges the human. “Like a wink between friends, or a kiss,” says Weitzman. Have fun exchanging blinks with your cat – entire conversations may be possible.


This is not, as often thought, a cat trying to spread its scent – it’s actually a sign of affection. They only do it to people they like.


Nothing to do with salt on the skin or thinking you’re a kitten. It’s just a sign of affection; however revolting.

Tail straight up

This is a ‘handshake’ position – it means “I’m willing to get to know you,” or “Everything’s fine.”

Flat ears

It’s very scared, unsettled or readying itself for a fight. If a cat has its ears pinned back it’s very likely to scratch you or make an escape bid.

Whiskers out to the side

Feeling happy, calm, friendly and ready to face whatever comes along – like a person who’s just bounced out of bed to greet the day.

Fluffing up

If the cat looks like a loo brush, it’s definitely upset. It’s raising all its fur to make itself look bigger – bless, it doesn’t know it’s the size of a decorative cushion. This is nearly always aimed at other cats, but if it’s confused or scared, it will puff up its tail at the perceived threat.

Showing its tummy

If your cat has rolled on to its back with its paws in the air, it’s feeling deeply trusting and relaxed. However, only the most chilled-out cat will actually let you scratch its middle – most cats snap upright the moment you touch them there.

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