How to Interpret Your Cat's Body Language

Posted on
February 22, 2019

When you’re engaged in conversation, you want to make sure the other person is still interested by reading his or her body language. If your listener is looking at his or her phone, you know not to keep talking. Your cat won’t look at her phone when she’s disinterested, but her posture and body language are a good indicator of discontent and similar moods. You can read your cat’s movements to know when she’s feeling:

  • Happy
  • Relaxed
  • Focused
  • Anxious or Stressed
  • Angry

Knowing how to read your cat’s body language is essential for keeping her happy, so read on to learn how to do so.

cat with mouth open
A happy cat is a fun cat—so know when your cat’s in a good mood for perfect playtime.

Happy

A happy cat will usually reflect her good mood in her body language. Here are some signs that your cat’s ready to have fun and hang out.

  • Perky ears. A cat with her ears facing forward is likely ready to play. Sometimes her ears will slowly move in the direction of a friendly sound, such as a familiar voice.
  • Slow blinking. If your cat is blinking with what appears to be heavy eyelids, it’s likely that she’s comfortable around you. She may close her eyes and softly purr if you start stroking her—a sign of contentment.
  • Tall tail. When your cat has her tail up with flat fur, that is a good sign she’s happy and approachable. Your cat can also indicate friendship by wrapping her tail around you or another cat.

If your cat is lying down, there are two different ways she could be signaling happiness. She may have her paws tucked in beneath her, or she may have her legs pointed out while laying on her back or side. Both postures show a good mood, if not maybe a little sleepy.

These signs occurring together likely indicate that your cat is showing affection as well. If your cat lays down next to you with her back facing you, it’s a great sign of comfort and trust. Similarly, she may rub your head against you—this is called head bunting—and it’s a good  your cat wants to spend time with you.

Body language can often be complemented with audio cues. While your cat is displaying these signs of contentment, she may be purring as well. A high-pitched murmur can mean your cat is feeling social.


white cat yawning
A relaxed cat will often have her eyes blinking slowly or closed completely

Relaxed

If your cat spends most of her day relaxed, it’s likely that she is content in her environment and trusts those around her—which is key for a happy cat.

Many of the signs a happy cat shows are similar to those of a relaxed one. The slow blink or eyes half closed is a good sign that your cat is chilling out, as well as forward-leaning, but not stiff, ears.

Your cat may even look like she’s smiling when she’s relaxed, and her whiskers will be away from the sides of her face.

Just as human hold tension in our shoulders when we’re stressed out, a calm kitty won’t hold any of that tension in her posture. When your cat feels this way, it’s likely she’s lying down—she plans on staying that way for a while. She could be curled into a ball, have her legs sprawled, or on her stomach with her paws tucked underneath.

If your cat is relaxed and lying down, she will likely start kneading the ground or a softer surface. If she’s near you and feels like cuddling, she’ll lay down next to you and bunt her head.

Focused

Your cat may be rubbing her head against you for reasons other than affection. Sometimes she’s in it for more than the cuddles, and could be trying to get food or something else she wants from you.

If your cat is focusing on you or another environmental stimulus, her ears and whiskers will be pushed forward in a forceful way. Her eyes will be open with narrow pupils.

Her body may be closed to the ground, with her legs looking somewhat folded beneath her. Your cat might be getting ready to hunt if her tail starts to twitch as it’s low to the ground.


dark cat with wide eyes
Cats show they feel stressed or threatened in similar ways—try not to let these responses escalate to anger.

Stressed or Threatened

If you ever see your cat with her tail up and curled stiff like in a Halloween movie, it’s a good idea to leave her alone. This is often accompanied with an arched back with her fur standing up—a good sign that she’s feeling threatened.

It’s important to understand context clues to know why your cat might be feeling stressed. Has there recently been a dramatic change? Is there a new visitor? Whatever is causing this stressed out cat, there are some ways she will show it in her body language.

  • Wide eyes. If your cat is anxious, she might be hiding it better than outright fear, but she’ll still look like she’s not blinking with pupils dilated.
  • Airplane ears. An anxious feline will start swiveling her ears to listen for a potential threat.
  • Tucked tail. Kind of like a dog, if a cat is anxious, she will keep her tail low to the ground or possibly tucked between her legs. The tail can be still, or move slightly from side to side at the tip.
  • Crouching. If your cat feels threatened, she will want to make herself appear as small as possible, especially if running away is not an option. The tucked tail will contribute to this, and her whiskers will be pulled back. If she is thinking of running away, she will likely arch her back in preparation.

Instead of crouching, your cat may make herself appear taller to respond to the potential threat. She can do this by straightening her legs and arching her back. Her fur will likely be standing up straight along the back. If she wants to show she’s not backing down, she may start hissing or growling at whatever is threatening her. This may be accompanied with spitting and clawing.

Your cat may lay down on her back with her paws out if she’s feeling defensive. If something is stressing out your cat so that she goes on her back, don’t go in for a belly rub to make her feel better.

You can treat your cat with extra pets and treats if she’s just anxious. But if she feels threatened by an external stimulus, she can only calm down when she feels no longer threatened—so wait it out.

But if your cat seems to feel this way too often, it’s a good idea to head to the vet to see if anything else is going on.

Angry

If your cat seems aggressive, it could be short-term frustration or escalated anger. Pay attention to her environment and what could be causing her to feel either way. She may just be bored, but it also could be something making her really upset. Here are some body language cues your cat may display when she’s frustrated or angry.

  • Focus. If your cat is upset, she will be concentrating all of her energy into the source. Her pupils will be dilated with wide eyes, and it will look like she’s not blinking. Her ears will be forward and alert, and the whiskers are often spread across her face if she’s trying to focus. As she gets angrier, her eyes will seem to harden and narrow, and her ears will flatten against her head.
  • Pacing. When your cat wants something that she is unable to get for herself, she will often pace back and forth to get your attention.
  • Tiger Cat. Your cat will make herself appear bigger when she’s angry to be more threatening. Similar to when she’s threatened, her legs can be stiff with fur standing up.
  • Stiff. If your cat is angry, it’s likely she’s keeping a tense posture. Her tail may be straight and stiff or curled around her body.
  • Hissing. Your cat may hiss and spit when she’s angry. This is often accompanied with scratching/pawing the air and growling.

There are a lot of reasons your cat may be angry, so remember to be mindful. Try your best to ease the situation, but keep in mind that whatever you may do could make it worse.

cat lying down with eyes open
Try to be patient when your cat isn't feeling social and understand what's causing it.

Many of the body language cues your kitty gives off can be indicative of more than one emotion. This can be confusing, so it’s important to try to empathize with your cat and figure out what might be causing her to feel one way or another.

Try to look for some of the signs appearing at the same time in response to something. But remember, every cat is different. Try to respond to a situation based on what you know about your cat. If any of these moods seem to persist, take your cat to the vet to find out the cause.

How does your cat use her body language to tell you what she’s thinking? Let us know in the comments!

Posted on
February 22, 2019
in
Advice
category