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Read Your Cat's Body Language For A Clue As To What's On His Mind

Updated on January 1, 2016
Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob has been in the pet supply business and writing about pets, livestock and wildlife in a career that spans three decades.

Cats develop an attitude early in life!
Cats develop an attitude early in life! | Source

How To Watch Them "Speak"

If you're a cat owner, you've certainly noticed how your cat's eyes change, not only according to the amount of light there is, but also according to the cat's state of mind at that particular moment.

You've also undoubtedly noticed how your cat's ears and tail changes, not only according to the audio signals it is receiving, but also according to the cat's state of mind at that particular moment.

If you've had your cat for some time, you've probably got scratches, perhaps even scars, that you've picked up along the way as you discovered, sometimes painfully, what your cat's eyes, ears and tails are revealing.

Cat's communicate with each other through visual signals, mostly involving the eyes, ears and tails. And even though you're an entirely different species, with a language all your own, you can clue in to your cat's state of mind and intentions by interpreting his body language.

They say English is the most difficult language to learn because of words like "there," "their," and "they're," and because we "park in driveways" and "drive on parkways." Well, cat's do something similar to us with their language.

For instance, when you present food to a hungry cat, its pupils will dilate, as they will when the cat has had quite enough of your malarkey, thank you. So, when a cat is aroused, it behooves one to determine what has aroused it.

If it's a food response, you're good to go. If it's in response to your trying to hold the cat down to give it medicine, for example, the dilated pupils are telling you that you still have a little time before the bite happens. There may be some pre-chomp hissing, as well.


So, just as a very happy cat or a very threatened cat will display greatly dilated pupils, pupils that are reduced to slits can also be a danger signal. Unless responding to light, contracted pupils usually indicate the cat is feeling dominant or aggressive.

As with dogs, prolonged eye contact is a threat gesture to cats. So, if you're like me and enjoy staring at the cat (like watching its ears respond to sounds you can't even hear), just be sure the cat isn't staring back. You'll unwittingly intimidate it.

A cat's ears always seem to be in motion, orienting on sounds that we may not even notice. This happens even during periods of all but the deepest sleep. When the cat is awake, though, those ears let the world know where the cat's coming from.

In a relaxed cat, the points of the ears will be slightly forward and outward. When the cat is on alert, the ears will be erect and the cat will be staring. If someone in the next room drops the salt shaker, one ear may rotate to that sound, but the stare won't vary.


A cat that's on the defensive will fold its ears flat back against its head. Behaviorists believe that's a way protect the ears, which often get tattered and torn during fights. But the most threatening ear posture is somewhere between erect and flat back.

When a cat is feeling very aggressive, the backs of the ears become visible to someone in front of the animal. They're not fully flattened, and they're rotated outwardly. You'll know it when you see it. Don't mess with a cat whose ears are semi-flattened and rotated.

And finally, the tail. What a chatterbox that is. A cat that is mildly irritated will flick the tip of its tail, but when the entire tail whips back and forth, watch out, an attack is imminent.


If the cat is feeling defensive, it will arch its back and bristle its tail to make it look larger and more intimidating. But, if the tail is erect with the tip softly curved, the cat is relaxed. If the tail is lowered, with the tip curved slightly, it's interested in something.

But if the tail is fully lowered, and especially if it's tucked between its hind legs, this is a defeated cat that's acting submissively.

Body language is a major factor in how animals communicate, either with each other, or with other species. A coyote knows not to mess with a skunk that has its tail raised. Too bad your dog doesn't get that.


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    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 2 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hello Random cat owner, nice to meet you. Multi-cat households sometimes present challenges. One suggestion would be to play with them vigorously so they'll tire and spend time catnapping and chillin.' That's sort of like taking the dog for a long walk or playing a vigorous game of fetch. Thanks for stopping by.

    • profile image

      Random cat owner 2 years ago

      Hi my cats are a bit crazy im wonderin if there is a way to do that without separating them?

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Thanks for stopping by, Diana. Your final thought says it all. You reinforce that behaviour (spelt the English way) by rewarding it. She's no dummy; she caught on pretty quickly. And I think "spelt" is the English way, too. Here in the colonies, we say "spelled." I appreciate your comment.

    • Diana Grant profile image

      Diana Grant 4 years ago from London

      Sometimes my cat comes up to me and waits to be stroked. If I purposely don't stroke her, she stretches out her front paw towards me. She also does the same thing if I put my hand on the back door handle when she asks to go out, but don't open the door quickly enough. She looks happy and relaxed when she does this, as though in a good mood, and she knows I will fulfil her request.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      You're a tough act to follow, J - R -Fr13m9n! One correction is probably in order, though. I'll bet it's a case of the 2 cats sharing their home with you, and of them taking time out of their day to spend some time with you! Glad to have you stop by.

