Cat Body Language: The Ultimate Guide To Understanding [And Communicating With] Your Cat

Wouldn’t it be nice for your feline friend to be able to communicate with you? While felines aren’t capable of communicating with their owners verbally, their body language can speak a thousand words. Are you interested in reading your cat’s body language? This article will help you do so.

Cat Body Language

Don’t feel like reading the entire article? Here’s a brief summary of the most important indicators when it comes to analyzing feline body language:

Most Important Body Indicators

  • Tail Raised High – Happy and approachable
  • Tail Lowered Down – Threatened or scared
  • Tail Vibrating – Happy and comfortable
  • Tail Flicking – Analytical, agitates, or overstimulated
  • Dilated Pupils – Stimulated, surprised, or scared
  • Constricted Pupils – Aggressive or tense
  • Stare Downs – Issuing a challenge
  • Slow Blinking – Comfortable and relaxed
  • Half Closed – Relaxed and sleepy
  • Ears Straight Up – Alert and attentive
  • Ears Forward – Playful and happy
  • Ears Turned Back – Overstimulated or angry
  • Ears Flattened Sideways – Nervous and fearful
  • Ears Flattened Back – Scared and fearful
  • Whiskers Pointed Forward – Excited or tense
  • Whiskers Pointed Outward – Comfortable and relaxed
  • Whiskers Flattened – Timidness or fear

Most Important Vocal Indicators

  • Purring – Contentedness, dominance, or illness
  • Meowing – Hunger, unhappiness, or lack of attention
  • Screeching – Distress or extreme pain
  • Growling – Readiness to attack
  • Gurgling – Friendly greeting

Body Indicators

When it comes to reading feline body language, there are numerous physical clues that you can analyze. However, it’s not just about what the cat is trying to communicate physically, it also has to do with the situation that the cat is in. With the aid of the following guide, you’ll find it easier to understand what it is your cat is trying to communicate in various situations.

The Tail

The tail can be extremely useful when it comes to gauging your feline’s mood in a wide range of situations. But before you can start reading what your feline is trying to communicate with its tail, it’s important that you develop familiarity with your cat’s normal temperament in order to base an accurate judgment on the emotion it’s feeling at any given moment.

One of the most reliable signs that indicate confidence and comfort is when your cat’s tail is high up in the air. When your cat’s tail is in that position, it means that it’s happy and approachable. If your cat’s tail is low, this could be an indication of fear or anxiousness. Whenever the feline’s tail is tucked between its legs, this is an indication of extreme fear.

kitty on the grassland, domestic cat in the outdoor

Look at it from a cat’s perspective: if the tail is tucked between the legs, the cat’s body becomes smaller, which is exactly what the cat is trying to communicate to potential predators so that they can look for a different prey. On the other hand, if your cat’s tail is raised high, it’s trying to come across as buff and intimidating so that it can scare away any potential aggressor.

Another thing that your cat does with its tail that you can use to read its mood is vibration. When a cat’s tail moves back and forth very rapidly, it’s usually an indication of excitement. You should also know that a cat vibrates its tail before spraying. This is why context is crucial because here you have the same tail movement but two different interpretations due to different scenarios.

Moreover, your cat’s tail may simply flick, which is an indication of alertness and sometimes also agitation. If your cat’s tail moves back and forth in a slow manner, it’s simply your feline trying to understand a situation and decide how it feels about it. Whenever you see your feline flicking its tail, it’s simply time to back off and just let it be. Trying to pet it will only agitate it.

In addition, your cat’s tail may be fluffed up and arched a little bit, which could mean one of two things: defensiveness or aggression. If the tail is pointed out or down when it’s fluffed, it’s a clear sign of aggression. This tail position is often accompanied by an arched back as well. And lastly, if your cat’s tail is wrapped against its body, it’s typically a sign of contentedness.

The Eyes

The eyes are the window to the soul. You can tell a lot by looking at a cat’s eyes and pupils. If a cat’s eyes are dilated and large, it can a number of different things, from stimulated to surprised or scared. Again, context is key here. Dilated pupils on a cat can also indicate that it’s playful. It can also mean that your feline is angry.

If the pupils are constricted, consider this as an indication of tenseness or potential aggression. It’s also important to take available light into consideration since it has a lot to do with the size of the pupils. Another thing that your cat may do with its eyes is stare-downs. A cat staring down at someone or something is pretty much its way of issuing a challenge. Are you up for it?

One of the most well-known signs of comfort that cats communicate is slow blinking. When a cat blinks slowly at you, it’s basically telling you that it feels comfortable and relaxed around you. It’s also a sign of trust and affection. Whenever you notice your cat doing that to you, you may want to return the gesture by blinking slowly back at it. Who knows, maybe it’ll take it the same way.

