Unlocking The Secrets Of Cat Body Language (A Comprehensive Guide)

learning cat body language

Trying to interpret your cat’s body language can feel like deciphering an unbreakable code at times. Unlike dogs, cats can be more ambiguous with their signals.

Cats communicate their emotions and intentions through a complex system of body language, including eye signals, tail movements, and vocalizations.

Slow blinking is a cat’s way of showing trust and affection, akin to a human smile. A cat’s tail can express a wide range of emotions, from happiness when it’s straight up, to fear or aggression when puffed up.

Vocal sounds, from meows to yowls, can indicate everything from a greeting to distress or discomfort.

Understanding these signals is crucial for interpreting your cat’s needs and strengthening your bond with them.

By the end of this guide, you will be familiar with the most common cat gestures and no longer have to scratch your head in confusion or get scratched by your cat.

1. The Eyes Have It

dilated cat eyes

Your cat might not speak our language, but its eyes do a lot of talking! Let’s decode what those soulful eyes are trying to tell you.

Slow Blinking

Ever catch your cat giving you slow blinks? That’s the feline version of blowing kisses!

It means your cat trusts and loves you.

The next time you get a slow blink, send one back. it’s like saying “I love you” in cat language.

When doing a slow blink back to your cat, don’t do it too fast or your cat won’t catch it. Do it with a slow count of “1…2…3…”.

Dilated Pupils

When your cat’s eyes turn into big, round saucers, they’re either super excited, a bit scared or maybe even feeling feisty.

It’s like their way of saying, “Whoa, what’s happening?!” or “Let’s play!” or even “Back off!” depending on what’s going on around them.

One thing to note is that a cat can see 6x better than a human in the dark. This is due to how wide their pupils can dilate to let light in.

It is normal for your cat to have dilated pupils in low-light settings.

2. The Tail Tells

cat tail positions

A cat’s tail is like its personal flag, waving signals about how it is feeling.

Straight Up

When a cat holds its tail straight up, it’s a sign of confidence and contentment. Your cat is feeling happy and secure in its environment.

This tail is one that you will be seeing most of the time with your cat. The tip of your cat’s tail will also be slightly bent, like an inverted letter ‘J’.

Puffed Up

A puffed-up tail indicates that your cat is frightened or feeling aggressive. This reaction is meant to make them appear larger to whatever is threatening it.


A twitching tail can mean that your cat is excited or irritated. Many cats will also forcefully thump their tails against the ground as a warning sign.

Tucked Away

If your cat’s tail is tucked beneath its body, it’s a sign of insecurity or submission. They might be feeling anxious or want to avoid confrontation.

Tail Wrapped Around Another Cat Or Human

This gesture is similar to a hug or a sign of affection. When your cat wraps its tail around you, it’s expressing trust and fondness.

3. Body Postures

cat with arched back

Let’s break down what your cat’s body language is telling you through its posture.

Relaxed Posture

When your cat is lazing around the house with a relaxed body, it’s a clear sign they’re feeling content and comfortable.

This is when it’s most at ease, perhaps sprawled out in their favorite sunny spot.

Most cats will be taking a cat nap in this relaxed state.

Arched Back With Fur Standing

This dramatic pose is all about defense. Your cat is trying to look bigger to scare off any threats.

Its back will be arched, fur puffed up, body turned sideways and possibly accompanied by a hiss.

Exposed Belly

Many cat owners have been fooled by a cat’s exposed belly. While this might look like an invitation for belly rubs, proceed with caution.

This position shows trust because the belly is a vulnerable area for cats as that’s where the major organs are.

However, it’s not always a green light for a belly rub which many have found out the hard way. Many cats will not hesitate to bite or scratch you if you attempt to touch their bellies.

It’s not called the “Belly Trap” for nothing.

Don’t lose hope though.

There are many cats that enjoy getting a good belly rub from their owners.

Crouched With Wiggling Butt

This crouched position with a little tail wiggle means that your cat gearing up for action. They’re focused and ready to pounce on a toy or maybe at your feet when you walk by.

It’s a playful and hunting-inspired behavior that shows your cat’s high prey drive.

When cats are ready to pounce on their prey, they do this action to load their rear leg muscles like springs.

4. Ear Positions

my cat's ears are warm

Cats’ ears are like radar dishes, always tuning into the world around them. Here’s what their ear positions can tell you.


When a cat’s ears are pointing forward, they’re in a good mood or curious about something. This is considered the neutral position for cats.

It’s a sign that the cat is feeling content and interested in the environment.

Flattened Or Back

Ears that are pinned back against the head signal fear, aggression or annoyance. This is a clear sign your cat is not in a happy place and might lash out in anger.

It might be feeling threatened or just had enough of whatever’s going on.

Sideways Or Rotating

If the ears are moving side to side or seem to be rotating, your cat is on high alert, paying close attention to every little sound.

Cats have one of the best hearing frequencies in the animal kingdom. They can hear between the frequencies of 45Hz-64,000Hz.

Your cat can pick up sounds that you can’t even hear.

