What Is My Cat's Body Language Telling Me?

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If your cat has ever flicked her tail at your leg or tilted her head to the side and stared at you for no apparent reason, you probably found yourself wondering, "What Is My Cat's Body Language Telling Me?"

Verbal language in the form of hissing, growling and meowing (in all its varied forms) are common ways in which your kitty communicates with you. After being roommates for a while, you can start to understand what she's communicating. Non-verbal cat body language, however, can be trickier to decipher because as pet parents know well, cats are notoriously sly and expect you to read their kitty-cat minds.

Because they are such expressive creatures, cats can convey a lot of emotion without saying anything at all. It's easy to lose hours of your life looking at fun, crazy photos of cute cats posted on any of the innumerable websites out there. Many of said images are captioned with what their pet parents think the cat is trying to tell them. Make sure to pay close attention to her non-verbal cues, there are a few ways to figure out what it is your kitty is trying to tell you.

EyesLong-haired white, brown and black cat with big yellow eyes stares forward.

As the old phrase goes, "the eyes are the window to the soul," and this is definitely applicable to kitties. As Vetstreet points out: "Your cat's eyes help tell the story of her inner state." It's quite common for cats to sit and stare, deep in thought, for long periods of time. Perhaps she's contemplating the great mysteries of the world, or daydreaming about her favorite toy mouse.

If her pupils are normal (that is, not dilated), rest assured that your feline friend is relaxed and ready to chill. "When your cat is at ease, she may make eye contact," Vetstreet continues, "and will hold the gaze for a while before looking away in a nonchalant manner or blinking softly." You'll often see this gentle, sometimes heavy-lidded look after your cat's had a satisfying meal, or just before she drifts off to sleep.

The shape of a cat's eye also can reveal much about her inner thoughts. Much like her human friends, the eyes of a cat will open wide with surprise, a behavior that indicates she's on high-alert. If she narrows her eyes and they are dilated, watch out because trouble is on the way. Pupils dilate when adrenaline kicks in, and when it comes to cats, it means she's ready to pounce, attack, dominate or all of the above.

Ears

Whether rounded or pointed, a cat's ears essentially are antennae directly wired to her emotions and tuned into the world around her, all due to their ability to move independently, coupled with her impeccable hearing skills. "A cat up to 3 feet away from the origin of a sound can pinpoint its location to within a few inches in a mere six one-hundredths of a second," explains Animal Planet." Cats also can hear sounds at great distances — four or five times farther away than humans." Your furry friend's amazing, unparalleled ability to hear what you cannot may conjure worries about odd happenings around the house, but most likely, she's listening to the floor creak a few rooms away.

If your cat's ears are in "airplane mode" — that is, flattened out to the side, or even behind her — she's nervous, frightened or irritated. This is a fight-or-flight mode, so be prepared for either action. You may see this behavior, for example, when your kitty is introduced to a new human or animal. Flattened against her head, her ears reflect a more dangerous or aggressive emotion, but this position also may reveal that your cat is frightened. In either case, do what you can to remove her safely from the situation.

And what do the ears of a happy cat look like? Why, a smile, of course, says PetMD, with "ears turned up and to the side." Now that is one cute look!

Tail

Backside view of orange striped tabby cat with curved tail

Perhaps the most intriguing and mysterious instrument of all cat body language is the tail. A cat's tail can transform into many, many different positions, all of which are indicators of a variety of emotions. When the tail takes the form of a question mark or a hook, for instance, it means that kitty is looking for fun and wants some playtime! A tail that stands straight up is that of a friendly cat, too.

But if you notice your cat's tail hanging low (unless it's a breed characteristic, such as with the Persian), look out: The answer to "What is my cat trying to tell me?" is "there's anger brewing." When the fur on your kitty's tail stand on end, sometimes referred to as the "Halloween tail," you have a mad cat on your hands. "If you see your cat's tail puffed up with its fur standing on end," says VetBabble, "that means she's angry or afraid and is trying to look larger and more dominant." If you find yourself in this situation, experts recommend that you remain calm yourself and do your best to remove your kitty from the stressful situation.

A content, happy cat will curve her tail around the things she loves the most, such as her pet parent's leg or a cat sibling, and she'll cuddle up with her own tail for warmth and comfort.

Stance

Orange tabby cat stretching on its back

As small and as quiet (most of the time, anyway) as they are, domestic house cats will make their presence known. When your cat wants your attention, she'll go to great lengths to get it, including knocking your glass off the kitchen table or plopping down to take a nice, long catnap on your laptop keyboard. In these situations, you don't need to ask, what is my cat trying to tell me? It's evident what she wants: attention and lots of it.

 

It's precisely this type of posturing, though, that provides an indicator of what's going on in her intelligent feline brain. In addition to vocalizing her needs and wants, a cat will perform non-verbal maneuvers to communicate with you, her pet parent.

An arched back after a good night's sleep is part of your kitty's stretching routine, but if it's accompanied by gentle "head butting" against your arm or leg, it's a clear sign that your fur baby is looking for one-on-one time that includes lots of pets. However, the arched-back-and-puffed-out-tail version of the "Halloween pose" indicates that your cat is feeling angry, aggressive, or frightened. An extremely frightened cat also will do the sideways walk if she's taken aback by an unwanted surprise.

A cat that lies on the ground and exposes her belly is up to one of two tricks. In most instances, she takes on this vulnerable position to demonstrate the trust she feels in her pet parents, showing you that she knows that you know she loves you and feels safe with you. You'll see her do this while playing with her favorite toys, too.

However, a cat also will lay on her back while goofing off with other members of the family, be they human or animal, so be prepared for your seemingly subdued kitty to jump up suddenly and "attack" you. Additionally, this position frequently is used when cats are rough-housing together. Although it can escalate quickly, it's usually all fun and games.

Deciphering cat body language requires close observation and patience, but the pay-off is worth it. Discovering what your cat is trying to tell you results in clear communication and a closer connection with your beloved pet. Understanding her non-verbal communication will help you know when to give her more attention and when she just wants her space.

Contributor Bio

Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time cat parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in Care.com, What to Expect, and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about pets, pregnancy, and family life. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.

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