How to Read Cat Body Language
Some cats are a lot more vocal than others, but even then, meowing isn’t the main way they use to communicate – and they’re definitely not going to talk to you in your language, either.
However, cats do communicate a lot, through their body language. You just have to look for clues in how they hold their ears, move their eyes, the position of their whiskers. Even their toes and tails can offer hints at what a cat is thinking.
Like all things cat, however, their language can be complex and contradictory. For example, a cat holding its tail high most often signals a cat that is confident, comfortable and happy to interact. But a bristling tail held high can mean a cat that might be signaling a warning to a perceived threat. It's best to look at the whole body and the context of the body language to most accurately gauge what your cat is communicating.
So, let’s take a look at some of the most common cat body language positions and what they mean.
When A Cat Arches Its Back
If a cat approaches you and arches their back, they want cuddles. Give them cuddles! They will also rub against you and mark you with their scent to show you their love (and that you’re their property). However, if they’re not approaching, their back is arched, and their fur is bristled, your favorite feline is scared or angry, and trying to make their small body as big and frightening as possible. Not a good time to go in for a snuggle.
A cat pointing their body and head to you, with the body in the normal posture, and possibly with the tail held high, is likely to be greeting you and would welcome your approach.
In this position, kitty is ball-shaped and trying to appear small, while protecting her belly. She can also immediately spring off if needed. Kitty is scared or upset.
Lying on Their Back and Showing You Their Belly
Be careful with this one. A dog in this position wants belly rubs, but a cat might not. This position often means that your beloved kitty is relaxed and inviting cuddles, and some cats do allow belly rubs (to a certain point, until they scratch you or bite you); with others, it might be better to scratch their heads. That’s something you learn from experience, and if you do try to pet their tummy, remember to be gentle.
However, as noted by Petcube, if your cat’s ears are flattened and, particularly if they are growling while on their back, they are likely irritated and prepared to lash out. They can scratch really hard with the claws in their back legs and that’s exactly what they’re preparing to do.
Your kitty is relaxed and sleeping or taking a nap and curled up in order to be smaller and preserve body heat.
Cat Tails Tell Tales
Your cat is telling you a lot with just the tail position, and here are some common communications.
Tail up is a cat’s happy place. This is likely the signal you see when your little furry friend is coming to greet you and welcome you home. Any cat lover loves to see their cat with their tail up and happy.
Tail Down or Between the Legs
This kitty is far from cheerful; scared or feeling threatened would be the proper description. Do check for whatever it is that’s scaring your cat and be aware that coming closer to her might not be a welcome or soothing gesture.
Tail Up and Puffed Up
There’s probably hissing, as well, and every attempt possible to look big and scary. Because there’s a necessity to scare something or someone away, or at least that’s what the mini-panther thinks.
That’s a kitty hug! Be happy!
This one looks similar to a question mark, and the cat is, indeed, curious, ready to explore and play and receive treats. There are treats, right?
Cat Tail Wagging
Dogs wag their tails when they’re happy; cats do it when they’re very much not. They’re agitated (not in a good way) and frustrated and might attack at any moment. Stay away, silly human!
It looks similar to wagging, but it’s slower. The kitty might be deciding what the proper course of action should be; if only the tip is twitching, the cat might be in the playful mood, and continue by chasing her own tail.
Look at Those Ears!
Ears of a cat tell as much as their tails do.
Relax, because your kitty is relaxed, too. Or maybe beginning to feel playful, which is also a good sign, unless you really, really want to sleep.
This is the position that allows cat to pick up most sounds, and the whole body is likely to show that your favorite feline is alert and checking out what’s going on.
Cats turn their ears back to reduce their size; in other words, when they’re feeling upset or somewhat threatened. If the ears are also flat, you better watch out, because the cat is either scared or very angry, so might become aggressive and attack soon. If they’re turned back and sideways, the situation is less serious, but the cat is feeling anxious, so be careful.
Eyes Are the Window to the Soul
And to the cat’s mood, as well.
Half Closed or Closed
Your beloved kitty is relaxed. Very relaxed. She’s feeling safe and comfy. You may approach, human, but you better not try anything that would make her feel less comfy. Petting is allowed.
What cat owner doesn’t love the blinky eyes. We love giving them and receiving them. As noted by Cats.org, most experts on the topic and cat lovers everywhere, cat lovers everywhere, blinky eyes are “cat kisses.” You can give them and love receiving them. To show your cat (or a stray) you’re comfortable in their presence, you can slow blink at them and then feel your heart melt when they slowly blink back.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the direct stare. While some might enjoy looking lovingly directly into their cat’s eyes, according to Pet WebMd, the majority of cats find direct eye contact threatening. And if they are staring directly at you, it’s a challenge. No one wants a cat to feel threatened, stressed or challenged, so best to avoid direct eye contact in most instances.
If a cat is surprised or scared, the pupils are going to dilate to allow the cat to get as much information as possible. And then the cat is likely to retreat, if it’s possible. On the other hand, if the pupils constrict (and it’s not because of a strong light!), the cat might be becoming aggressive and focusing on attack.
Hope this handy guide helps you understand your feline companion better and you can communicate in purrfect harmony.
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