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
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
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
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!
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
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.
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