Understanding Your Cat’s Body Language

Cats are like that one friend that we all have — the one who doesn’t express themselves much and doesn’t say a lot (but when they do it it’s like when a unicorn pukes rainbow). However, when you’ve known him/her long enough, you’d know to read the signs. Maybe when he ruffles his hair, it’s an indication that he’s laughing at your joke (on the inside). Maybe when she tugs on the corner of her T-shirt, she’s exasperated with your weird antics.

Cats are exactly like that! To understand how your feline friend is feeling and what goes on in its mind, you’d need to master the art of deciphering your cat’s body language.

Tail positions – A measure of your cat’s moods

The position of your cat’s tail is a tell-tail (haha) indication of how your cat is feeling. Is your cat’s tail low towards the ground or held up high in the air? Is it swishing languidly from side to side or is it sweeping rapidly like a malfunctioned windscreen wiper?

black cat walking tail straight up
Image Source: David | Pexels

1. Tail up

When the tail of your cat is up then there’s nothing to worry about! This means that your cat is in a friendly and cheerful mood. It definitely feels comfortable in your presence. A cat with its tail up is practically a green light for you to go ahead and pet it.

2. Tail down

Some worrying is in order when your cat’s tail is pointed straight down. It is a sign that your cat is feeling agitated. Give it some space. You’ve been warned!

3. Tail moving swiftly back and forth/twitching

If your cat is thrashing its tail, this is another sign that your cat is feeling agitated and needs to be left alone. A twitching tail could indicate that your cat is upset as well. But to be sure, observe its ears, eyes and the sounds that it is making. Your cat could merely be focused on a prey.

4. Tail swaying slowly from side to side

When your cat is swaying its tail slowly and lazily from side to side, it could mean that he/she is mildly annoyed. However, if your cat is doing this as it’s playing, then it is probably just something it does before it pounces.

5. Tail tucked between the legs

Wondering where the phrase “with your tail between your legs” came about? Well, there you go! Even dogs exhibit such behaviour when they’re afraid and submissive. If your cat has its tail tucked between its legs, it is a sign of fear, insecurity or anxiety.

6. Puffed tail

You’d probably notice that your cat’s tail is twice its usual size when it is faced with danger — perhaps such as when encountering another aggressive cat. Puffing their tail is their way of making their body appear larger when they are faced with something that they fear.

Ears — A subtle, yet important indicator of your cat’s feelings

A cat’s ears are probably one of the most expressive parts of their body. Imagine if we could convey our emotions by moving our ears too; it would be so convenient, but also immeasurably creepy.

cute cat ears pexels
Image Source: Pexels

1. Ears pointed forward

When your cat’s ears are faced forward, that means that it is feeling comfortable and is in a happy and playful mood. By turning its ears towards something that has piqued its interest, your cat is trying to glean as much information about the situation as possible.

2. Straight up

This is a sign of alertness and attention. Perhaps a noise or some kind of situation has caught the attention of your cat — your cat is now on high-alert.

3. Ears pinned back and flat

This is a clear indication that your cat is scared, angry and aggressive. In such circumstances, your cat might be in defensive mode and there’s a possibility that he/she may attack you if provoked. It would be best to leave her alone when you see your cat’s ears pinned back against her head!

Eyes — The window to your cat’s soul

Cats don’t have expressive faces like dogs, but they express themselves well enough with their eyes!

grey cat blue eyes
Image Source: Pixabay

1. Half Closed Eyes

Relaxed and chill; according to cat behaviourists, if your cat has its eyes at half-mast, it means that your cat is relaxed and it trusts you.

2. Slowly blinking eyes

Jackson Galaxy, cat behaviour expert, calls the slow blink the “I love you blink”. When cats blink their eyes languorously at you, it is a show of their opening up to you because when cats close their eyes, they are allowing themselves to be vulnerable with you. However, take note of their pupils. A true-blue “I love you blink” is one when your cat’s pupils are normal — not dilated.

3. Dilated pupils

Dilated pupils could be a natural response to light or it could mean that they’re anxious or surprised.

4. Constricted pupils

This is not a good sign! They might have perceived a threat or it could be that they’re feeling annoyed. Has there been a change in their meal time routine? Has it gotten sick of its usual toys?

5. The stare

Contrary to popular believe, a cat staring intently at you does not necessarily mean that an attack will follow immediately after. Cats typically stare at you as a means of communication. Some people have noticed their cats staring at them around their meal time as if to remind their humans that it’s time to feed them. Cats could also stare at you to get a sense of security and to help them understand how to react to new situations.

Posture — What your cat is saying with its whole body

Just like us humans, a cat’s posture says a lot about their emotions.

cute cat sitting on sofa
Image Source: Pexels

1. Standing sideways to you

Posturing its body sideways allows a cat to escape more easily. If a cat has its body in this position, it could mean that it is shy and might even consider escape. Either that or it could simply be uninterested in you. Ouch.

2. Facing you directly

If a cat has both its head and body faced in your direction, he/she is feeling confident and it is very likely that it is interested in you!

3. Back arched, fur standing on end

Best to stay away from this kitty. This particular combo is a display of anger and aggression.

4. Back arched, fur flat

Feel free to give the cat a pet!

5. Sprawled out on its back

This could go both ways — either your cat is content and relaxed and is inviting you to give it a belly rub or it’s a trap. Despite the exposed belly being a sign of trust, it is not always an invitation for a belly rub so approach with caution!

6. Crouched low to the ground

When your cat is slinking low to the ground with its eyes narrowed and its butt up in the air, it is probably preparing to attack a prey.

Other behaviours

white cat in a pile of blankets
Image Source: Toni Rosati | Pexels

1. Kneading

Cats typically knead with their front paws when they are feeling happy and content. If they’re kneading on you, even better! Cats are territorial creatures and them kneading on you is their way of marking their territory. If you’re petting your cat as it lies across your lap and it begins to knead, your cat is returning the affection.

2. Rubbing

Ever met a cat for the first time and the first thing it does is to rub its furry head against your calf? They do this in greeting as a way to get information about you such as where you came from and if you have any animals of your own. Cats also have scent glands on several parts of their bodies. When they rub against you or other objects, they are depositing their scent to mark their affiliation or territory.

Of course every cat is different and they each have their own unique personality. The best way to understanding your cat’s body language then, is to get to know them patiently.

Read more: Preparing Your Cat for Holiday Boarding