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Interpreting the Body Language of Cats

Cats are a very common house pet that is found in almost as many American homes as dogs yet they at times can be very mysterious animals.  It is difficult sometimes to tell if a cat is happy, content, or angry and often cats may react in a seemingly unpredictable manner when approached by a person.  While their behavior may seem random, reading their body language can provide important clues for determining their mood and predicting their behavior.  The following are common examples of body language in cats to look for.

  • The Body: The body is one of the easiest parts of the cat to read its body language.  If a cat is lying on its back, it is usually happy and if it is standing with an arched back and flat fur, it wants affection.  However, if the cat has standing fur with an arched back, then it is scared or upset.  When cats rub against your legs, this usually means that they are marking their territory, not seeking attention.  Cats also rub up against other inanimate objects to mark their territory.
  • The Ears: The cat’s ears can reveal a few different things about their mood.  If its ears are pointed forward, the cat is happy and alert but if they are pinned back, the cat is scared or angry.  A cat may move their ears around when they are trying to listen to their surroundings.
  • The Tail: The tail can also reveal much about a cat’s mood and behavior.  Generally, if a cat holds its tail high with flat fur, it is happy but if it holds its tail up with raised fur, the cat is angry or scared.  Tucking the tail between the legs can often be a sign of anxiety and if the cat is thrashing its tail, it may be irritated or in hunting mode.
  • The Eyes: The eyes of a cat are the most difficult part to discern its body language.  If the pupils are thin, it could indicate that the cat is aggressive but it could also just mean that the cat is content.  If the pupils are enlarged, this could mean that the cat is nervous or that it is in a playful mood.  With these contradictions, it is easier to read a cat’s body language in body parts other than the eyes.
  • The Sounds: There are a variety of noises that cats make and each one can reveal something about the cat’s mood or behavior.   Typical “meows” can mean anything from a greeting or asking to be fed to a warning to leave them alone.  Cats purr when they are happy and they usually chatter when in hunting mode. A hiss from a cat is a warning to stay away because it is angry or frightened and yowls, or drawn out meows, are a sign of distress.

While cats may seem like difficult creatures to understand at first, careful observation of their body language may reveal their moods and help predict their behaviors.  The meaning of the body language may vary slightly between individual cats but this general overview still provides a good framework to help determine your cat’s mood and behaviors.  You can get a more accurate reading on your cat’s mood by observing the language of all their body parts and what all of it together may tell you.

The Pet’s Home offers cat sitting services to Naperville, Oswego, and the surrounding areas.  Contact us to learn more.