Friendly or Fierce? Now We Understand the 300 Different Expressions Cats Make

Cats are known for their mysterious and enigmatic nature, often leaving their owners pondering what’s going on behind those whiskers and bright eyes. However, recent studies have shed light on the remarkable diversity of facial expressions displayed by our feline friends.

Cats display nearly 300 different facial expressions.
Photo: Pexels
Cats display nearly 300 different facial expressions.

A Surprising Discovery

Cats may seem hard to read, but research shows that they boast nearly 300 different facial expressions, which they use to convey a range of emotions and intentions. To uncover this, researchers spent months observing 53 domestic cats in a cat cafe, recording 186 separate meetings among them. The results, published in Behavioural Processes, identified 126 friendly facial expressions, including the closed-eye expression that cat owners often interpret as a sign of love.

“The literature is so sparse, and many studies only focus on the connection between cats and humans over the course of 10,000 years of domestication,” study co-author Brittany Florkiewicz, an assistant professor of psychology at Lyon College in Arkansas, told Live Science. “At the cat cafe, we were able to document spontaneous interactions between the cats and record their facial expressions.”

Facial expressions are used to communicate a wide range of emotions.
Photo: Pexels
Facial expressions are used to communicate a wide range of emotions.

The research revealed a surprise — that cats aren’t as hostile towards each other as previously thought. The majority of their facial expressions toward other cats were unexpectedly friendly. In fact, more than half of these expressions indicated a desire to play.

As researchers documented, when a cat wants to engage in playful behavior, you might notice its lips being pulled outwards, with bottom teeth showing, mouth open, and jaw stretched.

Friendly cat expressions often include closed eyes and forward-moving whiskers.
Photo: Pexels
Friendly cat expressions often include closed eyes and forward-moving whiskers.

Friendly vs. Unfriendly Expressions

To differentiate between friendly and unfriendly cat expressions, you can pay close attention to certain cues. As the Daily Mail reports, friendly expressions include closed eyes, ears moved closer together, and pushed-forward whiskers.

In contrast, unfriendly expressions involve narrowed pupils and flattened ears, which are also displayed to humans when cats are annoyed. When cats are preparing for a confrontation or even a swipe at a human, they instinctively make these expressions to protect their eyes and head from potential harm.

However, not all cat expressions are straightforward to interpret, as 48 of them can be either friendly or unfriendly. In these cases, context becomes crucial.

Unfriendly expressions may involve narrowed pupils and flattened ears.
Photo: Pexels
Unfriendly expressions may involve narrowed pupils and flattened ears.

A Comparative Look

Cats’ facial expressiveness is indeed remarkable when compared to other species. As Phys.org reports, while humans have 44 facial expressions and dogs have 27, cats display a total of 276 unique facial expressions.

What’s Behind the Expressions?

This newfound understanding of cat facial expressions may help us better assess our feline companions’ needs and feelings, ultimately strengthening the bond between cats and their human counterparts.

However, while we now know about the multitude of cat expressions, there’s more to explore. Researchers are still working to decipher the exact messages conveyed by these expressions.

As we decode the many faces of our feline friends, we inch closer to comprehending the rich tapestry of emotions that make up our cats’ inner world.

Help Rescue Animals

Provide food and vital supplies to shelter pets at The Animal Rescue Site for free!

Whizzco