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Cat Communication: How to Talk to and Understand Your Cat

A woman talking to or kissing a cat.
A woman talking to or kissing a cat. Photography ©Maximastudio | Thinkstock.
Last Updated on November 22, 2023 by Catster Editorial Team

Before you can learn to talk to your cat, you need to understand how your cat talks to you. Did you know that meowing is a form of cat communication your cat reserves just for you? In nature, cats do not meow to one another past kittenhood. If your cat meows at you, he’s trying to tell you something.

And it’s not just about meow; grasping the meaning of your cat’s body language is an important part of how he communicates with you and the world around him. Gauge his mood by his body language before you start trying to talk to him.

If your cat is open to your attention and conversation, his body language will be very relaxed and inviting. His tail will be up greeting you or curled around him and still if he is lying down. His ears will be forward or slightly to the side, ready to listen. He may even be kneading or roll over to show you his tummy. If you see any tail swishing, big, black pupils, ears back or hear any growling, then he is most certainly not in the mood to entertain you right now.

Cat communication — the most important thing is the tone of your voice

A stealthy or sly-looking cat with his paw out.
Want to talk to your cat? The tone of your voice is key to cat communication. Photography ©gtlv | Thinkstock.

If your cat is in the mood to converse with you, how do you talk to him in his language — or yours? Both, actually! I meow at my cats sometimes when they are meowing at me (and I do wonder just what I am saying to them). Seriously, the most important thing about talking to your cat is your tone of voice.

  1. Speak in a higher voice. Cats respond better to sopranos, so use a higher voice when speaking to yours. Men, too, should speak to their cats in a higher tone than they normally would use. I’ve noticed that when I use a very high, sweet voice, my cats come running to see what’s up, usually expecting a treat. I think I taught them that — or did they teach me? Hmm …
  2. Match your tone to the message. Tone of voice is important with cats, let alone humans. If you’re giving your cat praise for something, make your tone of voice light and loving. If you’re teaching him that a behavior is unwelcome, make your tone more serious (but there is no need to yell). The two messages have to sound different; otherwise your kitty won’t understand the difference between their meaning when you talk to him.
  3. Use vocal cues and repetition. If you want your cat to learn something, repeat the action and add a vocal cue to help him learn. “Good Boy or Good Girl” works well on cats, too — it’s not just for dogs. Reinforce your praise with a treat, and your cat will fall all over you and do whatever you want to hear your syrupy, sweet words and get that yummy goodie that goes with it.

What purrs mean in cat

Purring to your cat can also be an effective way form of cat communication. If your cat is purring, go ahead and purr back by trilling your tongue or making a low, soft humming noise. My cats will purr louder and longer if I mimic their purring back to them. I am speaking their language, and purring is a throwback from kitten days when momma would purr to reassure them that everything was alright. I am their momma, so they love it when I purr to them. Sonny will flop down right up against me and nuzzle his nose into my cheek when I do it.

And what about hissing?

Cat hissing, too, is a throwback to cat communication from their kitten days, when momma would hiss at them to keep them in line. It basically means “Stop that right now” or “Back off,” and it works wonders if you use it sparingly.

At times, two of my boy kitties will decide to challenge one another. If I see them posturing, I’ll step between them and give one sharp hiss. This stops the fight from escalating 100 percent of the time because, again, I am speaking their language. I don’t do this all the time, though; it’s something I reserve only for extremely bad behaviors that I need to stop immediately.

Now, you know all about cat communication

Now that you know the best way to speak to your cat, it’s time to put it into daily practice. Your cat really does want to speak to you, so make an effort to talk back to him on his level the next time you hear him meow. Knowing how to chat back in a way your cat will understand will result in a much closer bond between you and a better understanding of just what it is your cat wants.

Quiet is also key to good cat communication

Cats are happiest when they live in a quiet and peaceful environment, free from noises like loud music, vacuum cleaners or even people shouting. Loud noises can be frightening to cats for two reasons:

  1. A cat’s hearing is more sensitive than ours, and they can hear things at both ends of the spectrum (higher and lower) than we can. So they hear every nuance of a sound, and it’s amplified to them, too. This serves them well in nature when they are hunting for food. (That’s how they hear a mouse stirring in the brush.)
  2. Cats are both predator and prey, therefore they are always on alert for something/someone who might cause them harm. Because they’re always on high alert, any sudden loud noises could send them leaping straight up into the air. It might be funny to watch, but it’s not at all amusing for your cat and can lead to stress, anxiety and behavioral problems.

So keep the music down, don’t make loud, sudden noises, and he will stay one cool cat.

Tell us: What are your tips for good cat communication? How do you speak or talk to your cats?

Thumbnail: Photography ©Maximastudio | Thinkstock.

Rita Reimers’ Cat Behavior Coaching has helped many cat owners better understand their feline friends. Visit to read her cat behavior blog or to book a cat behavior coaching session. Rita is also the CEO/owner of Connect with her on Facebook and on Twitter at @theCatAnalyst.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Catster magazine. Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home. 

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About the Author

Rita Reimers
Rita Reimers
Rita Reimers and Linda Hall are co-founders of The Cat Behavior Alliance, offering a unique Duo-Approach to cat behavior correction. Visit them at for more information. You can also find Rita and Linda on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok @CatBehaviorAlliance. 

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