Body Language: What Your Cat Might Be Trying to Tell You

The longer you live with cats, the easier it will be to understand them. Cats have singular ways of communicating that we can and will pick up over time, just as they learn to understand us. One of the most basic ways your cat will communicate with you will be with its body. If you’re new to cats, our guide can give you a little insight into what your new pet might be trying to tell you.

Your cat will use his or her whole body to communicate, but you’ll be able to learn the most by paying attention to four main areas: the tail, the ears, the eyes, and head or mouth signals. Look at them as a whole, however, as a combination of gestures might mean something very different than one on its own.

  • Tail: The position of your cat’s tail is a strong indicator of mood. A lifted or very visible tail is an indicator of happiness, and a wiggling tail might also indicate excitement. An upright tail isn’t always good - watch out if it’s bristled, as your cat is probably angry or scared. A tail halfway up may indicate your cat is unsure of the situation. A switching tail indicates irritation, but if only the end is twitching, it may just be a sign of interest. A defensive tail might stick straight out for a way and then hang. A tail between the legs is a sign of submission.
  • Ears: Your cat’s sensitive ears can turn independently and move up and down, back and forth. They’re great for detecting both predators and prey, but also communicate. Upright, forward pointing ears signal that your cat is alert but relaxed. Ears pointed sideways indicate your cat is unsure of the situation or on alert. Ears upright and pointing back indicate irritation or aggression. Ears pointed back and flat against the side of the head signal fear and submission, but can also indicate potential aggression. If your cat is showing other warning signs, watch out!
  • Eyes: The eyes alone may not tell you everything about your cat, but combined with other body signals, can be a great clue to your cat’s thoughts. Staring eyes might be taken as an aggressive signal, but if the rest of the body suggests otherwise, your cat may just be curious. Enlarged pupils may be a signal of fear, pain, aggression or excitement. Narrowed eyes may indicate anger or confidence, while half-closed or fluttering eyelids may just be those of a sleepy cat.
  • Head & Mouth Signals: An aggressive cat with hold it’s head low and its eyes fixed on its mark. If its defensive, it may avoid eye contact and give its mark sideways glances. If it becomes defensive it may show this by snarling, hissing and spitting. Your cat may rub its head against your leg or arm - this is a sign of friendliness and shows that your cat is pleased to see you.

The more time you spend with your cat, the more you’ll see the variety of ways it has of telling you just what it’s thinking and the more understand them without having to stop and think.