Cat Body Language

Your cat can’t speak.
But body language can tell you plenty.

  1. Cats have a language all their own. Learning how to translate can strengthen your relationship.

    Purring, meowing and hissing are three of the more obvious ways your cat can send a message through vocalization. Yet, your cat's body language can speak volumes about overall mood and receptiveness to contact. Being more in tune with your cat's outward displays will help you judge when it's time to socialize, or time to give space.

    Where does this come from? In the wild, cats use posturing and body language to signal rivals, predators or mates.

    Since cats will signal differently when they’re stationary compared to when they’re on the move, this activity will put your observation and photography skills to the test. Use this series of keys to learn how your cat uses eyes, ears, whiskers and tail to communicate. Then document what you see. 

  2. Relaxed

    How can you tell if your cat is relaxed? Your answer lies in a combination of cues.

    • Ears - A relaxed cat’s ears will point up, and slightly forward.
    • Whiskers - Look for whiskers that are fanned and slightly pointed sideways or forward.
    • Tail - Tail will be visible, not tucked underneath her body (if lying down).
    • Posture - Head may be up while lying prone and stretched out.

    To Complete This Step

    Snap a photo of your cat in a relaxed state and upload it to your Journal.

  3. Friendly

    Aside from looking at body language, you can also listen for signs of friendliness from your cat. If you hear meowing, your cat may be looking to interact. How depends on your cat's personality and the context of the situation.

    • Eyes - A friendly cat’s eyes will be alert and may slowly blink.
    • Ears - Look for ears that are pointed forward.
    • Whiskers - Fanned out whiskers are a sign of friendliness.
    • Tail - When in a friendly mood, a cat’s tail will be erect and pointing upward, although the tip of the tail may be bent and/or pointing forward.
    • Posture - Look for a head that’s held up, not leaning down or ducked.

    Can you think of a better image for your journal? Upload a picture of your cat in an approachable moment. 

    To Complete This Step

    What time of day does she seem most friendly? Make a note of it and upload a picture of your cat in an approachable moment.

  4. Cautious

    Look for these cues for indications of fear or cautiousness in your cat. You may have to look closely because while their posture may appear calm, a closer look at their face and tail shows distress. Try to minimize sudden or rapid movements as they may amplify the fearfulness.

    • Eyes - Look for dilated pupils and blinking.
    • Ears - A frightened cat’s ears will be somewhat flattened and/or out toward the sides. They will become more fully flattened as the level of fear increases.
    • Whiskers - Whiskers will be flattened, clumped, pointed down and pressed onto the face, when very fearful.
    • Tail - A tail closely wrapped or tucked under the body signifies fear.
    • Posture - Head may be up while lying prone and stretched out.

    To Complete This Step

    Certain situations lend themselves to cautious behavior from your cat. When you recognize these instances, grab a photo of it and upload it to your journal. What do you do to change your cat’s mood? Describe your technique.

  5. Playful

    When cats are standing with their tails curled, rolling side-to-side or belly up, they’re likely looking for contact and play. Just make sure not to touch their stomachs as you would a dog, because this will elicit reflexive, defensive or predatory behaviors that might make them claw or bite your hand.

    • Ears - Look for ears facing forward.
    • Tail - A standing tail, or U-shaped tail with a curled tip, means a cat is looking to play.
    • Posture - Rolling around belly up is your cat's sign of showing he or she is harmless and probably desire fun, friendly interaction.

    To Complete This Step

    Upload an image of your cat showing these telltale signs of play.

  6. Defensive

    If you see a defensive posture like this, they're most likely not open to contact. It’s probably best not to try to approach or pick up your cat, especially if hissing or growling is noticeable.

    • Eyes - Look for dilated pupils.
    • Ears - Watch out for ears that are flattened or back, which are a message to stay away.
    • Tail - When combined with the other two signals, an erect tail with raised hair is a sign of negative body language.
    • Posture - An arched back with raised hair means stay away.

    To Complete This Step

    Do certain activities or situations put her on edge? When your cat’s body language is telling you or another family member or pet to give some space, note what’s happening then shoot a picture of the posture and upload it to your Journal.

  7. The Telling Tail

    You can learn a lot from a cat’s tail – if you know how to read it right. However, you should always make sure not to rely only on the tail position, but also consider it in the context of other signs of body language.

    • Friendly
    • Relaxed
    • Submissive
    • Defensive
    • Fearful
    • Agitated
    • Angry

    To Complete This Activity

    When you spot your cat using tail communication, capture a photo and upload it with a note on its meaning.

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