How to Read Cat Body Language

Siberian Cat Profile Outdoors

There are days as pet parents that we wish our beloved felines could just tell us what they want, but nature didn’t give them this ability.

Which is…probably a good thing, in retrospect, as I’m sure my finicky Kitty would have a few “unpleasant” phrases about her dinner choices every night.

Although, we will never hear what our cat is feeling, there are many tell-tale signs to look for in our feline’s body language that are a good indication of her mood.

Let’s explore some fascinating discoveries in reading your cat’s body language.

Ginger Cat Sleeping Curled in a Ball

The Tail Can Tell a Tale:

Cats use their tails in many expressive manners, you just need to know what tale it’s tellin’.

  • Happy Tail: the cat’s tail is straight up and may even have a crook on the end (cane tail).
  • Scared Tail: the tail is held down
  • An Agitated Tail: the tail is moving quickly back-and-forth and indicates a feline that is in a bad mood.
  • An Unsure Tail: the cat is thinking about how it feels and will swish its tail slowly back-and-forth.
  • A Halloween Tail: the tail is arched and very often puffed-up to appear larger. This is a tale of woe for anyone who ventures forward.

Persian Cat with Black and Orange on White Fur

Can You “Ear” What I’m Telling You?

The ears of a cat are so much more than what it uses to hear with, he can be telling you to give him a nice petting or to “back away!” Read those ears before you dive in with all ten digits.

  • Forward Ears: the cat is content and playful.
  • Ears Straight Up: the feline is alert.
  • Turned Back or Sideways Ears: the cat may be overstimulated and/or agitated. Watch out!
  • Flattened & Back Ears: this cat is scared and feeling defensive. Flat ears can also indicate anger or aggression and can often be seen on cats that are in hunting-mode.

Cat with His Ears Back

Just Look At Those Eyes:

They say the “eyes are a window to the soul,” but when it comes to being a feline, those two eyes are relaying some important messages.

  • Dilated Pupils: this feline pal may be surprised, scared or stimulated.
  • Constricted Pupils: tense or possibly feeling aggressive is what these eyeballs are telling you.
  • Staring: likely indicates a challenge from your cat.
  • Slow Blinking: is a blissful moment and your cat feels safe, comfortable and trusts you.
  • Half Closed: droopy eyelids mean your cat is relaxed and trusts you.

Cat with Pupils Contracted

The Scratch My Belly Con:

When a cat rolls onto its back and displays its belly, we may dive in thinking its an invitation to give her a good tummy-massage. WRONG!

Often times when you scratch a cat’s underside, they will tolerate it for a time, but you will usually end up with her teeth and claws stuck into your hand and arm.

Although when your feline rolls onto her back in front of you, it is a sign of submission and that she openly trusts you with her most vulnerable area, it doesn’t mean it’s an open invitation to give her a good tummy rub.

Know the feline you are dealing with before you pet its underside and especially never do this with a cat you don’t know well.

Cat Showing Belly

Was That a Meow or a MEOW?

We know our cats can’t verbalize their wants and needs, but that doesn’t stop them from meowing up a storm. If you’ve ever been owned by a feline, then you have probably become quite adept at deciphering its different types of “caterwauling.”

Here are a few of the basic sounds a cat makes to convey its feelings.

  • Purring: usually signals contentment and may also be a comfort-seeking behavior when the cat is recovering from illness or close to death.
  • High-pitched gurgling or chatting: is a friendly sound.
  • Growling, hissing, or spitting: this cat is upset and should be left alone until it calms down.
  • Guttural sound: cats (especially males that have not been neutered) make this noise when it feels threatened by other cats. This sound is common in deaf cats as well.

Calico Cat

Kitty Communication-Combos

To get a clear understanding of what your cat is feeling, be sure to look for a combination of its tail position, ears and eyes. Reading these Kitty communication-combos can save you a lot of “pain” and bandages if you dive in when your cat is feeling stress, anger or frustration.

Here is a common Kitty communication-combo to watch out for.

The Play Prey Instinct:

Sometimes too much stimulation can land your cat into play prey instinct-mode. This is when Kitty inches closer and closer to an object until she has reached the arousal threshold, which is when she will pounce on and try to “kill” the prey.

Signs of this are a combination of dilated pupils, low twitching tail, and flattened ears.

If your hand is the object of interest in the play prey instinct scenario, the best thing to do is to keep it very still until she no longer views it as a “threat.”

The Whisker Wave:

There’s really no such thing as a “whisker wave.”

Too bad as it would be a great way to wrap up the body language of a cat. However, we’ve discovered a whole lot of cat signals that are sure to help you navigate safely and happily through the ever changing emotions of your feline friend.

Bonus: For more CAT-tastic articles, check out “Why is My Cat So Mean?” and “What’s the Deal with Cat Yoga?”


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