Understanding Cat Behavior and Body Language
One of the greatest wishes of any cat owner is to be able to communicate with their beloved feline. A large part of animal communication is body language. As a matter of fact, this is more important than verbal cues. The same is true with humans. You can always say things that will “sound” more diplomatic to others but your body language can say otherwise. Hence, if you want to understand what your cat is thinking and what its mood is, it’s best to decipher the messages behind its behavior and body language. In other words, you should also learn cat language.
Context and Physical Cues as the Keys to Understanding Feline Body Language
There are at least two fundamental elements to understanding feline body language. First are the physical cues. These are observable changes in the kitty’s body. For instance, you may notice the tail moving in a particular direction or oriented in a certain manner. You also have to take note of the eyes, whether the pupils are dilated or constricted. And then there are the ears and the body of the feline. The way these body parts move or “act” can tell you something about the behavior of the feline.
However, looking at the physical cues of cat and kitten body language alone will only provide you with a partial understanding of what its true intentions are. What this means is that you have a 50% chance that your interpretation of the cat’s behavior is wrong. For example, one of the most common physical cues is cat body language tail movement. If the kitty raises its tail in an upright position, then it shows that the cat is confident. However, the same upright orientation of the cat’s tail can also mean a potentially-aggressive kitty.
This is where the second element to understanding cat body language comes in. You should also look at the context upon which the kitty displays such a body language. If the cat is in a place where there are no threats, then its upright tail can mean confidence. However, if there is another feline that the cat is averse to, then it is possible to read the behavior as something aggressive.
Hence, whenever deciphering cat language, it is imperative to look at the physical cues and correlate these with the current situation. This is the only way you can interpret feline behavior in a more accurate manner.
The Tail as a Barometer of Feline Confidence
The feline tail is one of the best indicators of the pet’s mood. This appendage also happens to be the most visible. As such, one should always pay attention to cat body language via tail movements.
- Held Up High
This often indicates a happy, confident, friendly, and comfortable cat. It is one that you can approach with relative ease. It is in a happy mood. However, it can also mean that the cat is displaying a classic sign of defensive or offensive aggression. This is true if the tail looks puffed out. The cat does this to make itself look bigger and scarier. You may already know this as the tail of the Halloween cat.
- Held Down
If the cat holds its tail low, it often denotes anxiety or fear. A fearful kitty may not only lower its tail. It can also tuck it between its hind legs. The cat does this to make itself look like a smaller target for its potential aggressors.
- Moving Back and Forth and Very Fast
Known as quivering, a cat’s tail that moves back and forth at a fast pace is a kitty that is excited and happy. But, if the “tail-wagging” turns frenzied, it can indicate that the cat is already agitated. It is always a good sign that you should leave it alone.
- Moving Back and Forth, but Slowly
In this tail movement, the cat is telling you that it hasn’t made up its mind yet. It is trying to figure out whether it should be happy about something or should it be upset. It is often best to keep your distance until you see the movement of the tail pick up in speed.
- Flicking Tail
Cat parents interpret this behavior as an indication that the feline is alert or already agitated. It often borders excitement and annoyance. For example, your cat may be very happy to see you, so it wags its tail faster. However, after several minutes of petting, you may notice its tail giving you that flicking signal. It means the petting session is over.
The Ears as Tools for Showing Off and Not Only for Hearing
We all know how acute cats’ sense of hearing is. They can hear sounds up to 5 times better than that of humans. But what you may not know is that their ears are also excellent communication tools. Here are some of the cat body language ears movements that you have to know.
- Facing Forward
Cats with their ears facing forward are in the mood for some wonderful playtime. They can also tell you that they’re happy, relaxed, engaged, and confident.
- Sticking Straight Up
Like dogs, a cat that is on a heightened alert will have its ears pointing straight up. It is what it shows whenever something arouses its curiosity that the cat wants to “hear” more.
- Turned Back
If the cat turns its ears backwards, it is telling you to back off. This kitty is not in a good mood. It is often irritated or annoyed at being over-stimulated.
- Turned Sideways
Always approach a cat whose ears are turned sideways with caution. This is a kitty that is feeling so anxious or nervous that it would be next to impossible to predict what it will do next.
- Flat against the Cat’s Head
This cat body language ears movement often indicates that the feline is feeling defensive and scared. In some cats, the same body language may reveal that the kitty is aggressive or angry. Whatever the case, it’s best to stay away from a cat with ears flat on its head.
