The key to understanding a foreign language is practice – for both humans and cats. Most cats will be better at reading our body language than our vocal words. For instance, cats learn to follow our gaze and look where we are looking. They also understand the pointing gesture just as dogs do. They are sensitive to our tone of voice, knowing very well when we are angry or affectionate. An experienced cat will even understand some of our words – the “vet” word, for instance. Why else do they disappear when hearing it? And the more experienced a cat is around humans, the more words it knows and the more it uses its voice to get through to us.
If you want to communicate better with your cat you can use some of its signals. With a frightened cat you can be careful just give sideways glances, not a glare. You can try to become lower than the cat. Let it get up higher on to a table or shelf, while you go down to ground level, flat on your tummy. Inexperienced humans often spend effort trying to understand a cat’s vocal chat, when they would do better to concentrate on its body language. You have probably learned some of its body language already even if you don’t know you have done so. Careful attention to its ears and body will give further information. Finally you can even leave a scent message for your cat. By petting it, you are giving it your scent and take on some of its own. It is now possible to buy an artificial pheromone, which will help you leave reassuring scent messages for your cat on furniture or household cat pathways.