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Jan. 2, 2024

276 facial expressions

During a one-year study in a local cat café in Los Angeles, two researchers discovered that cats have a total of 276 different facial expressions to interact with one another. How is that even possible, you wonder? For each expression, cats use a combination of 4 out of 26 individual facial movements such as blinking or widened pupils to express themselves. And, if you think that 276 is a lot, bear in mind that natural processes, like breathing and yawning, were not even included since they happen automatically and aren’t related to specific emotions.

The impact of us humans

All 53 studied cats were domestic cats. Unlike wildcats, domestic cats have been living close to humans for thousands of years, which made them more socially tolerant. In addition, wild cats are solitary animals, so the cats at the cat café obviously had more cat-to-cat interactions than a wildcat would. Researchers think that domestic cats may even have found some inspiration in humans’ facial expressions, considering some of them are practically the same as ours.

Friendly kitty cats

Even though not every single expression could be specifically labelled, 45% of them were classified as friendly. General signs to recognize friendly cat behavior were forward-facing ears and whiskers, and a relaxed mouth and eyes. If a cat, on the other hand, is pulling back their ears, whiskers, and mouth, they might be angry or upset. This was the case in 37% of the expressions, while the remaining 18% were too ambiguous to categorize into one of the two groups. Overall, cats mostly send out happy vibes to one another.

You are not a cat

If you ask someone to imitate a cat, they will probably start meowing. But, contrary to what we might think, this is not typical behavior among cats. Kittens meow to get the attention of their mother, but this will stop as soon as they get older. However, cats learned that meowing is the perfect way to get the attention of people, too. In that way, they can indicate that they need something. Did you know that over time, cats even made their meowing more kitten-like and attractive to the human ear? All so that we can jump right up for their every need.

Subtle communication amongst cats

While cats have a huge number of different facial expressions, our feline friends in fact use their entire body to interact with others, especially their tail. In addition, cats can get touchy, rubbing up against their best buddy, or swatting at an enemy. While cats normally don’t meow at one another, they still use sounds to communicate, like growling, hissing, and purring. Lastly, cats use smell and chemical signals to communicate. For example, many cats mark their territory by releasing pheromones. If you’re lucky, they do this by rubbing their head against the couch. If you’re a bit less lucky, they might spray your entire living room…