What Cats REALLY Mean When They Meow, Purr, Rub Against You, And Hiss

Ever wonder what your cat is thinking? Or wish there was some way to decode its incessant meowing? Well, help is at hand.


This new video from New York Magazine’s Science of Us series explains the nitty-gritty of kitty communication, using the latest  scientific research to help you decipher cat chat.

Cat owners everywhere, we present the definitive cat dictionary:


Purr = “Don’t go anywhere, please!”

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It’s a common misconception that cats only purr when they’re happy. In reality, they also purr when they’re sick or injured — or just about any time that they want you to stick around.


Rubs against your legs = “You’re back! I missed you!”

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In the wild, big cats rub up against their pals as a greeting after a hunt.


Meow = A cat’s way of talking to its human. It can mean anything from “I want food” to “I’m bored.”

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Interestingly, cats don’t meow to other cats. It’s used with humans only, and only a cat’s owner can correctly decode what a cat is meowing about — a skill that is developed over time.

Rapid tail swishes = “I’m scared / I’m going to attack.”

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Quick swishes point to aggression that’s often brought on by fear.


Hiss = “Back off, or get ready to fight.”

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Cats don’t like physical fighting, and so hiss to warn enemies (including you!) that an attack is imminent. When your cat hisses, give it time to calm down, and open a door or arrange an escape route to allow it to flee the situation.

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