At some point in every cat owner’s life, there has probably been a time when they wished their pet could talk. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to ask Chloe why she decides to romp around the house noisily at three in the morning and actually get a response? Unfortunately — or maybe fortunately — animals can’t speak. But they can communicate through body language!
In this short guide, we’re going to explain the basics of reading cat body language. Cats are masters of non-verbal communication, and learning to read a cat’s body language can help you make sure that all of your feline friend’s furry needs are met. We’ll frequently refer to the cat body language chart as a visual aid. Let’s jump in!
Let’s begin our exploration of cat behavior with a look at some cues that tell us a cat is feeling relaxed and at ease. When a cat is calm and feels comfortable, it often will flop over on its side. A nervous cat will never do this since it leaves its belly exposed and susceptible to attacks.
Take a look at the relaxed, content, and trusting poses on the cat body language chart. If your cat lays on its side, you can be sure they’re feeling comfortable in their environment. A cat that exposes its belly by lying on its back trusts you implicitly. Cat’s rarely do this around people they don’t have a close relationship with. But be warned! Even trusting cats that show you their bellies are not asking for a belly rub. Dog owners, take note.
An upright cat can be slightly harder to read than a cat laying on its side since there is more nuance to reading a cat’s body language when they’re up and about.
Consider the interested, friendly, and friendly, relaxed sections of the cat body language chart. Cats display a neutral posture with their tails relaxed and down or up at attention when they’re checking something out and don’t feel threatened. A tail sticking up in the air is an invitation for pets and attention; they want to say hi!
There is a key difference in the friendly, relaxed drawing that can tell you that a cat is feeling especially at ease. Cats that are anxious or wary rarely close their eyes for fear that a lurking enemy could get the drop on them. Prolonged blinking — or any blinking for that matter — is a sure sign that a cat doesn’t feel scared.
Mild emotions are the toughest to read since they only have subtle signs. It’s much easier to read a cat’s body language when they’re extremely comfortable or very agitated.
Typically a cat’s ears provide the first sign that they’re concerned. Cat’s ears perk up and swivel slightly when they hear something concerning. They also develop a stiffer posture, and their tail points more back than up. The conflicted, cautious drawing in the cat body language chart provides an example.
Nervous cats also routinely tuck their tails down and back, possibly to make them less visible to potential predators. Attempting to look small is a common defense mechanism among animals, and cats are pros at it.
The worried and frightened panels are two excellent examples of trying to look small. If you see a cat rolled up in a tight ball with flattened ears, you can be sure they’re scared.
Both the worried and frightened panels also reveal another telltale sign of a scared cat: dilated pupils. A cat’s pupils are windows into its mood, so pay attention to them if you think your cat might be feeling scared.
A truly frightened cat is pretty easy to identify. Cat vocalizations are usually the first sign that they’re unhappy with the situation. Howls, yowls, hisses, and groans are all signs of a fearful cat. Cats vocalize to try and scare away threats and appear fearsome. The louder and more intense the vocalization, the more threatened they feel. Not all sounds cats make indicate unease, but many do. Soft purrs and mews are typically happy sounds, regardless of how loud they may be.
Frightened cat body language is also fairly easy to read. In the terrified and super terrified poses in the cat body language chart, you can see that an arched back and a fluffed tail are two important signs to look for.
Some cats rub themselves on furniture, household items, and even people in an attempt to establish ownership through a behavior called scent marking. In the wild, cats like lions and tigers signal to other animals that they’re in the area by marking their territory by rubbing and scratching on trees, rocks, and other elements of the landscape.
Not all cats have the same personality, making it slightly more difficult to tell when a cat is feeling excited and playful than it is to tell that they’re relaxed or scared.
A cat that’s sitting up with its ears perked may be in a playful mood, but could also just be reacting to an interesting sound. The attentive, playful, and interested poses in the cat body language chart are the best examples of playful cat body language.
Scratching is a favorite pastime of many cats, but some cats will scratch on walls, doors, and occasionally legs when they’re very excited. Scratching can mean different things in certain contexts, but scratching when you first get home or in the middle of a play session is probably a sign of excitement.
Stalking is another common cat behavior that’s pretty easy for any cat person to identify. A cat on the hunt will be long and low to the ground with its tail out behind them. A single raised leg is also a sure sign that your cat is stalking something and trying to be as sneaky and quiet as possible. Check out the predatory pose in the cat body language chart for an example.
We’ve already touched on what we can learn from observing a cat’s tail, but it’s important enough to warrant some focused attention.
A friendly, welcoming cat will generally hold its tail aloft, sort of like an antenna. As long as the tail isn’t bushy and isn’t combined with fearful posture like an arched back, a tall tail is an invitation to be friends.
A tail that’s drawn back and low could be a sign of fear, but it could just as easily be a cat in the middle of an intense hunt. You’ll need to use context and other clues to decipher their mood.
Some cats flick their tails in short bursts when they’re feeling anxious and irritated, while other cats will sweep them in wider arcs. Interpreting tail movement can be tricky, but you’ll get better over time with some practice.
While this certainly doesn’t cover everything you need to know about cats, we hope you enjoyed this peek into cat behavior! With these examples to refer to, you’ll be much better equipped to interpret your cat’s behavior and read their mood. Cats communicate through posture and body language rather than through speech like humans, but with a little training, you’ll be able to read a cat’s mood at a glance.