If your cat’s eyes are half-closed, it’s also a sign of comfort and it could mean that your feline is feeling sleepy. If the pupils look like slits, it’s an indication of confidence and alertness. Further, if your cat’s eyes look a little clouded, it could mean that it’s relaxed and comfortable or it could mean that it’s ill, so you need to keep an eye on it whenever you notice clouded eyes.

The Ears

You can probably figure out everything you need to know about your cat’s mood just by observing its tail and eyes, but the position of the ears can also help make reading your kitty’s body language a lot easier. Let’s take the forward ear position for example. This position indicates that your cat is feeling relaxed and confident. It could also indicate engagement if your cat is being playful.

When your cat’s ears are positioned straight up, this means that your cat is attentive and alert. If the ears are turned back, you need to watch out because your feline might be feeling angry and overstimulated. Whenever you see your cat’s ears turned back, do yourself and your cat a favor by leaving it alone. Trying to pet it or play with it will only make your cat more upset.

Another significant ear position is when your cat’s ears are flattened sideways. When you notice that sign, it’s likely that your cat is feeling nervous and you need to be cautious around it. If your cat’s ears are flattened back against its head, however, this is a clear indication that your kitty is scared of something. It could also indicate aggressive and anger, so you need to stay away.

A Pet Cat

Using these tips, you can clearly tell the aggressor from the defender in a cat fight. The one that has its ears flattened against its head is the defender. It’s doing so to protect itself. On the other hand, the ears of the aggressor will also be turned back but with a bit of a twist that you can see if you look at the cat from the front. Now you know which one of your cats is the dominant one.

The Whiskers

Yes! Those few pointy hairs on your feline’s face can help you gauge its mood. If the whiskers on your cat’s face are pointed sideways, this indicates that your cat is feeling friendly and won’t mind you petting it. If it’s fanned out forward, it’s also an indication of friendliness but it’s also a call for some action. If they’re pulled back, your cat may be feeling defensive or fearful.

As you can see, there’s not a lot that a cat’s whiskers can tell you compared to what you might be able to observe from the tail, eyes, and ears. However, when you combine all of these things together, your chances of getting an accurate reading becomes greater. Also, you need to keep in mind that the situation your cat is in plays a huge role in reading its body language.

The Head

Reading your cat’s body language based on what its head indicates alone is a hit or miss. You must take into account other facial expressions and gestures in order to form a sound reading. Generally, a head that’s stretched forward indicates that the feline is ready for contact. Whether that contact is friendly or antagonistic is all based on facial expression.

Additionally, dominant cats tend to walk with their heads raised high, while inferior cats walk with their head lowered down. In addition, if your cat is walking with its head lowered down in a jerky way and has its chin pulled in, it’s basically communicating lack of interest, so you might as well leave it alone. There are other head movements that cats do, they’re just not relevant to human interaction.

The Legs

A highly confident cat will stretch its legs to the max. This could also indicate a cat’s aggressive intentions and readiness to attack. Again, in order to differentiate between both feelings, you’re going to need to pay attention to the context. Timid cats, on the other hand, bend their hind legs to communicate uncertainty. This also helps indicate the cat’s desire to avoid confrontation.

However, you need to understand that while bending the hind legs alone indicates the desire to avoid conflict, it doesn’t communicate complete defensiveness. This means that a cat with bent hind legs will defend itself if it’s called for. A sign of complete surrender, however, is when a cat bends both of its hind and fore legs. Also, a raised paw helps indicate the readiness to defend.

The Hair

When a cat is frightened, the hair on its body will become erect in an even manner all across its body. This isn’t to be confused with a feline that’s attempting an attack, as its hair will be erected across its tail and spine, almost looking like a narrow strip. Additionally, the hair on an aggressor feline will look like a sharp ridge, as it’ll likely bed inclined toward the middle of both of its sides.

Selective Focus Photography Of Calico Cat

The Lips

Lips can also be observed to gauge your cat’s feelings. Whenever you notice your cat’s mouth opened slightly with its upper lip and nose lifted upward, this is an indication of displeasure. It’s also an indication of embarrassment if your cat’s mouth is slightly opened but its nose is wrinkly. There are other lip movements that cats do, but they’re not important for human interaction.

Vocal Indicators

Just like humans, felines have sounds that communicate different emotions. However, unlike us, cats can produce sounds while inhaling and exhaling, as they have a vocal apparatus that’s sort of different from ours. The way cats produce these sounds is by applying tension to their throats and oral muscles. Also, the speed of the air moving across the vocal cords plays a huge role too.

It’s important to note that there are three main categories when it comes to cat vocalization. The first one is murmuring, which includes softer sounds such as purring that felines use for greeting and calling. This category is also used to show approval, acknowledgment, and attention. Most of the sounds in this category are produced while the feline’s mouth is shut.

