Many cat owners are accustomed to communicating with their pets through meowing and purring. However, apart from these noises, the kitten seems aloof, only blinking or occasionally touching its ears. But they are much more expressive than we think. A recent study found that cats have nearly 300 facial expressions to communicate with other cats, ranging from adorable smiling faces to hostile hissing faces. The study was conducted by Lauren Scott and Brittany Flokiewicz who filmed a group of 53 cats living in a cat cafe in Los Angeles.
Aiming to decipher cat-to-cat communication, they looked specifically at the faces kittens make to communicate with other cats after cafes close for the night. Over 10 months, they recorded the different facial expressions of 276 different cat species. Each combined an average of four of 26 unique facial movements, including open lips, dilation or constriction of pupils, blinking, nose licking, and ear position. Based on their observations, Scott and Flokiewicz found that 45% of expressions were friendly and 37% were overtly aggressive. The remaining 18% were ambiguous or could easily be read in either direction.
Although it is impossible to determine what cats "said" to each other, cats move their ears and whiskers toward other cats during friendly interactions, and move their ears and whiskers toward other cats during hostile contact. It was found that cats tend to stay away from cats. Pupil constriction and lip licking were also identified as signs of conflict. The researchers pointed to one particular interaction in which the two kittens quickly went from happy to aggressive. After playing for a while, one cat suddenly crouched down, hissed at the other cat, and ran away. Despite the mysteries surrounding cats' facial expressions, researchers have discovered that cats share a "common playful face" with humans, dogs and other creatures. The corners of the mouth are drawn back and the chin drops, forming an open smile.
Many people are currently hoping for an app that can decipher cat facial expressions, and Scott and Flokiewicz's discovery could certainly be the first step toward a deeper bond between cats and humans. Not only will owners know what their pet needs and feels, but they'll be able to make a better match when adopting a new cat. With any luck, these discoveries could be the first steps toward a deeper understanding of cats in the future.