    • J - R - Fr13m9n profile image

      Jane Ramona Rynkiewicz Frieman 4 years ago from Morris County, New Jersey

      I feel that your article was just purrrrr-fect. If I would phrase it differently I would classify it as "The Cat's Meow". I share my home with 2 adorable cats and I consider them 'my babies'. There are times during my day that I PAWS and spend some time with them. Ciao Meow!

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Got it. Mimicking a mom's behavior is an effective way to correct unwanted behaviors in kittens. It can even work with some adult cats. A tipoff would be if they still knead while you're holding them. Usually, if they exhibit kittenish behavior, they'll respond to mother cat tactics.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Right--you'll notice I said you can stare down a KITTEN. Also, a single-finger tap on the end of their nose, scruffing them, or doing your own hiss at them--all things that Mom cat would do.....You don't want to stare down an adult cat.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Lizzy, I'm with you on your servant comment. I saw a poster once that said, "To a dog, you're family; to a cat, you're staff." How true, right?

      You've got to be careful staring down a cat. If they take offense to what they consider a threat, they can lash out quickly and without much warning. Thanks for commenting and voting...good to see you again. Regards, Bob

      Hi Kathy, you're right about the blinks. Sometimes they'll blink both eyes, sometimes just one...and usually slowly. I used to think my cat was being arrogant and dismissive, but actually behaviorists say that slow blink is an act of affection.

      Just goes to show you how some animal body language would have a totally different meaning in human interaction. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Regards, Bob

      Hi timcgaa70, thanks for stopping by. My cat used to do the same thing...sit on my chest with those soft eyes. We'd exchange soft google eyes for a couple of minutes then she'd get up, arch her back, turn around and lay back down with her butt in my face and her tail tickling my nose.

      Your comments to Kathy are right on, especially your disclaimer at the end. Even with an established bond, some cats can still be dangerous, as in redirected aggression. I suffered some pretty good bites and scratches because neighbor cats came up on our deck or sat on our front step. Thanks for stopping by. Regards, Bob

      Hi Chrissy, nice to see you. I suppose malnourishment in her early kittenhood could cause some developmental issues, but I bet it just will take her longer to trust and become playful, etc like "normal" kittens.

      It sounds like she was a street cat with a pretty tough life, so you may have to cut her some slack. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Regards, Bob

    • crissytsu profile image

      crissytsu 5 years ago from Texas

      This was exactly the information I've been wondering about. I'm familiar with dog behavior and communication but no so much cats. I recently adopted a stray kitten that appears to be about 4-6mos old and she doesn't really act like "normal" kittens her age. I thought maybe she is just developmentally delayed from being close to having failure to thrive since she was abandoned so think that's possible?

    • tlmcgaa70 profile image

      tlmcgaa70 5 years ago from south dakota, usa

      great hub. i must say something about staring though. cats speak volumes with their eyes. and just like us, when they wish to express affection, they will seek out eye contact. all 15 of my cats do this with me. Convict more than the rest. he will lay on my chest (sitting on my lap face to face with me) and initiate staring. his eyes are very relaxed and soft. i stare back with the same relaxed, soft gaze.

      @KathyH...winking is a sign of affection. if you wink and get a wink back they are saying they love you. many is the time i will catch kittys eyes and wink...sometimes i get a wink back, sometimes they will jump up and run to me to but heads against my lips. the wink is slow, sometimes just a half wink. i use staring and growling and hissing to corerct unwanted behaviour (i don't suggest doing any of these things with a cat unless you have an established bond with it and it trusts you completely).

    • KathyH profile image

      KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      This is so neat! We have one cat (Dixie) that walks around the house with her fluffy "question mark" tail! Straight up and a soft curve at the end of it. It's good to know she is relaxed! :)

      One thing both of our cats do is when I am looking at them, if I blink with both eyes, or even if I wink at them, I get a sweet "blink" back at me! I think that's a way of communicating, too. I either blink or wink to let them know I'm not being aggressive by looking at them. I say they are giving me kitty kisses with their little "blinks." This info is good to know! :) Thanks for sharing!

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Oh, so true! As the (proud? goofy?) 7 cats, I know whereof you speak.

      The one exception I would make to not 'staring down' a cat is when you are trying to discipline a naughty kitten. You do need to establish yourself as the alpha in the household....our #7 is a particularly adventurous/rambunctious youngster (in his "teens" now, at 7 months old)...and when we catch him where he doesn't belong, we snag him, and hold him right up to our face, and look him in the eye while issuing the "no, no" lecture. He will look away first...then we put him down.

      Voted up, across and shared.