Cat Body Language and Behavior

Cat body language interpretation is just as important as understanding verbal cat sounds when you're trying to figure out what's going on in Kitty's head.

Cats talk with their bodies all the time - some cats much more so than with their voices.

You've probably noticed certain kinds of cat behavior that your Kitty often displays - maybe twitching his tail, stretching out on his back, slowly blinking at you... Do these all mean something..?

Absolutely!!

This page goes through common body language behaviors that cats display, and tells you what they usually mean.

For sake of ease, I've split it down into different body parts so you can find what you're looking for more easily.


1) Cat body language: Tail

  • Swishing. A swishing tail (i.e. the whole tail slowly and gently moving from side to side) usually means Kitty is alert, curious and interested in his environment.

  • Lashing. A lashing tail (i.e. the whole tail moving from side to side in a fast, aggressive way) means Kitty is agitated and annoyed. Sometimes when Kitty is doing this he'll adopt a generally aggressive stance (more on this below.) The hair on his tail may also stand on end, giving it a bushy appearance. If he's doing this, leave him alone or you're likely to become the victim of an attack.

  • Twitching. If Kitty is twitching his tail at the tip, this usually indicates he's interested in something he's seen. However, it may also be the first sign of aggression - e.g. if another cat has just invaded his patch - and in this case it could turn to a lashing tail and aggression.
cat twitchin its tail
  • Quivering. Cats will quiver their tails at the base as part of cat spraying behavior. However, they may also do this when they rub up against you, or when you stroke their backs, especially near their tail, when they're standing up. In this instance, the quivering is a sign of great affection for you.

  • Tail bolt upright. With some cats, if their tail is upright (i.e. pointing towards the sky) when they're walking, it means they're happy and confident. The rest of their body language (e.g. the way they walk, the way they look around) will also reflect this.

  • Tail half tucked between legs. This usually means the cat is scared, unhappy or feeling threatened. The rest of his body language will confirm this (e.g. head down, ears back, body low to the ground).



2) Cat body language: Ears

  • Pricked up ears. This is a sign of Kitty being interested in what he can hear around him. You may have noticed cats can also turn their pricked up ears round so they can listen to what's going on behind them without moving their heads...

  • Ears turned back. If Kitty's ears are flattened towards his head and turned back, this usually means he's being threatened and is turning his ears away to protect them.



3) Cat body language: Head and whiskers

  • Raised head. The meaning of this varies depending on the circumstances. If Kitty is happy, a raised head indicates curiosity and confidence, and is usually associated with pricked up ears. On the other hand, if he's in a stand-off with another cat, a raised head can indicate dominance and in this case his ears will often be turned back for protection.

  • Lowered head. In a stand-off with another cat, a lowered head indicates submissiveness. In other circumstances, it can just indicate sleepiness, contentment or boredom.

  • Cat whiskerscan act as a measure of a cat's mood. If his whiskers are in a forward position, he's relaxed, happy or curious. If they're pulled back, he's defensive or aggressive.


4) Cat body language: Eyes

  • Wide, staring eyes. This is usually seen before and during a cat fight, or before a cat attacks another animal or a human. They stare to try to scare the other cat / animal / human away.

  • Narrow, slowly blinking eyes. This means the opposite of above - the cat is saying he's happy with the other cat / animal / human and that he trusts them.

    If you've ever wondered why cats make a beeline for the one person in the room who doesn't like cats, eyes are the reason. The cat lovers in the room will stare at Kitty, which will make him feel threatened, so he'll want to stay away from them. The person who doesn't like cats won't look at him because she's sincerely hoping he won't go anywhere near her. He sees her as the only non-threatening person in the room, so guess who he heads towards?!



5) Cat body language: Body

  • Why do cats knead? This is a sign of affection, comfort and contentment.

  • Rubbing against your legs. When Kitty does this, he's leaving his scent on you, effectively marking you as "his territory." It's a sign of affection.

  • Rolling onto his back and exposing his tummy. Kitty is being submissive. He's paying you a compliment, saying he likes and trusts you.

cute cat rolling on his back
  • Bent / straight legs. If all Kitty's legs are straight and he has an upright posture, raised head and pricked ears, he's happy, curious and confident. In a stand-off, bent front legs and stretched back legs show that Kitty would rather avoid a fight, but that he will defend himself if he has to.

  • Arched back. In kittens, this is usually a playful stance - they're wanting a play fight. In adult cats, however, it usually indicates that Kitty is preparing for a real fight. Accompanying things may be ears turned back, wide eyes and hair on the back and tail standing on end.
black cat with arched back cartoon

When you're trying to interpret cat body language, it's important to look at Kitty's whole body, not just one particular part.

I've told you what individual behaviors and some combined behaviors usually mean, but these should be taken into consideration along with everything else Kitty's doing - and with what's being verbally communicated.

I hope you have fun trying to figure him or her out!





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