Any pet parent knows felines can speak volumes with their movements and sounds, but just what are they trying to say? To better understand your cat’s verbal and nonverbal communication, start by learning what these common body signs mean. You’ll be reading your cat’s body language in no time.
Cat Tail Movements
A cat's tail in an upright, immobile position is a positive sign, meaning your cat is in a good mood. When the tail is droopy, your cat may be feeling low in spirits.
Twitching, side-to-side movement may signal your cat is agitated and wants more space, whereas flicks of the tip may indicate a cat’s feeling a bit bashful.
Hairs standing on end, as you probably know, mean your cat is bristling about something! Cool, calm cats let their tails dangle downward.
Raised ears are ready ones—ready for amusement and affection. If their ears are flattened or turned to the side, your cat’s curiosity is probably piqued. If you see ears pointing to the ground or ears flattened and pulled back, you should be on the lookout for a mood swing for the worse.
Eyes and a Cat's Mood
Windows to a cat’s soul, cats’ eyes can deliver a variety of expressions. When their eyes are alert and on you, your cat is paying you attention. Half closed? Your kitty is probably too tired to give you any notice.
If you’ve seen your cat’s eyes shrink and sharpen to slits, don’t worry, your pal isn’t mad—just active and self-assured. Scared cats’ eyes grow big and wide. When your cat blinks and winks, they’re trying to show you that they love you. If you’re getting a pair of unmoving eyes, be warned, that stare is not likely to be a happy one. Also take note of cloudy eyes as they may indicate sickness.
Cat Head Movements
As you might expect, confident cats keep their heads held high, while feelings of submission are expressed when felines’ heads hang low. Other signs to look out for? An outstretched head is like a greeting, a sign the cat is up to engaging with others.
Stretching—particularly with the legs fully extended—may be in preparation for an attack or just a sign of cat confidence. Cats, like humans, typically shrink and tuck their limbs in out of fear. If feeling cornered, a cat who lifts a paw is saying, “I’m prepared to defend myself.”
If you see your cat’s whiskers relax while their ears, head, and tail tilt upward, this means they’re in a blissful state, and likely want to share it with you. When our cats caress us with their bodies, it’s a sign of possession (they own us, don’t you know?), and also affection. When your cat paws at something, as if kneading, it’s a sign of contentment.
If your pet ever takes a big whiff of something, then makes a face, your animal is likely breathing in and absorbing information about the smell.
Quiet, typically closed-mouth vocalizations, like purring, are used for greetings, giving thanks, and garnering attention.
Meowing can mean any number of things, including expressing hunger, approval or disapproval, or be a way of making demands. Watch out for high-pitched meows, which usually mean somebody’s not in a good mood! Gentler meowing is the kind you’ve probably come to associate with when you pet your cat. Angrier sounds, like hissing, spitting, growling, shrieking, and snarling signal feelings of discomfort or rage.
Howling is generally a cry for help and may mean your cat needs immediate attention or care.
Body Clues of Cat Aggression
Signs of a cat on the offense: Ever seen a cat stiffen and straighten up? If these behaviors are accompanied by staring, lowering of the head, growling or howling—your cat may be feeling on the offense.
Signs of a cat on the defense: Cowering movements, like ducking the head, tucking the tail in, flattening the ears, hissing, spitting, turning the eyes away, or moving the whiskers backward, to the side, or forward may indicate your cat is feeling anxious or frightened.
Other signs of aggression: Some antagonistic feline behaviors are not as subtle, such as swatting, biting, fighting, growling, shrieking, scratching, or showing teeth and claws. You probably already know what these mean!
More on Cat Care
When to Take a Cat to the Vet
How Much Do Cats Sleep?
How to Train a Cat