Related Article: Guide For New Cat Owners

5. Vocalizations

cat hissing

Some cat breeds can be very vocal such as the Siamese and Maine Coon. But if you were to listen closely to your cat, you would be able to pick up these sounds.


This is the cat’s all-purpose word and sound that it is universally known for. In fact, I enjoy calling cats “Meowmees”.

Depending on the tone, volume and situation, a meow can be a hello, a demand for food or a complaint about an empty water bowl.

Sometimes, it’s just their way of saying, “Pay attention to me!”


When a cat is yowling, it’s expressing an intense emotion such as distress, discomfort, anxiety or territorial concern.

Yowling can be a sign of pain, fear or a call for attention. It’s often louder and more prolonged than typical meowing.

My current cat loves yowling at five in the morning for food. He sounds like he’s being tortured with hunger daily.

It can also occur in situations of mating behavior or when two cats are squaring off and about to fight.


A cat’s purr has been known to sound like many things such as a lawn mower, motorbike, V8 engine, etc.

Most of the time, purring is a sign your cat is happy and relaxed. However, cats also purr when they’re in pain or anxious, using it as a self-soothing mechanism.

Hissing Or Growling

These are sounds that you don’t want to hear from your cat.

Your cat is scared, upset or feeling threatened. It’s its way of saying, “Back off,” or “I’m not happy with this situation.”

Chirping Or Chattering

Ever heard your cat make a funny chirping sound while staring out the window at birds?

This is a sign of excitement and frustration, possibly because they can’t get to the prey they see.

Some scientists believe that cats make these sounds to lure birds and small prey into their strike zones.


A trill from a cat sounds like a high-pitched meow with a lot of “R”s thrown in the mix. You’ll know it when you hear it.

Cats use it to say hello to their humans or other cats they’re comfortable with. It’s a warm, fuzzy sound that means they’re happy to see you.

6. Keanding (Making Biscuits)

cat kneading on soft blanket

Kneading, or what some affectionately call “making biscuits,” is when your cat rhythmically pushes its paws in and out against the surface.

However, I tend to notice that they prefer doing it on softer surfaces like the bed or blanket.

Kneading is a comforting action that started when your cat was just a tiny kitten.

When adult cats knead, it means they’re happy and comfortable, like they’re remembering the warmth and safety of being with their mom.

Kneading is also a way for cats to mark their territory as they have scent glands in their paw pad.

So when your cat starts making biscuits on you, take it as a compliment.

It is not only showing you trust and love, but this action also says, “You’re mine and I feel safe with you.”


7. Whisker Wisdom

why are cat whiskers so long

Cats’ whiskers are not just for show, they’re highly sensitive tools that help them understand their environment.

Pushed Forward

When a cat’s whiskers are pointing forward, it shows curiosity and interest in something.

A cat whiskers can gather information about the environment via vibrations. This makes whiskers very important when hunting prey or detecting danger.

Pulled Back

Whiskers pulled back against the face signaling that a cat is scared or might be feeling aggressive. This is a defensive move to prepare for a potential threat.

Important Whisker Tips

Please do not attempt to cut or trim your cat’s whiskers at any point. A cat’s whiskers are long for a reason.

They help a cat determine if a space is wide enough for it to pass through. A cat also uses its whiskers as a guiding tool when it’s dark.

Messing with your cat’s whiskers can put it in a state of disorientation.

8. Licking Behavior

cats grooming

Cats use licking not just for grooming but also as a way to communicate. Here’s what different licking behaviors mean.

Licking Themselves

This is a cat’s way of keeping clean. Cats are meticulous groomers, and this behavior helps them stay neat and tidy.

A cat can spend up to five hours a day grooming itself.

Licking Humans Or Other Cats

When your cat licks you or another cat, it’s a sign of affection. Your cat is saying, “I like you” or “You’re part of my family”

It’s also their way of marking their territory, leaving a scent to say, “This is mine.”

When you have two cats, grooming can sometimes reflect dominance. One cat may forcefully groom the other as a way of asserting control.

However, excessive grooming that leads to whiskers getting bitten off or bald patches may indicate stress or over-dominance.

To ensure safety and comfort for both cats in multi-cat households, closely monitor their interactions and provide separate spaces and resources to reduce tension and maintain harmony.

Expert Tips

Here are some important body language tips that I have learned (the hard way at times) from being a cat owner for decades.

1. When In Doubt, Don’t

Despite knowing all the above body language tips, it can still be difficult to read your cat at times.

If your cat looks ‘friendly’ but is hissing at you when you try to pet it, don’t push your luck. It is best to leave your cat alone until all signals are green.

It’s not worth getting a bad scratch or bite.

2. Observe Your Cat

Every cat is different and is unique in its own way. Some are just more chill or uptight than others.

When you are still new to your cat, make it a point to just observe your cat’s body language.

How does it react when it’s relaxed or agitated?

Are they unique tell-tale signs to make decoding your cat’s mode easier?

3. You Won’t Always Get It Right

One thing that you will grow to realize as a cat owner is that our cats are very unpredictable.

Your cat can be acting all friendly and affectionate but it gave you a scratch when you tried to pet it.

It sucks but don’t take it personally.

That’s just your cat being a cat.

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