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 being 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!
Decoding Your Cat’s Body Language
Cats are incredibly smart and loving creatures. Although your cat cannot talk to you, he is always communicating with you. As with humans, non-verbal communication is an important tool to gauge your cat's emotions and behaviour accurately. It would be unfair to assume that your cat is being temperamental or irritable if you do not try to understand why he behaves a certain way. Read on to understand a few of the most common cat behaviors and decode what your precious kitty may be trying to tell you.
Watch the tail
A cat’s tail is a definitive indicator of the mood it is in. If you find the tail to be straight up or straight with a slight curl, your cat is in a happy and relaxed mood. When faced with stressful situations, cats may also tuck their tails between their hind legs so as to feel protected and secure. A sure tell of an agitated or frightened cat is when the tail is extremely stiff or even puffed out – indicating a fight mode.
The eye movements
If your cat is feeling at ease or is content, his pupils will be minimally dilated. A cat’s way of signaling trust is when he looks at you and blinks slowly. If you find your kitty’s eyes to be fixated on something, with the pupils enlarged, he is probably concentrating or is in fear. Cats will most likely focus their attention and narrow their eyes when they are closely observing something and is ready to ‘hunt’ it down.
The ear signals
Ears that face forward indicate that your kitty is happy and relaxed. When your cat twitches his ears, he is most likely following a sound. If you notice excessive twitching, it may be a sign of stress or anxiety. Ears that face backward and appear flat to the head signal that your cat is agitated, and it is best not to approach him during this time.
A cat’s body posture can convey a lot about his current mood. If your kitty is sprawled out on his back while exposing his belly, he may be in a good mood and wants to show you that he trusts you. This posture could inversely also mean that your kitty is ready to use his claws to fight. If your cat is hunched over with his tails wrapped around him, he is possibly feeling anxious. A hunched back accompanied by a puffed-up coat indicates agitation as he is trying to appear larger and more powerful to the threat in front of him. Taking the time to understand and train your cat properly can help you strengthen your relationship with your feline companion.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you tell if a cat likes you?
Cats purr when they are happy and content, so if your cat is purring while they are near you, it is a good sign that they like you. Cats will often head-butt or rub their head against you as a sign of affection. When a cat kneads with their paws, it can indicate that they are happy and relaxed. If your cat follows you around the house or seems to want to be near you all the time, it is a sign that they enjoy your company. Cats may lick their owners as a sign of affection, especially if they are grooming you like they would another cat. Every cat is different, and some cats may show affection in different ways. But generally speaking, if your cat is calm, relaxed, and enjoys spending time with you, it is likely that they like you.
How do you know if a cat doesn't like you?
If a cat is hissing or growling at you, it's a clear indication that they are uncomfortable or frightened by your presence. When a cat's tail is twitching or flicking, it can be a sign of agitation or annoyance. If a cat hides or runs away when you approach them, it could be a sign that they are scared or uncomfortable around you. If a cat scratches or bites you, it's a clear sign that they are unhappy with your presence or actions. When a cat's ears are flattened or pulled back, it can indicate that they are feeling threatened or uncomfortable. Sometimes a cat may not like you simply because they have not yet had the chance to get to know you. In these cases, it may take time and patience to build a relationship with the cat. However, if a cat consistently exhibits the above behaviors towards you, it may be best to give them space and avoid interacting with them.
What is positive body language between cats?
Cats use a variety of body language cues to communicate with each other in a positive way. When a cat blinks slowly at another cat, it's a sign of relaxation and trust. This is often referred to as a "cat kiss" and can be a great way for cats to communicate their friendship with each other. When a cat's tail is held straight up or slightly curved at the tip, it indicates that the cat is feeling confident and friendly. Cats will often rub their heads or bodies against each other as a sign of affection and familiarity. Cats that are comfortable with each other will often engage in play behavior such as chasing each other, wrestling, or batting at each other with their paws. Cats that are close friends will often groom each other, which helps to reinforce their bond and remove any unpleasant scents or dirt from each other's fur.
What is the body language of a stressed cat?
Cats can become stressed in a variety of situations, and they will often display certain body language cues to signal that they are feeling uncomfortable or anxious. When a cat's ears are flattened against its head or held tightly back, it's a sign that they are feeling scared or threatened. When a cat's tail is twitching rapidly or lashing back and forth, it can indicate that they are feeling agitated or anxious. If a cat is hiding under furniture or in a secluded area, it's a sign that they are feeling scared or stressed. When a cat's pupils are enlarged, it's a sign that they are feeling scared or threatened. Cats that are stressed may groom themselves excessively, which can lead to hair loss or bald patches. Some cats may become aggressive when they are feeling stressed, either towards humans or other animals. When a cat is feeling stressed, it may have accidents outside the litter box.
How do cats pick their favorite person?
Cats can be very selective about the people they choose to bond with, and there are a few factors that can influence their decision. Cats often bond with the people they see on a regular basis, especially those who provide them with food, water, and attention. If a person provides a cat with positive experiences such as playtime, treats, and gentle affection, the cat may be more likely to bond with them. Cats are sensitive to their environment and may be more drawn to people who have a calm and relaxed demeanor. Cats may be more likely to bond with people who have personalities that are similar to their own, such as quiet and introverted people. Cats are sensitive to tone of voice and may be more responsive to people who speak to them in a soft and soothing tone. Some cats may bond with multiple people or show affection in different ways. It's also possible for a cat to develop a strong bond with a person who initially did not seem like a favorite. Ultimately, it's up to the cat to decide who they feel most comfortable and secure around, and building a strong bond with a cat often requires patience, consistency, and respect for the cat's boundaries.
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