The Eyes as the Windows to the Feline Mood
Everyone says that the eyes are the windows to a person’s soul. When it comes to our cats, their eyes can tell us their mood. This is aside from the fact that they can be both mesmerizing and beautiful at the same time.
- Dilated Pupils
Dilation of the pupils is always a sign of stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. This is that part of the nervous system involved in the fight or flight response. As such, if you see a cat with dilated pupils, you may want to keep your distance. This is a cat that is scared, surprised, or anxious.
- Constricted Pupils
Constricting the pupils has the effect of focusing on a target. As such, cats that have constricted pupils may be preparing for a fight. They can be tense and may show other signs of aggression. As always, it is best to take this cat and kitten body language within the context of the current situation.
- Stare Down
A cat that gives you that classic stare-down look is challenging you. It often does this against another cat as a means of exerting its authority or dominance. As such, if ever you see your cat staring you down, it means business.
- Slow Blink
A slow-blinking cat tells you that it wants to be your friend. It trusts you and it feels safe and comfortable with you. This is one of the surest signs that your feline friend wants some cuddle time. It is always a good idea to return the favor. You should blink slowly at your cat, too.
- Half-Closed Eyes
This is almost similar to a slow blinking eye. Half-closed eyes in cats indicate trust. This is often the case when petting the feline. If it trusts you, it will have its eyes half-closed and go into a more relaxed position.
Deciphering the Cat’s Posture and Body Shape
If you put all of the movements of the tail, the ears, and the eyes to decipher what your cat’s message, it may still not be enough. You also need to look at the general shape of its body as well as its posture.
- Arched Back
A cat that feels angry or is fearful will often want to make itself look as big and scary as possible. Hence, it will try to arch its back. It may also stand sideways in an attempt to keep its guard up. This kitty is all about aggression, whether it is defensive or offensive. It’s often a wise move to steer clear of this cat.
- Normal Posture
The normal cat posture is one where the body is in a relaxed position. Both the body and the head of the cat point toward the person they want to interact with. This speaks of the cat’s trust and confidence.
- Crouching Stance
If you’ve seen a cat in a crouched position, then you know that this cat and kitten body language is an indication of fear or anxiety. The crouched position allows the cat to make a run for it should they think they’re no match against an aggressor. The cat assumes a ball-shaped body in an effort to make it look smaller and less tempting to its aggressor. Cats also assume this posture because they are not comfortable.
- The Venus Cat Trap
We know that when dogs lie on their backs and expose their bellies, they are often in a good mood and would want you to give them a friendly hug. This is not the case with cats. While some cats will expose their bellies as a sign of trust, comfort, and confidence, there are still those that may interpret it the other way. A cat exposing its belly may not be inviting you to rub its tummy at all. It is preparing for a fight by presenting to you all of its armament – the claws and teeth. Hence, read the context first before rubbing your cat’s tummy.
- Facing Away from You
There are two possible interpretations of this feline body language. It can mean that the cat is not interested in you. That’s why it turned its back on you. However, turning its back also means that the cat is letting its guard down. It’s an open invitation for you to pet it.
The Whiskers as Communication Tool
A cat’s whiskers do not provide as much information as its ears, body, tail, and eyes. However, when you add your observations about the cat’s whiskers to the other physical cues, you can get a clearer message.
For instance, if the cat draws its whiskers very close to its face, it is a sign that the cat is fearful. Drawing the whiskers close to the face is similar to the attempts of the cat to make itself look smaller.
On the other hand, confident cats will have their whiskers sticking outwards from the sides of their faces. It can also mean alertness or vigilance, since the whiskers can also function in sensing distances and vibrations.
Vocalizations: More than Mere Sounds
In addition to the physical cues of feline body language, cats also produce different vocalizations to convey their “feelings”.
This can mean that the cat is either excited or frustrated.
Cats that produce a trill are sociable and friendly. They use the sound to greet their family.
This is a surefire sign to keep your distance from the cat. Like its larger cousins in the jungle, a growling kitty is a sign of feline aggression.
Back off whenever you hear a cat hiss. This often means that the kitty feels threatened.
This is often a sign of hopelessness whereby the cat has run out of options.
We always equate purr with pleasure. However, some cats in pain also purr.
This is almost the same as the classic meow when it comes to its meaning. The cat can be either frustrated or excited.
Deciphering cat behavior is easy if you understand feline body language. You can always start with this helpful guide to assist you in communicating with your pet cat.