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Understanding your cat’s body language and behaviour

Are you curious to find out what is going through your cat’s mind? While humans rely primarily on speech to communicate with each other, cats communicate in a silent language. Cats speak using a combination of body language, vocalization and scent cues. Learning how to recognise cat language help you to understand what your cat is saying to you and to the other pets/ family members in the household.

“Body language is the cat’s primary method of communication, even more so than meowing.” Angela Hughes, DVm, PhD, Global Scientific Advocacy Relations Senior Manager and Veterinary Geneticist at Mars Petcare, says. “Learning how to tell what your cat is saying is a great way to strengthen your bond. It helps you better understand your cat’s wants and needs so you can respond to them.”

Happy and Relaxed
When your cat is feeling happy or in a relaxed state, their muscles are loose and their head will be still instead of turning and looking around. A relaxed cat’s ears will be in a natural posture, while their pupils will be at their typical size. If your cat is lying on their side, their belly could be showing, indicating that they are feeling especially at ease. If your cat is sitting up, their back will be straight and their head up. A happy and relaxed cat will also let their tail extend and lie flat. Cats sometimes show that they are feeling happy and relaxed by slowly lowering their eyelids.

If your cat wants to play, they’ll show an abundance of energy. Their ears will point forward, and they will appear to look especially alert. Your cat’s pupils will dilate as they watch you or a toy intently during play. You may see their body crouched with their hind end raised as if ready to pounce. Some cats will keep their tails down while getting ready to pounce, or you might notice their tail raised and flicking around.

Scared or Worried
Whenever your cat is feeling scared, their back will be arched and their tail raised. They might find a hiding place and refuse to come out. Some might even show their teeth or hiss. Your cat’s ears may flick back and forth rapidly so they can monitor sounds around them. Their eyes will be open and their pupils dilated. You’ll be able to see that they are tense and ready for a fight-or-flight response.

Notice your cat staring at another cat without blinking? That is a sign of dominance or aggression. The action of narrowing their eyes to a slit can also signal fear or aggression. Your cat is ready to fight with a sudden fluffed coat and its tail is held high and bristled. It is best to back off from a cat exhibiting this kind of response.

There are also other physical actions cats do to communicate with you!

It is common for cats to rub against objects, including people. It’s partly a sign of affection, a little nudge to get your attention, and at the same time a message to other cats. This is one way to distribute their scent to mark their territory.

This is a cat’s primary way of showing love. Some cats tend to flex their paws up and down in your lap or on a pillow, an action known as kneading. It’s a behaviour that is developed when they were kittens. Kittens knead of their mothers to get milk, and they associate this behaviour with comfort.

If your cat licks or nibbles you, this is because they consider you as part of his pride. They are telling you that they see you as an important part of his social circle!

Cats meow as a way of getting attention from humans which is likely to be a manipulative behaviour cats adopt to get what they want from their owners. Purring is a sign of contentment and relaxation. If you hear your cat howling or making unfamiliar noises, it might be a sign of underlying illness or pain that you cat is experiencing.

Don’t mistake this as a friendly gesture! This is a sign that your cat is terrified or overstimulated. Give your cat some space or a safe place to get away for a while.

Your cat may lie in a crouched position with their head and ears down. If they are in pain, they would lie in a position that avoids making the pain worse. Their eyes might look dull or glassy and their ears will drop to the side of their head.

Cats are very expressive if you know what to look out for in their body language. When you start to observe your cat’s behaviour, you will be able to understand and gauge their mood based on their body language. Pay attention to what your cat specifically likes and dislikes and how they usually tend to respond. That will provide you with the best understanding of what your cat is trying to communicate in various situations.


Any views or opinions communicated on this page belong to the author and do not represent the views or opinions of any other organizations. This article is meant for us to share our own views and opinions in general. Kindly consult a professional if you would like to seek professional advice.


Adopted from sources

– Cat Language and Signals Explained. By Amy Shojai, The Spruce Pets.

– How to Read Your Cat’s Body Language. By Rebekah Kuschmider, Pets WebMD.

– Decoding Cat Language: Here’s How To Understand Your Feline’s Feelings. By Kristi Valentini, DailyPaws.

– Images of dogs, Pexels.