5 Things Everyone Should Know About Cat Body Language

Sharing your house with a feline family member means remembering to never put your cup too close to the edge of the table and accepting the fact all your clothes will forever be covered in cat hair. It’s having the perfect snuggle buddy and loyal friend, and it also means learning a whole new language. Cat body language is made up of tail flicks, slow blinks, and head bops. There are no words to string into sentences, but cats still manage to send specific information on their desires, feelings, and physical well-being.

Learning everything there is to know about cat body language will take time and experience. But in the meantime, here are the top five things you should know about your cat’s communication.

cat body language

1. Cats talk with their tails.

Tail language is one of the most important parts of cat body language. With a single flick, wag, or puff, you can tell exactly what your cat is thinking. Every movement and position can be interpreted into an important message. Some tail messages are easy to discern, but others aren’t what they seem.

For example, cats don’t wag their tails out of happiness like dogs do. If you notice your cat rapidly moving their tail back and forth, it usually means they’re unhappy. A slow swish equates to mild annoyance, and it’s probably best to give your cat some space. Some cats also whip their tails back and forth during intense playtime.

Besides movements, the position of a cat’s tail clearly indicates their mood. A tail held high and upright means a cat is happy and confident. When their tail is level with their spine, it usually means they’re uneasy or questioning something in their environment. For more information about cat tail language, read this article next.

cat body language

2. Certain behaviors are signs of extreme physical distress.

Cats can’t come out and tell us when they’re hurt or ill. A lot of the time, they choose to be stoic and suffer in silence. Hiding their pain is part of their instinct to conceal any weakness from a potential predator. But when the pain is serious, cats stop trying to hide their symptoms. The problem is, some of the behaviors associated with pain and illness aren’t easily interpreted.

One of these is head pressing. Head pressing is exactly what it sounds like: Cats press their heads against either a wall or a solid object. It can look amusing, as if your cat is having a serious case of the Monday Blues, but this type of cat body language is extremely serious. Head pressing is a sign a cat is experiencing neurological distress. It could be caused by a brain tumor, poisoning, or a stroke. Whatever the cause, it’s extremely important to call your vet right away. Read this article for more information.

Other body language signs that a cat isn’t feeling well include hiding when they’re usually outgoing and a sudden change in eating or litter box habits.

3. You can recognize stress with out-of-context behaviors.

The life of a cat is full of naps in the sun and comfy spots on the couch, but our feline friends aren’t immune to stress. One of the best things you can do with a knowledge of cat body language is recognize when your cat is in need of some TLC. Stress and anxiety can have negative impacts on a cat’s overall health and happiness. And as their best friend, it’s your job to help them feel better. But you can’t do that until you know what kinds of cat body language to look for.

The key to recognizing stress in cats is to look for behaviors that seem odd or out of context. Yawning when their eyes are wide open and they’re standing upright is a good example. Cats yawn when they’re sleepy, but they also yawn when they’re stressed. You can tell the difference by paying attention to the situation. If it doesn’t make sense that your cat is tired in that moment, they’re probably yawning as a way to show they’re stressed, nervous, or generally uncomfortable.

This kind of cat body language is categorized by what’s called displacement behaviors. It could be yawning, lip licking, ear twitching, or rapid blinking. It also includes normal behaviors done in an obsessive manner, like obsessively licking their fur or drinking a lot of water at once. 

4. A cat’s ears do more than listen.

Cats have incredible hearing, but their ears also play an important role in their body language. How a cat’s ears are positioned can give interesting clues as to what they’re thinking. 

Forward facing ears, for example, mean your cat is in a good mood. Those happy ears usually come out during playtime or when you’re snuggling on the couch together. Ears that are pinned back and flat, on the other hand, are clear indicators that your cat is feeling scared or angry. It’s a message that says you should back off and leave them alone.

As for ear movements, twitching and flickering mean your cat is slightly on edge. They might hear a distressing sound or be uncomfortable with something in their environment. If their ears are crooked with each one facing a different direction, they’re likely interested in a specific sound. Cats can move their ears independently of each other, and they often do this to get a better idea of where a sound is coming from.

5. Your cat’s posture is important.

Cats express themselves with nearly every muscle in their body. From the tips of their ears down to their toes, they’re always saying something. But if you haven’t memorized the long list of movements and messages, you can look at your cat’s overall posture to get a decent understanding of what they’re trying to say.

Your cat’s posture consists of how they hold their head, how they’re breathing, what their claws are doing, and whether they have tension anywhere in their body. Basically, it’s an overall picture of how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking.

A relaxed cat will breathe slow and easy, their head will be high, their ears forward, and their muscles will be loose. They might lounge on the ground with their belly in the air or walk confidently from room to room. If your cat is nervous or stressed, their posture will noticeably change.  Their breathing might become irregular, and they could sit or stand in more of a hunched position. If they’re afraid, they’ll try to make themselves look bigger by standing with their back arched and their fur puffed up.

When you get down to the nitty gritty of cat body language, almost everything can be interpreted as a message. Some of those messages will be clear and easy to understand, but cats wouldn’t cats if there wasn’t some sense of mystery. You can become an expert on cat body language by spending quality time with your feline family members and taking special note of their tails, ears, eyes, and posture.

Did you learn anything new and interesting about our feline friends? Share this article with other cat lovers that you know so that they can learn something, too.
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