cat body language

Your Guide to Kitty Body Language

Cats use their body and movement to communicate with us and each other more than their voices. They use cues all over their body to make a statement. Keep reading to learn more and become a cat body language expert!

This article was written by a FirstVet vet

Did you know that FirstVet offers video calls with experienced vets? You can get a consultation within 30 minutes by downloading the FirstVet app for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play.

The Eyes

To understand what your cat is communicating with the eyes, you need to look at the pupils, size of the eyes, eyelids, and their blinking patterns.

1. Soft eyelids are a sign of a relaxed cat.

2. Slow blinking is a sign of a relaxed cat.

3. Rapid blinking and squinted eyes are signs of stress

4. Dilated pupils and wide eyes can be a sign your cat wants to play, or it can indicate they’re overstimulated or anxious.

5. Constricted or slit-like pupils can indicate contentment or stress, so you need to look for other signals.

6. A fixed, hard stare is your cat challenging you or other animals.

7. Third eyelid elevation is often a sign your cat doesn’t feel well and needs to see the vet.

The Ears

1. Ears forward or in the neutral position indicate a relaxed cat.

2. Ears held back or low to the side is a sign of anxiety and fear.

3. Ears held back and flat against the head is a cat that is scared and ready to defend herself.

The Mouth and Whiskers

1. Rubbing the face and chin on you is a sign of affection. Your cat is marking you with their pheromones and letting all the other cats know you’re their buddy.

2. Yawning is a sign of stress and is their way of trying to calm themselves down.

3. Licking the lips is another sign of stress.

4. Whiskers drooping down can be a sign that your cat is not feeling well.

The Coat

1. A cat that has the fur raised along the back and neck is agitated or overstimulated.

2. A cat that isn’t grooming and has a coarse, dry, or matted coat may not be feeling well, may have arthritis pain making it painful to groom, or may be too overweight to groom themselves.

The Tail

1. A tail that is held high with a slight curve at the tip is a sign of an affectionate cat.

2. A tail that is held high, along with an arched back and hair standing up, is a cat that is trying to look larger and more intimidating, either out of fear or aggression.

3. Tail twitching can be a sign your cat is ready to play or they’re annoyed or agitated. Take other body signals into account to determine what your cat is feeling.

4. Slow movement of the tail back and forth indicates the cat is assessing the situation.

5. Rapid tail movement back and forth is a sign of agitation.

6. Holding the tail down can be a sign of fear.

The Body

1. Head butting and circling are signs of affection.

2. Kneading with the front paws, often referred to as “making biscuits”, is a sign of happiness and contentment.

3. A stiff body posture that is low to the ground with the paws tucked under is a sign of stress.

4. A tall stance with the back arched is a sign of stress or agitation and the cat is trying to make themselves look larger to whatever is threatening them.

*For example, your two 6-month-old cats are walking in the room. Cat #1 gets low to the ground and starts to have a rapid tail twitch, the eyes are wide open and the pupils are dilated, and the ears are back. Cat #2 is just watching this behavior. Then cat #1 lunges at cat #2 and they fall to the floor and kick at each other for a few seconds, then break apart. This is cat play.

In another scenario, cat #1 is showing the same behaviors listed above but the eyes are more fixed with a hard stare. Now cat #2 is crouching down to the ground, rapidly blinking, ears are lowered, licking lips, and a slow tail twitch. Cat #2 is nervous or anxious about the attack coming from cat #1 since it does not seem playful anymore.

Read more:

Safety Considerations for Indoor and Outdoor Cats

Toys, Games, and Puzzles! How to Entertain Your Indoor Cat

Tips for Bringing Home a New Cat or Kitten

Have more questions about cat body language and behavior?

Schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets.

This article was written by a FirstVet vet

Did you know that FirstVet offers video calls with experienced vets? You can get a consultation within 30 minutes by downloading the FirstVet app for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play.

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