Your Cat's Body Language

Your Cat's Body Language

Pet Psychology

Cats have a variety of moods, similar way to humans and many other creatures. People sometimes think that it's difficult to tell how a cat is feeling, as they often appear to have a very 'inscrutable' facial expression, but cats can get their point across in many other different ways with body language, and in particular, using their tail, ears, eyes and voice.If your cat is frightened, you will see a number of signs. The body muscles will become very tense and the cat will sit completely still initially, whilst it weighs up the situation. During this stage he will fix his eyes on whatever is causing him the distress, with the pupils of his eyes wide open (known as being dilated) whilst moving his eyes rapidly from side to side whilst he looks for an escape route. He may also crouch down low in a submissive position, with the ears flattened, and if it is another cat that has frightened him, he may roll over on his back with paws and claws at the ready to attack if necessary. Or if he is really frightened by a situation, he might attempt to beat a very hasty retreat to a place of safety. Whilst all of this is going on, you may hear your cat growling and hissing, and you will almost certainly see his tail fluffed up like a bottlebrush. If you try and handle him whilst he is in this frame of mind, he may try and bite or scratch you, not because he is cross with you but because he is in self-defence mode and cannot differentiate between attack and help.You will see similar signs if your cat is angry and on the attack, although the whole of his coat will also probably fluff up in an attempt to make him look larger than he really is, and he will arch his back. As well as hissing, growling and spitting, he will also have a very long, loud and wailing miaow, which will rise and fall in tone whilst he tries to frighten his adversary. Unlike his canine companions, if a cat wags his tail, beware, it's because he is very cross indeed! If another cat has challenged him, he may attack at this point with teeth and claws, which can cause considerable damage to the other cat - as well as to himself if his opponent puts up a strong fight. Cat fights often lead to abscesses resulting from infected wounds, as well as torn ears and deep scratches, so keep a close eye on your cat if you believe he has been involved in a fight, even though he appears to have won. The way your cat washes himself can be an indicator of how he is feeling. If he is unsure about the best course of action in a difficult situation, he may well show his uncertainty by starting to groom himself, in the same way that anxious humans might bite their nails or scratch their heads. 'If in doubt - wash!' seems to be a common feline reaction to unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations. A happy cat will wash himself with long, slow licks, but one who is unhappy will tend to use more frequent short, sharp licking movements. If your cat is feeling ill, besides any obvious clinical symptoms, he will sit hunched up looking very miserable, usually in a corner by himself, and usually will not wash or eat. His coat will be 'staring', that is, very open and sparse-looking, and he may be very dehydrated. He won't want to be bothered by any other pets, or by you, although you will soon realise that there is a problem from this uncharacteristic behaviour. By contrast to the signs of an anxious, frightened or poorly cat, the signs of a happy cat are a joy to watch and listen to! You will see very relaxed body muscles, and he will show you how pleased he is to see you by holding his tail up straight behind him, sometimes with the tip bent slightly, as a form of greeting. He will then rub his head against you, almost head butting you in his excitement, and will often weave round your legs if your head is out of reach! You will hear the gentle sound of purring from a happy cat, whether it's because he's with his favourite human, the sun is shining or, in the case of a mother cats, she's feeding her kittens. When your cat is particularly enjoying his supper, because maybe you've given him a special treat of freshly cooked chicken or he's been busy all day and is very hungry, you will sometimes hear him making a noise that sounds very like 'mmm mmm' in grateful appreciation! If you have got an entire female cat, one of the situations you will need to be watchful of is when she comes into season and wants to be mated. She will become exceptionally friendly to you and any other feline housemates, purring very loudly, and rubbing round you the whole time, and will crouch down and lift her tail to one side in a mating position. If you have male neutered cats, they will often become very confused by this behaviour and try and mate their female friend. Besides rolling around on the floor to attract a mate, she will also make a very loud noise, known as 'calling', and if you have never heard a Siamese or Burmese making this noise, you are in for a surprise as it can be almost ear-splitting, sounding rather like an agitated human baby! You will need to take special care that you do not let her out whilst she is on call, and either wait for the call to finish, which can take up to about five days, to have her spayed, or, if she is pedigree and you are planning on breeding with her, make arrangements for her to visit an approved stud cat as soon as you can.

Newsletter icon
Get free tips and resources delivered directly to your inbox.


Pets for StudWanted Pets

Accessories & services


Knowledge Hub


Support & Safety Portal
All Pets for Sale