While they are incapable of speech, anyone who has a cat knows that they'll try to tell you how they're feeling, in their own way. The key to getting along with a misbehaving kitty is understanding all the subtle (or less than subtle) cues they are using to communicate their mood.
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True, they may not be able to speak, but they can certainly make noise. A cat's vocalizations are a great tip off to how they are feeling. The “meow” is the most well-known feline vocalization, because it's typically used as a reminder to their people that they are still around, and in need of services (whether it be food or attention).
Another common cat noise is the “purr,” which is most people's favorite, since it signifies complacency in your cat, and a happy cat is always a good thing.
Lastly, and most importantly, is the “hiss/yowl” which is a pretty blatant signifier of a mad cat. If you are doing something to make your cat hiss, stop and back away; give them some time to cool off and come back later.
The subtle art of understanding cat body language is one that can take a lifetime to master, since the intricacies of their movements can be as slight as a tail-twitch, but can speak volumes about how they are feeling. Some things to be on the lookout for are:
Your cat’s ears are a good indicator of their mood. Generally speaking, the further back your cat’s ears are, the more introverted/defensive they are feeling, with the converse being true about forward facing ears.
A cat with wide open eyes can be saying that they are feeling happy and playful, but it could also mean that they are scared. Narrow eyes could be contented or submissive. As for pupil size, big, dilated pupils could be excitement or fear, while narrow pupils could be aggression. And if your cat is just staring at you without breaking eye contact, that is a clear sign that your cat is saying “step off.”
Generally speaking, the more open your cat’s mouth, the more outward their feeling. However, this openness could mean either rage (if they are showing their teeth) or playfulness (if they have a silly grin). If their mouth is closed, look to the other telltale signs to get a read on their emotions.
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Just like with dogs, a cat’s tail can provide some insight into how your pet is feeling. If their tail is erect, chances are they are in a good, playful mood. A straight back or twitchy tail could indicate that your cat is either agitated, frustrated, angry, or (sometimes) excited (such as if they are stalking prey). If you notice your cat’s tail is looking especially bristly, it is probably a sign of fear and/or aggression.
Maybe the most clear indicator of your cat’s behavior, your cat’s posture generally gives an accurate reading of their mood. If you notice your cat arching their back (not stretching), puffing themselves up, or bristling their fur, chances are your cat is in a bad mood. By making themselves appear larger, your cat is trying to assert their dominance, which is classified as aggressive behavior. However, if your cat is curled up in a ball, they are being decidedly nonthreatening.
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