If you have cats, chances are you won’t be surprised that every little chirp and random movement they make is part of a secret cat language. Over at TIME, an article posted this morning lays out the nuances of kitty communication, and it’s totally fascinating.
The way cats interact with their humans is much different than how dogs do, mainly because cats are so much more independent. According to Dr. Gary Weitzman, president of the San Diego Human Society and author of a new book on cat behavior called How To Speak Cat, cats make around 16 different sounds, but only to people. Cat-to-cat communication differs, because cats have learned how to use their language to get what they want out of you, be it food, affection or anything else they need.
Here’s a quick cheat-sheet on what your cat is trying to tell you in their cat language (tailored to humans ’cause they’re super smart).
A slow blink = “kitty kisses,” says Weitzman. The sleepy eyes show contentment and comfort, and when made at you are a sign of affection. You can try it out with your cat by making slow blinks at them to see how they respond.
Flat ears = leave them alone, or you might get swiped. The cat is afraid or thinks they are about to get into a fight, and you don’t want that fight to be with your hands or toes.
Whiskers out to the sides = a happy, calm cat.
Tail straight up = a handshake. If your cat walks over with their tail in the air, know they are pleased to see you!
Of course, no one knows your cat better than you do, and their little quirks will tell you a lot about what they are trying to communicate. But for an animal that usually gets a bad rap for being aloof, it turns out cats actually have a lot to say. What’s more, cats are learning from us how to communicate by figuring out what to “say” to get what they want from us. Personally, I’m trying to figure out how to convince my cat to unlearn that meowing when an alarm goes off will get them food faster.