The second category is that of the vowel sounds. These sounds are utilized by felines in specific contexts and they’re all basically meows. Some of the things that felines communicate with these sounds include gratitude and hunger. They also use these sounds to communicate their version of “come here”, “no”, or “move over” to their owners or to other felines.

The final category of cat vocalizations is all a bunch of strained, seemingly aggressive sounds. Cats use these sorts of sounds almost exclusively with other cats. Such sounds include growling, hissing, wailing, snarling, and spitting. As you may have guessed, such unpleasant sounds tend to be used by cats to communicate anger, frustration, or even pain.

Purring

Purring is the most well-known sound produced by felines. This sound is first introduced to cats when they’re little kittens. They use it to communicate with their mothers that they’re content. Purring doesn’t really interfere with the kitten’s activity of suckling milk out of its mother’s nipples. In fact, it’s maintained while doing so in order to keep the contact going with the mother.

Mother felines also produce this sound when close to their kittens as a way of letting them know that they’re here for them. Moreover, mature felines tend to purr when they want other older cats to play with them. Furthermore, when an adult cat is happy and everything is going according to plans, purring is their go-to sound. But isn’t only an indication of happiness and contentedness.

Whenever there’s a confrontation between two felines, the feline that purrs is the more dominant one, while the other cat will display acts of timidness. Cats also tend to purr when they’re sick as a way of comforting themselves and as a way of soothing potential attackers. We’re yet to figure out how cats purr. There are many theories out there, but none of them are for certain.

Meowing

Like we’ve already mentioned, meowing forms all of the vowel sounds category as far as feline vocalization. These sounds are used to communicate distinct words to humans. Additionally, the way they’re pronounced has a lot to do with what the cat is trying to communicate as well. As a cat owner, it really helps to know the meaning behind each meow your cat makes.

cat licks nose, beautiful British cat with yellow eyes

It’s easy to tell if your cat is unhappy simply by observing how it meows. Unhappy felines tend to utter short, mournful meows. They’re very distinct and hard to perceive as a sound that a happy cat would make. If your cat is naturally loud, it may resort to complete silence when it’s unhappy. The opposite is true for naturally quiet felines.

Cats can also communicate hunger by letting out loud meows that are almost screamy. If you’re ever faced with one of these banshee screams, it’s time to feed your cat! If you’re not providing your feline with the dose of attention it requires out of you on a daily basis, it’ll resort to uttering very soft meows that indicate frustration and the need to be petted.

Growling

This may not be a sound you hear a lot from your pet feline, especially directed towards you as its owner if there’s a good relationship between you both. Essentially, growling is an indication of offense and it’s usually paired with distinct facial expressions. The corners of a kitty’s mouth will be drawn up when it growls. A cat’s growling turns into snarling as it gets more aggressive.

Gurgling

Gurgling is a complex sound to analyze when it comes to reading cat body language. Gurgling hasn’t been really studied in depth and we don’t know much about it. However, we do know that a high-pitched gurgle is an indication of friendliness. Whenever your cat produces that sound, take it as if it’s greeting you. Sadly, that’s all we know about cat gurgling up to this point.

Hissing

Unlike growling, hissing is a very common sound when it comes to cat vocalizations. We’re not quite certain what hissing means in feline vocabulary, but we do know hissing without sound can be perceived as repulsive by a cat. When hissing, the cat’s mouth will be open halfway. The top lips will be drawn back and the tongue will be arched, with the breath forcefully expelled.

Wailing

Also known as caterwauling, wailing is the go-to sound for a cat when it’s nearing a fight or if it’s threatened. We, humans, tend to confuse cats that wail at each other as singing to each other to create attraction, but it’s the complete opposite. When two cats wail at each other, expect a fight to break out. Knowing so, you can prevent your pet felines from fighting before they get into it.

Spitting

This is an uncommon sound to hear issued out of your pet cat’s mouth, but it’s very common in between outdoor cats. This is the sound that a cat makes when it’s trying to issue a warning to a potential aggressor as an attempt to threaten it. The sound is sudden and not really vocal. It can also be followed by the feline’s forepaw slamming the ground to impose greater intimidation.

Screeching

Cat screeching isn’t a very pleasant noise. In fact, all screeching is unpleasant. Felines use this sound to indicate distress and extreme anxiety. Whenever you hear that sound issued by a cat, it’s more than likely in need of your help. If your cat keeps screeching and there are signs of any physical harm, you should definitely head to your veterinarian’s clinic right away.

Final Words

With the aid of the information we’ve provided you today, you should be able to gauge your cat’s feelings at any given time. We feel the need to stress yet again that body language isn’t the end all be all when it comes to understanding what your cat is trying to communicate. Context is very important as well. Adding the two together will give you a pretty accurate reading.

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