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A Quick Guide to Cat Language

Updated on June 9, 2011

Dogs wear their heart “on their sleeve”, displaying their emotions quite openly—a wagging tail, as everyone knows, means happiness, and a growl means anger. Cats, however, are a bit more reserved with their emotions. This doesn’t mean, though, that cat language is impossible to interpret. Once you know what to look for, and especially after careful observation of your cat, you will soon be an expert in cat language and may even be able to “communicate” with cats.

The Happy Cat

A happy, healthy cat has a relaxed tail, an erect head, perked ears, and is quiet or purring. Purring is an easy, universal sign of contentment in cats; however, it is less known that fast, angry purring is actually a sign a cat is about to bite. Kneading, whether on a bed, another cat, or your stomach, is another sign of pleasure cats show, stemming back to their days spent as kittens. While nursing from their mothers, kittens “knead” their mom’s stomachs to help the flow of milk, so when an adult cat does this, they are remembering the security they felt cuddled next to their mom’s warmth.

A cat’s meow is a top way felines communicate. A soft, pleasant-sounding meow is a cat’s way of saying, “hello, how are you?” A high-pitched meow, perhaps sounding more like a kitten’s mew, is your cat asking you for something—most likely food or a little attention.

A slow blink is a relaxed, trusting gesture cats make. If you want to test your cat’s mood, try looking them in the eye and blinking slowly. If your cat mimics you, they are in a good mood and open for your attention.

If your cat drops on the floor and rolls onto its back as a greeting, it is showing you the ultimate cat sign of love and trust, as their stomach is a weak point and is usually heavily guarded. Rubbing their body against yours is another way cats show affection: they are marking you with their scent and saying “this is mine”.

Cats do a few weird things that are actually a sign they love you, such as shoving their tush in your face. Cats do this to each other as a greeting, as smelling each other’s rears is the best way for cats to get to know each other. Also, gently biting your finger and holding it in their mouth is another odd gesture of affection. Appreciate it!

The Angry/Upset Cat

An angry cat is seen with its ears back, eyes narrowed, and tail flicking back and forth. Hissing is a definite sign that a cat is not happy—cats hiss to mimic snakes and be more intimidating to their foes. A frightened cat will often puff its fur and tail and arch its back because it is trying to appear as big as possible.

Unlike dogs, a cat wagging its tail vigorously is not a good sign: usually it means a cat is annoyed and about to attack.

A cat that is mad will also lower its head and issue a low growl. It may display its annoyance by swatting at you. If a cat is displaying these signs of anger, leave it alone, as its reflexes are much faster than yours, so you will most likely get bitten.

Follow your cat’s lead and spend some time to closely observe your cat’s behavior. Soon you will learn what your cat is trying to tell you and possibly how to communicate with your cat with your voice and body language. With the right technique, you can minimize your cat’s anger and promote happiness in your household.


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    • nessafay profile image

      nessafay 6 years ago

      Thank you two for your comments an your insights on cats! They are certainly fascinating creatures... My kitty best friend is named Luna, she is the orange tabby 'modeling' for this article.

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 6 years ago

      ...well I know all about a cat's body language but because they are such deep and mysterious living souls - and because we as humans are always learning from them and about them there is just so much more to explore.

      My two best friends are Little Miss Tiffy and Mister Gabriel - Tiffy is the diva in the picture and she was my mum's cat - she is about 14 or 15 years old and Mister Gabriel is a white deaf cat. So very nice to meet you and thank you for your informative hub ......

    • SandyMcCollum profile image

      SandyMcCollum 6 years ago

      A happy cat's tail is usually straight up with the tip tilted, and growling isn't always anger. It can be in protective mode, too. My cat used to sit on the windowsill above my bed and when she saw someone walking down the sidewalk, she'd growl as they got close. She was our protector cat. They really have such funny personalities, don't they? I enjoyed your article, thanks for the read.