A Quick Guide to Cat Body Language

If you can’t seem to understand your cat, this guide to cat body language will help you understand why cats do some of the things that puzzle us.

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A cat’s body can tell you about its feelings. By: zaimoku_woodpile

If you have a cat, chances are you’ll want to communicate with your feline. But you know this can be a challenge because cats don’t speak English, and most humans don’t speak feline.

Though most people assume that most of a kitty’s conversation is expressed through meows and other vocalizations, that is not the case. Cats will primarily communicate using their body language, and you can see this if you have multiple cats in your home.

At first it can be hard to understand what cats want to tell you, but once you understand their body language a bit better, it becomes second nature to get the message. Here are some of the most important things to know.

Showing Their Tummy

Many folks who have cats simply assume that when they show their tummy it means they are happy and relaxed; after all, this is what it means when a dog does it.

However, it’s more complicated than that. Although it is likely that a relaxed and content cat will roll over and stretch out, exposing their tummy in the process, it’s not the only reason they will do this. If they feel cornered, cats may also take the same pose but with the addition of extending their claws.

If you get to know your cat, you will usually be able to tell which one is the case.

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An exposed belly isn’t always an invitation for rubbing. By: Topher i

Slow Blinks

You may wonder why your cat keeps blinking at you, but don’t worry; this is a sign of affection.

Felines consider closing their eyes a huge sign of trust — so when they do this with you, it is the ultimate compliment. Slow blinks are the same as closing their eyes in terms of feline communication. If you want to show your cat that you feel the same affection for them, try blinking back at them slowly.

Tails

One of the most important things to consider when reading a cat’s body language is the tail. Each movement, rather than being random, actually conveys a different feeling.

  • If your cat has the tail up high, it conveys confidence.
  • You can tell the cat is feeling friendly when the tail is curled around either human legs or another cat’s tail.
  • When the tail is tucked underneath, your cat feels anxious.
  • The best sign that your cat is threatened is when the tail looks like a bottle brush and is combined with an arched back. This is their classic behavior telling others to go away.

Direct Eye Contact

Although humans see direct eye contact as a good thing, cats don’t feel that way at all. They find it threatening — and in fact, if you see your cat’s pupils expanding, that signals fear.

In general, the larger the pupils, the more scared the cat is. Sometimes cats who are angry will narrow their pupils as this helps them focus on details. As with other factors, however, keep in mind that the pupils can widen and narrow for different reasons, such as the amount of light, so consider all of the body language.

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Signs of Stalking

Cats by nature are predators, so when they see something moving — whether it is a fly or your hand — they will naturally want to go get it. If you notice signs such as dilated pupils, flattened ears and a low-twitching tail, chances are they are stalking something. Another sign of stalking behavior is if your kitty starts to wiggle his butt; this can indicate that he is getting ready to pounce.

This video shows a cat stalking, and the eyes appear dark and fully dilated:

Ears

Pay attention not only to the tails and eyes, but also your cat’s ears if you want to understand the body language:

  • If the ears are forward, this is a sign of contentedness and playfulness.
  • When the ears are straight up, this shows they are paying attention to everything and are very alert.

If your cat’s ears are turned back, it can mean several things. It’s a good sign that they have too much stimulation, but it can also be an indicator of nervousness (ears that are turned to the sides can also show nervousness). If the ears are back and flat, your cat is scared, defensive or angry — you should probably just stay away.

Paying attention to the cat’s body language can help you understand how your pet is feeling, help you anticipate a pounce or simply know when it’s play time. Now you and your furry friend can speak the same language!

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Jet Perreault

View posts by Jet Perreault
Jet Perreault, a professional dog groomer of 18 years, graduated from Michigan State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English. She has spent time on the dog show circuit, working groomer trade shows, and managing grooming salons and pet shops.

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