Like us human beings, Cats reveal their inner states through body language. For this guide, we share how to discern between a feline that is afraid, anxious, or angry and one that's friendly and comfortable. We'll also share some stories that help you understand some usual feline body movement traits.
The first step in understanding a cat's body language is recognizing the context.
There are numerous physical cues of a cat's mood, but the meaning can vary depending on context. For example, among the most recognizable signs of a happy cat is a tail that's straight up in the air. Often, this tail position shows that the cat feels comfortable and open to communication. Nevertheless, a high seat can also offer a determination to attack in specific circumstances—like warding off an odd cat in its territory.
Therefore, the high tail can mean a confident cat or a potentially aggressive one depending on the situation.
So when it comes to decoding a cat's body language, the trick is to note not just physical signs but also the circumstances in which they occur, which is the methodology we will use within this guide.
When considering context, it is essential to view things from your cat's viewpoint. People typically approach felines with good intentions, get bitten or scratched, and blame the kitty for being mean-tempered. What's missing in this conclusion is how the cat could have perceived the motion.
All sensory inputs—sights, sounds, smells—must be considered to conclude how exactly a cat might feel. One should constantly think about whether the situation feels safe for the cat or might be triggering them to be afraid or anxious. If the cat knows you and everybody else in the setting, a cat will likely feel more secure, and you can presume more ease.
You should also consider that a dark and confined space causes more stress than a wide-open room where the surrounding can be seen, which is why cats typically like to hang around high, open areas like countertops or cat towers.
When assessing a cat's mood, consider the big picture first. If it does not provide insight, you can then look at the cat's overall mood and put individual elements together to identify what it could feel.
With that off the table, let us now look at one of the most critical elements of a cat's body movement: the cat's stance.
Body position: open or closed?
It is productive to remember that cats evolved as predators and prey. When cats come across harmful circumstances, they feel like targets and get scared. When frightened, cats are likely to try and shield their body as long as possible by scrunching up into a tiny, less exposed stance.
When a cat stretches out, they're willingly exposing themselves—this shows that they do not feel intimidated. On the other hand, a ball-shaped cat usually is not very open to advances from external locations. A feline feeling anxious may also crouch down and lower itself to the ground. If they stop and freeze upon seeing you, you can be sure they're not feeling very comfortable.
Nonetheless, there's a big difference between a cat stretching out in leisure and a cat making itself bigger as a type of defense. When a cat is frightened or angry to the point of fighting, it'll usually make itself as large as possible in several different ways. A classic example is when a feline puts its back entirely up and sideways to the threat—a cat with its back curved is telling you that they're terrified.
When a cat's back is curved, its hair typically stands up too—the term for this is piloerection. A cat in this form might be prepared to stand its ground and fight. Combining these actions makes the cat look bigger and a lot more intimidating.
Body orientation is likewise crucial to consider. Felines tell their intentions and relay their subsequent actions by positioning their body in the direction they are likely to go. Standing sideways from you may mean that the cat is feeling shy and considering running retreat. With a sidewards body position, the cat has the advantage of taking off quickly if a chase takes place. A crouched position allows the cat to spring off and begin running away quickly, must they feel the need to do so.
If a cat points their body and heads towards you, it might be interested in you and receptive to your advancements. A cat who has its face away from you may not always be indifferent; nonetheless, allowing their guard down around you can also mean allowing themselves to be touched, so consider the context.
The cat trap!
Remember, no sign or indication is guaranteed, so caution is generally the best plan when communicating with cats. For example, you might have come across a cat exposing itself in a belly-up position and think that it's free to rub the cat's belly. The exposed cat belly is a sign of comfort and trust, but it is not always an invitation for a stomach rub. Many people have touched a cat's belly only to have the cat owner immediately seize up, getting claws and teeth.
You can avoid this "cat trap" with the application of care and sensitivity to context. A cat exposing its belly and laying on its back shows comfort, trust, and security. However, it can also mean that the cat is ready to fight off an aggressor since this position allows for the immediate use of claws. Be very sensitive when a cat's mood changes in this position.
The more you understand a cat's personality, the more you can see things from their point of view and the context of the situation. Recognizing the different preferences of cats can help enrich your relationship with your cat.
