Cat Body Language Explained - 18 Things Your Cat is Trying to Tell You
What’s your cat trying to tell you? Throughout history, humans have viewed cats as mysterious, self-centered, and hard-to-read creatures to be either worshiped or vilified. They look you in the eyes and stay in that position with no apparent intention of moving their sight away from you. We grow nervous, we know we are expected to do something but we don’t know what.
Nature designed cats to be the ultimate hunter. Feral cats have a success rate of around 30% and make a kill every 52minutes. They have terrific night vision, independently swiveling ears, and very good smell and they hear even better than dogs.
Cats have adopted a run first, ask questions later policy
There are bigger, faster, and stronger animals in environments where cats are natural. Cats are mesopredators, which means that cats are preyed upon by larger predators. This has caused cats to adopt a run first, ask questions later policy. Another consequence of being prey is that they have adapted to being quiet and very good at hiding illness, which is an excellent self-protecting strategy in the wild as predators won’t easily target them as easy prey.
Cats are very subtle in their body language to protect themselves from sharing too much information with bigger predators.
While these are great adaptations for living in the wild, it makes it for us cat guardians, very difficult to decipher their body language. Cats are subtle and use communication methods that greatly differ from ours. Their communication is visual and olfactory although they can also use sound.
How to Understand Your Cat´s Body Language
In the “book decoding your cat”, link to check price on Amazon, they put it very nicely. “If communication had a volume control, humans would shout, dogs would talk and cats would whisper”
Because we can’t use pheromones to communicate with our cats and marking our home with urine would be inappropriate, today I want to cover visual cues and Cat body language. At the end of this post I’ll share with you 2 tips to get the help you communicate with your cat.
When observing a cat's body language to understand feelings or needs we need to pay attention to all body parts, behavior, and context to make a good read.
To understand cat body language we need to:
- Start reading the most obvious signals from the cat´s body
- Continue by observing the cat´s tail shape and movements
- Finalize the assessment with more subtle cat body language
Whenever we receive mixed signals it’s best to play it safe and assume the “stay away” part of the message prevails.
Take a look at the below video if you want to see visual examples, otherwise, feel free to keep on reading :)
What can we learn from our cat tails?
A straight up tail
Also known as flagpole happens when a cat is content, happy and confident. When cats approach another cat or someone in a friendly attitude.
When the same upright tail offers a question mark with a slide bend at the very top, in addition to the happy and content cat we have a cat that is playful and it’s looking for someone to sprint with. It’s a good moment to get some treats or a toy and help them spare some energy.
Means excitement and fear it can happen during a play session when they are extremely aroused but mostly will happen when they get scared, in an attempt to look bigger in front of what appears to them as a threat.
Tail movement is easy to misread if you’ve been around dogs.
A slight flick can be observed when hunting, while they wait to pounce.
When the tail is twitching means they are getting agitated or nervous. This can be seen when we pet them. When the tail starts twitching it’s time to start thinking about letting them go.
If we don’t we’re going to quickly meet the lashing tail or wagging. This means high arousal and can end up in aggression if we are in front of an aggressive cat. If your cat bites and scratches you out of nowhere and you want to know more about play aggression, I recommend you to take a look at this video here.
The body carriage of a cat
The body as a whole contains lot’s of information and we can identify 3 big body communication in cats.
Water: The melting cat.
When they just merge with the environment, stretched out and displaying a loose posture, our cats are comfortable and relaxed.
Don’t misread this one… if our cat is water like, showing their belly or completely stretched out, this means they trust us.
If we use this positions as an invitation to pet them, we are breaking that trust. The best we can do in those cases is to let them be, the second best is to do a small rub on the head or the chin, but leaving the vulnerable and exposed parts untouched.
Become smaller: Trying to become invisible.
Hunched, crouched cats are usually fearful or uncertain. They usually curl the tail around them too.
Become bigger: Appearing dangerous and dismissive.
When their fur is puffed and they put their body sideways, probably arched, they are trying to tell the recipient of the body language that they are bigger than they seem.
Adopting a bigger posture is usually sign of a cat in fight mode. A smaller cat is a cat in flight mode.
Understanding Cat Eyes Body Language
There are 3 main cues that cats eyes can give us:
Fixed and relaxed Stare
Means our cat is calm and it’s a way to show affection.
The fixed and relaxed gaze
Usually comes with a slow blink. My favorite cat body language. It’s the cat way to say I like you, I trust you. When I see Mia staring at me with a relaxed gaze I often times do a slow blink to her and if I’m lucky, she answers. You should try it.
Big and wide mean that your cat is either fearful or aroused. This is the way our cats have to let light get in and receive as much information as possible from the environment. When It happens during playtime means that the cat is about to pounce or get into crazy mode. Do not confuse this one with dilated pupils to adapt their sight in low light environments.
The ears can tell us some information about our cat feelings and interests.
Ears Pointing Forward
When ears are slightly pointed forward means the cat is alert, attentive or even aggressive. It usually comes with whiskers pointing forward as well, trying to receive as much information as possible.
Cat Ears Back
When a cat has their ears back means they are fearful. There are two levels of ears back:
- Semi-Rotated Ears Back: Means that the cat is trying to hear something behind them.
- Ears Back and Flattened against the head either to the side also called airplane wings or backward where you can barely see their ears, they are extremely fearful and probably aggressive.
If a cat has their ears back is best to leave them alone in the case they are on their own. If your cat is displaying this behavior, they are fearful so consider stopping what you are doing. In the case that you are outdoors, it's an indication to change places or go back home.
How to interpret cat body language then?
- Play with me: Slight tail twitch, relaxed and fixed stare, tail in upright position with or without a question mark.
- Go away: Tight body posture either becoming bigger or smaller, pinned ears and tail twitching or wagging.
- I’m relaxed: Casual gaze, slow blink and water-like body postures
There’s a way to talk cat, a common language that both you and your cat can understand. When our message is clear and the outcome is positive, cats can understand us. Cats can be trained the same way dogs do using positive reinforcement and clicker training.
If you have never heard about clicker training or you have but never tried it before I recommend you to watch this video to learn how to clicker train your cat in 3 easy steps. It is really a game changer for cat parents.
If you already know what clicker training is, take a look at this video to learn 5 Tricks in only 10minutesl!
Also, if you would like to hire some help from our cat behaviorists and trainers, please take a look at our Cat School Classes with trainings for Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced cat parents.
Stay Wild, stay safe. I’ll see you next time!
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