Cat body language: What is your cat saying?

by | Cat Care |

Knowing how to understand your cat’s body language is valuable. This information can help you understand what the cat is communicating, and then how you can respond, with enrichment, socialization, or behaviour modification. In this blog we’re going to break down some important body language signs for you! 

What can we learn from a cat’s body language? 

Understanding what your cat is communicating through their body language can help you more accurately “read” their emotions and motivations for their actions. This can help pet parents to respond more accurately to behaviour issues. 

Body language is made up of a cat’s body postures, and the position and carriage of certain body parts, like ears, tail and even whiskers. Cats communicate largely through vocalizations and their body language.  

Knowing the basics of your cat’s body language can help cat caregivers deal with problems more effectively and enjoy their cat’s company more fully because they can understand feline communication. 

It’s important to remember that cats are considered both a predator and prey species so their body language may look quite different because they have a well-developed sense of self preservation. They typically startle easily, are less likely to be comfortable around strangers and may have a difficult time adjusting to changes in their environment.

Body parts and what they may mean 

Ears: When a cat’s ears are forward, this is generally a good sign. Typically, it means they are alert or comfortable. If ears are pressed flat to their head, this is a clear sign that they are very afraid. Ears “airplaned”(parallel to the ground) and off to the side is usually a sign they are annoyed. When ears are off to the side or moving around, this may mean they are irritated. It’s important to take context and other body language into account to decide how to proceed with your cat. 

Tail: A cat whose tail is up in the air is friendly, but if their tail is tight to their body or down may mean they are unsure or scared. Cats often move their tails a lot and this can indicate different things as well. Thrashing or very quick movements side to side is a sign of frustration, a quivering tail usually means they’re excited and a “tip tap” or twitching tip of the tail means they may be interested in what’s going on! 

Eyes: A cat’s pupils tell us a lot about how they’re feeling. Cats will narrow their pupils when feeling aggressive and typically and will expand their pupils when feeling excited or fearful. When feeling uncomfortable, unsure, or afraid, cats may avoid watching or directly stare at you. A slow blink and looking away slowly shows your cat is comfortable.

Feet: Cats tend to protect their feet. If they are fearful or uncomfortable, they will often tuck their feet up under them. If they are unsure or poising to intimidate, they’ll position themselves with feet flat on the ground or the surface they’re on, to be able to easily run. If they are ever showing the undersides of the feet while lying down or on their sides, this typically means they are comfortable or feeling playful. 

Body postures: When a cat is uncomfortable, they typically become quite tense and stiff. They will try to make themselves look bigger to attempt to intimidate, or smaller to avoid intimidating. An arched back means a cat is feeling very stressed. If they are ever in a U shape or stretched out, it typically means they’re comfortable or playful, or ready to pounce!

Vocalizations: Cats can be very vocal creatures. When excited, they chatter and chirp. When excited or over-aroused, cats will howl, yowl or growl. Cats who are annoyed or frightened will hiss. They will purr when they are happy and content. However, they may also purr when hurt or uncomfortable. Meowing is typically used to communicate with people. Science is consistently finding new and different ways cats vocalize, so it’s always important to look at the big picture when thinking about vocalizations and what a cat may be feeling.  

Feline Body Language Chart 

We hope this article helped you understand your cat a little better! For more cat care tips, check out the rest of our blog.