Adult cats rarely ever meow at one another. In feral cat colonies, they may never use this type of vocalization at all. This is not to say that cats do not communicate within their species. They just do so very differently than humans, making it difficult for us to recognize what we are seeing.
When cats have something to say to their fellow felines they use other vocalizations as well as a series of touch, facial expressions, body postures, and scent cues.
Why Do Cats Meow At Humans?
For the most part, cats meow only as kittens to let their mothers know they need something. In that way, it is a manipulative behavior used as a survival mechanism.
At some point in the domestication process, cats learned that these same pleading sounds could be used to get what they want from their human caretakers. This suggests they may actually see us as mother figures which makes sense considering we provide all the same services – attention, food, protection, and assistance.
If Not By Meowing, How Do Cats Communicate With One Another?
Just because they do not use as much vocal communication as humans does not mean cats are not expressive. Most of what they have to say can be conveyed to one another through scent marking, body postures, facial expressions, and touch.
When cats head-bunt and rub their bodies against something, they are using a form of olfactory communication known as scent-marking. Sebaceous glands along the forehead, tail, lips, chin and paw pads release their unique scent onto surfaces, favorite humans, and yes, one another.
Other (grosser) forms of scent-marking include urine spraying, depositing fecal matter and expressing their anal sacs. By investigating these substances, other cats can tell if the excreter was male or female, neutered or intact, even whether they were squatting or spraying when they urinated!
Cats communicate their moods through subtle movements in their eyes, ears, and mouths. For example:
- Half open or slitted eyes indicate a cat is content and confident.
- When the eyes are wide with dilated pupils, the cat is expressing tension.
- A direct stare means the cat is feeling defensive or preparing to fight/hunt.
- A cat that is breathing heavily with an open mouth and visible teeth is aggressive, and ready for a showdown!
- Flat ears mean the cat senses a threat.
- Twitchy ears indicate nervous energy or a cat on the hunt.
Complete Body Language
In addition to their complex facial expressions, cats also utilize their bodies to let other cats know how they are feeling, especially their tails. A high, steady tail usually indicates a happy, confident cat while a gently swaying tail can denote sociability or play. However, a tense, rapidly lashing tail means the cat is defensive or aggressive.
Other feline body language cues include arched backs, flattened bodies, raised fur, and frozen posture.
The nose touch — or nose boop — is a traditional social greeting among cats. This is their way of sharing scents. It allows the other feline to sense where they have been and how they are feeling. Similar to a human handshake, this social gesture establishes both cats as equals (for the time being).
Cats can and do use vocal cues when communicating with each other. While meowing is reserved for mothers and kittens as well as domestic housemates, all cats growl, yowl, hiss, and purr when necessary to get their point across.