What about their tails?
A feline's tail position is one of the first places to seek indications of their state of mind. As mentioned earlier, a high, upright tail shows a comfortable, satisfied, and confident cat, and a low tail suggests that a cat is feeling fearful or nervous.
It's advantageous to consider the shape of the tail a cat makes and how it connects to the general scenario. A high, puffed-out tail might show a cat attempting to make itself larger to intimidate possible foes. A terrified cat could not just keep its tail down; however, tuck it between its legs; this is done to make them as small as a target as possible with aggressors.
Other tail movements that a cat can exhibit are vibrations and tail wagging. This may look similar to the shaking motion a cat's tail makes before it spray-marks something with urine. Nonetheless, context is everything—if a feline greets you with this gesture, it means that the cat is excited to see you.
When receiving attention and a lot of petting, cats can go from being delighted to merely tolerant and upset. Tail flicking, on the other hand, suggests agitation or vigilance. Some cats will show that they are not receptive by snapping her tail. Their body movements can give insight, and when the tail flipping is in the mix, it's usually time to withdraw.
The ear position is another indicator of a cat's mood. Normal and forward ears indicate a comfortable feline, loosened up or engaged. As always, context is necessary to know. When a cat's ears are standing straight up, you think it's at ease; instead, in some cases, the high, standing ear position may indicate a readiness to engage in play and alertness. A cat with ears turned back is typically a good indication that a cat is feeling upset or fearful. When a feline protects its ears by flattening them to the side, you can almost always make sure that they're feeling afraid—this position is sometimes called "aircraft ears."
Eyes are the windows.... to the mood.
A cat's stance, tail, and ears will most likely reveal what you need to know, but if you're still uncertain, take a look at their eyes. When a cat depends on you and feels comfortable around you, it may blink at you gradually. A slowly blinking feline is generally a comfortable one.
A feline's pupils are another great indicator of how relaxed or stimulated a cat is. Small pupils typically indicate a comfortable cat. When a cat's pupils are enormous and dilated, that means it's stimulated; constricted pupils might mean aggression or tension. Stimulation is not necessarily positive or negative. A cat that's feeling playful and excited will usually have dilated pupils. However, dilated pupils can likewise indicate anxiety, fear, or anger. Take into consideration the context to decide.
The famous slow blinks.
Felines blink slowly to show love and affection. If a cat blinks slowly at you, they do not feel endangered by your presence. It means that they trust you. To bond with a feline that blinks slowly at you, you can return their gesture by blinking slowly back at them. This is a fantastic way to communicate with your cats.
If you understood all the indicators and still desire more details, check out a cat's whiskers. Combined with a cat's body posture, cat tail language, ears, and eyes, the hairs aren't going to inform you a lot, but they may provide a helpful hint.
Frightened cats bring the whiskers near to their face. This activity is yet another example of a scared cat's tendency to try and make itself smaller. Confident cats, by comparison, might push their whiskers forward.
Bonus: Vocalization and Butt Wiggles
Although not "body language" per se, the noises a cat makes—their vocalizations—are a feline's most overt ways of informing you how it feels.
When a cat wants to let you know that they're feeling intimidated, it may do a series of vocalizations, gradually getting more intense as its discomfort rises:
- First comes the grumble. A growling feline is telling you to withdraw.
- Next is the hiss. Hissing indicates that a cat feels threatened and might be preparing for fight or flight. Hissing is also a cat's way of telling a potential threat that the cat is equipped with sharp fangs.
- The yowl generally follows the hiss. Finally, a yowling cat feels that it has run out of options and is about to fight or make a retreat.
Lastly, the amusing and adorable butt-wiggling is always an action before pouncing. It is among the many cat body language connected to stalking targets.
Cats have made an online reputation for being hard to predict, usually in the name of giggles—but it's not their fault. Cats communicate in different ways than people: with their stance, tails, ears, eyes, whiskers, and vocalizations, they'll tell you whether they feel good or not. By using the context of the whole situation, trying to see the situation from the cat's viewpoint, being sensitive and receptive to any change in a cat's mood, as well as looking for refined cues in body language, you'll have a good chance at understanding your feline friend. The major takeaway is that a cat's body language must always be taken as part of the whole.