A Guide to Your Cat's Body Language

Photo of Karen Dell

Karen Dell

Senior Editor • Backyard Cat Enclosures

23 September 2016

Make no mistake, you serve one purpose and one purpose alone - to tend to your cats every whim. Your cat doesn’t really do subtlety, so if you’re not doing your job properly your kitty will find a way to let you know.

I can ‘ear you

  • More often than not your cat’s ears will be forward. This is generally a good sign, as it means your cat is happy, alert or that something has piqued its interest.
  • Beware if you cats ears are back, sideways or flat. This means that your cat is irritated, angry or frightened - in short he’s not in the mood for playing.
  • You’ve probably seen your cat's ear swivel when someone in another part of the house opens a bag of cat food. A swiveling movement shows your cat is listening carefully - probably trying to figure out if that sound means dinner!

Cats eyes

The eyes are the window to your cat’s soul but they’re not quite as easy to read as their ears. There’s no harm in trying though - get lost in those peepers, you just might learn something.

  • If the pupils are constricted it either means that your cat feels annoyed and is ready to turn aggressive or that he is purrfectly content. Understanding the difference between these emotions  is the difference between calmly petting your cat and losing your hand to one swift claw swipe, so look out for other signs to decode its mood.
  • On the other hand, Large dilated pupils give your cat a new irresistible level of cuteness and cause you to say ‘awwww’, but they usually mean that your cat feels nervous, submissive or threatened. By contrast it may also convey that your cat is feeling playful, so once again look elsewhere for clarification. Why’d you have to go and make cats so complicated?
  • If your cat is constantly squinting or pawing at its eyes, give them a good inspection. Your kitty may need a visit to the vet.

Telling tails

The position and movement of your cat’s tail is the biggest tell when it comes to revealing your mysterious moggy’s mood.

  • It’s a good sign if your cat’s tail is straight out as it means he’s happy. And that means you’re permitted to be happy as well!
  • Step away if their fur is standing on end or their tail is thrashing back and forth. This is your cat’s way of telling you to back off! He’s angry, agitated, frightened or all three.
  • If their tail is held very low or tucked between their legs your cat likely feels insecure or anxious and is in need of some love and reassurance. Bust out some comforting treats or their favourite toy.
  • Ever noticed that your cat’s tail is straight up and quivering when you walk through the door? This is a great sign as it shows that your cat is excited or really happy! Though if your cat hasn't been desexed, look out! He or she could be getting ready to spray.

Body movin’

  • The typical halloween posture of an arched back and fur standing on end suggests that your cat is either frightened or angry - they probably just need some alone time in a vacant room or outdoor enclosure.
  • You’ve probably noticed that you cat's back is arched and the fur is flat as it rubs itself up against you. This is a good sign as your cat is inviting you to the cuddle zone. Do as you're told and get petting!

Can’t touch this

  • Newsflash! Your cat is not a dog! Exposing its fluffy belly is not an invitation for you to stroke your cat's stomach. Lying on their back, purring shows your cat feels relaxed, unthreatened and content - don’t ruin the mood by going in for an unwanted tummy rub.
  • Lying on their back, growling is a position your cat will adopt if he feels cornered and cannot escape. It suggests your cat is being highly defensive and prepared to fight, so unless you’re looking to accessorise with some claw marks, back off.


You’d be forgiven for thinking that your cat is trying to be affectionate by rubbing its body against you. You’re not totally wrong! Yes, your cat loves you but you’ll also notice it also likes rubbing itself against walls, chairs, carpets, curtains and the walls of its cat run! Does it love them too? Well, maybe your cat has a passion for interior decorating - but really this behaviour is just its way of marking territory. In case you forgot who owns who!

You kneadn’t worry

Kneading is a behaviour that is learned during the nursing period of kittenhood but it’s nothing to worry about. This behaviour is a sign that your cat is feeling content and happy.

Cat behaviour differs depending on your cats tem-purr-ment. Cats generally don’t change too much after the age of 6, so pay close attention and learn to recognise their usual behaviour - a sudden change could indicate something is wrong. Find out more about caring for a senior cat here.


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