Cat Body Language

Tuesday, November 13, 2018 | 


A Word From Dr. Joyce Ashamalla


After a long day at work, your cat greets you by rubbing up against your leg. She then rolls on the ground and exposes her tummy so you reach down to pet her but end up getting scratched. You thought she wanted a belly rub, but she clearly had another idea. In this blog, you’ll learn how to interpret cat’s body language and determine the message they are sending. 

Cat Communication

Cats use body language to communicate in a different way than dogs. Cat body language is subtler than dogs and we get into trouble when we expect our cats to act like a dog. In order to prevent misunderstandings and the risk of aggression from your cat, look out for these clues:

  • •    Ears – When your cat’s ears are straight and upright, it means she heard something that caught her attention. If your cat’s ears are flat and facing backward, she is angry and frightened.
  • •    Eyes – If you happen to notice your cat has dilated pupils, she is excited or scared. Narrow pupils indicate anger, fear or pleasure. Often times, you’ll see a cat’s pupils suddenly contract when she’s getting ready to pounce on a toy.
  • •    Tail – Much of a cat’s communication comes from her tail. A puffed tail indicates a terrified cat, while a tail in the shape of a question mark reveals she is ready to play. A tail moving back and forth rapidly means the cat is agitated and you should give her some space.

Cat Posture

In addition to the body language sent from the position of their ears and tail, cats also use their body posture to send messages. Here are a few of the common cat stances and what they mean.

  • •    Arched Back – The typical image of a cat on Halloween, a cat with an arched back means she is frightened and the arched back is usually accompanied by a hiss.
  • •    Tummy Display – A cat who displays her tummy can mean she is relaxed or that she is putting up her defenses to prepare for a fight. This cat posture often confuses cat owners and we must observe the cat’s other body language to determine the message being sent.
  • •    Crouched – A cat that is in hunting mode is crouched close to the ground, staring at its target and getting ready to pounce. Cats often wiggle their backside right before they pounce in order to find their balance and successfully catch their prey.

Once you have an understanding of how to interpret cat body language, you should be able to decipher your cat’s non-verbal cues. You need to look at all of her gestures, including the ears, eyes, tail, and posture, to fully understand what your cat is thinking. With a bit of patience and consistent observation, you no longer have to worry about misreading your cat’s signals.

Now that you have mastered cat body language, you can move on to deciphering cat meows. Read more about how cats communicate through meowing here.