Understanding your Cat's Body Language

Dr Alice Marshall - Veterinarian profile picture

Dr Alice Marshall - Veterinarian

BVSc (Hons)

Alice is a honours degree veterinarian who has worked across private mixed veterinary practice, the animal nutrition and the animal pharmaceutical industries. She loves to communicate with owners about the importance of pet health and provide useful information to help them enjoy life with their pets.

Understanding your Cat's Body Language

Our domestic cats provide companionship, love and make great pets. Whether you live in a house or unit, cats offer all the fun and play of larger animals. Yet sometimes their moods can confuse us.

Cats can rapidly change from being cuddly to fiercely independent, making it feel like you are on an endless quest to win your cat’s affection, only to have them win your heart again with a gentle purr and occasional leg rub.

You might feel puzzled by your cat’s body language and behaviour. While they may seem mysterious, your cat's body language can help us to understand how they are feeling.

The position of a cat’s body, head, ears and tail are all important in deciphering their changing mood.

Cat Tail Emotions

Your cat’s tail is a good indicator of their mood. High tail postures indicate friendly behaviour and a happy, comfortable cat, while down/tucked tails indicate fearful or uneasy moods. Cats with tucked tails may be feeling anxious and keen to make themselves a smaller target. A tail which flicks from side to side indicates agitation or alertness. Cats who do this are generally signalling they are not receptive to being interrupted. When curled around human legs, it signals friendliness.


Cat Ear Emotions

Forward ears indicate your cat is calm and confident, interested in its surroundings. High and erect ears indicate your cat is on alert, listening intently to its surroundings. While ears flattened down on each side of your cat’s head is a key sign your cat is feeling angry or fearful.

Their Stance or Position

Tail shapes are always best interpreted with overall body posture. An upright, bushy tail combined with an arched back and erect hair along the spine is a key sign that your cat feels threatened. When a cat is fearful or angry, they will often make themselves as big as possible.

A confident cat will have a normal, relaxed posture and position its body head-on towards you.

A crouched down, low to the ground body position shows a cat is fearful and ready to pounce away. When a cat stretches out, they’re voluntarily exposing themselves – this indicates that they don’t feel threatened. But watch out, they may still not be receptive to belly rubs!

Cats and Human Emotions

A research study has shown that cats can recognise the facial expressions of their owners. The same study found that cats are more likely to resort to positive behaviour (purring and/or rubbing against their owners) if they see their owner smiling. Finally, the study revealed that if an owner seemed happy, their cat would stay around the owner for a longer time.

Despite their occasional cryptic moods, caring for a cat brings unconditional love and companionship to your life.

Having a pet can also help to relieve stress and improve your human heart health. If you work to win their affection, and decipher their moods, the rewards are great.

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