HOME & LIVING
07/30/2015 03:30 pm ET Updated Jul 30, 2015

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

Your cat is trying to tell you something. Get with the program.

Think you understand your cat purr-fectly? You want want to double check. 

A new video from New York Magazine's Science of Us series explains, via scientific research, what your cat really means when it purrs, rubs against your leg or meows. And, as other research also shows, most of our cats' messages don't mean what we've always thought they've meant. Behold, a whole new dictionary for cat translation:
 

Purr = "Don't go anywhere. I like you around."

Yes, cats purr when they're happy, the Human Society confirms. But research shows they also purr when they’re injured or sick, Science of Us explains, and in that case you should stay nearby for care and cuddling. Purring may also be helping your cat heal and relieve its own pain, according to the Library of Congress.

Rapid tail swishes = “I’m scared, and I’m in attack mode.”

Quick swishes signal aggression that’s often brought on by fear, the Humane Society explains. If your cat is in a safe place, make sure it has access to food and water, then allow it to come out on its own time.

Rub against your legs = “You're back. I missed you!"

He could be marking his territory, according to the Humane Society. But consider this tidbit from the video above: In the wild, cats will rub up against each other as a greeting after a long hunt. When you return from a day at work or have been away from your cat for a bit, this could be the message he's sending with a rub.

Hiss = “If you don’t back off, I’m gonna try to fight.”

Cats would rather avoid physical confrontation, so they rely on hissing to warn enemies -- including you! -- that they’re unhappy before they resort to clawing or biting, cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennet explains on her blog. When your cat hisses, give it time to calm down, then open a door or other escape route to allow it to flee the aggravating situation.

Meow = Literally anything, like “I need food,” or “I want help,” or “I’m bored.”

Cats almost never meow to each other: It seems to be a behavior they invented solely to communicate with humans, the ASPCA notes. And each cat’s “meowing language” is tailored to its owner, so the more you hang out with your cat, the more likely you’ll understand what its particular meows mean, says Science of Us.

 May you have meow-velous luck!

 For more on cat communication, check out Science of Us.

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