Reading Cat Body Language How to Judge Your Cat's Mood from Their Movements

Reading Cat Body Language

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Cats can express a lot through their movements. Learn what your cat's ears, tail, and other movements are trying to tell you.

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.

Cat Ears

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.

Body Movements

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.

Cat Sounds

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!

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 signalling 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.

Body posture

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.

More on Cat Care

When to Take a Cat to the Vet
How Much Do Cats Sleep?
How to Train a Cat

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