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21st Dec 2023

Understanding cat body language

by Burns Team Writer

Understanding cat body language is key to building a positive relationship with your feline friend. Cats communicate a wide range of emotions through their body posture and facial expressions. While purring and slow blinking are the signs of a happy cat, hissing and dilated pupils are the signs of an unhappy cat. By familiarising yourself with these body language signs, you can adjust your reactions and respect their boundaries. This will help you to create an environment where your cat feels comfortable, while strengthening the relationship between you and your cat.

Learn the signs of a happy, stressed and threatened cat below.


Signs your cat feels happy

Knowing when your cat is happy is vital for maintaining their wellbeing, and can help to enhance the bond between you and your feline friend.

  • Body. A happy cat’s body language is typically loose and relaxed. Rolling over and exposing their belly are signs that they are extremely comfortable with you. This can even be an invitation for a gentle belly rub!
  • Tail. When they are in a good mood, your cat’s tail will likely point upwards. You may notice your cat’s tail in this position when they are eagerly awaiting their food.
  • Eyes. If your cat’s eyes are partially closed, the chances are that they are calm and content. You may also notice them blinking slowly, as if they have just woken up from a nap.
  • Ears. When your cat is happy, their ears will usually point forward. This position signifies a state of relaxation, indicating a lack of tension or stress.
  • Vocals. As you stroke your cat, you may notice the gentle hum of purring or even the occasional chirp. These are clear signs that your cat is happy.


Signs your cat feels stressed

Recognising when your cat is stressed is essential to addressing potential issues, and can help to create an environment where your cat feels safe and secure.

  • Body. Stressed cats often adopt a crouched position, with their legs tucked underneath them. This position is usually a defensive reaction to a perceived threat.
  • Tail. If your cat is feeling stressed, they will likely have their tail tucked between their hind legs. This is a clear sign of stress and anxiety, and signals the need for you to reassure them.
  • Eyes. When your cat is stressed, you may notice their pupils seem much bigger than usual. Dilated pupils are part of your cat’s instinctual fight or flight response, allowing them to take in more of their surroundings.
  • Ears. Your cat’s ears will usually turn sideways when stressed. However, they will not be completely flat on their head. This position allows them to remain alert in case of attack.
  • Vocals. When stressed, your cat may produce various vocalisations such as hissing, growling, yowling, howling and meowing. To gain a better understanding of your cat’s behaviour, we recommend that you monitor changes in their body, tail, eyes and ears.


Signs your cat feels threatened

Understanding your cat’s body language when they feel threatened is crucial to preventing conflicts, and can help you to provide reassurance to your cat when they need it.

  • Body. When cats feel threatened, they will try to make themselves appear bigger as a way to intimidate potential threats. This includes arching their back, raising their fur and standing sideways.
  • Tail. A threatened cat will often puff up their tail, letting their fur stand on end. You may also notice their tail flicking or thrashing from side to side. These are warning signs that your cat is ready to attack, usually aimed at other cats.
  • Eyes. If your cat’s eyes are constricted, it may be that they feel threatened or intimidated. This usually happens just before your cat attacks and helps them to focus on the threat in front of them.
  • Ears. Flattened ears, otherwise known as ‘airplane ears’, are a clear sign that your cat is stressed. This is a way for your cat to protect their ears from the claws of other cats.
  • Vocals. Hissing, growling, yowling and howling are common sounds cats make when they feel threatened. These cat vocalizations are often used to warn off potential threats, while communicating that your cat is ready to defend themselves.

Want to learn more?

Cats use body language to communicate all of their thoughts and feelings. From the position of their ears to the movement of their tail, understanding their body language is essential to creating a safe environment and building a strong relationship. If you would like to learn more about cat behaviour, take a look at our blog. We cover a wide range of topics, helping you to provide optimal care to your feline friends.

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