Do you want to understand what your cat is trying to tell you?? Body language is the key!!
A lot of people think that cats are aloof creatures and that they are unsocial and unfriendly. This could not be further from the truth. Cats are actually masters of communication, but they do it through body language. If you learn how to interpret their body language it will help you to understand what your cat needs so that you can have a more rewarding and bonding relationship.
It is difficult to understand what they are thinking when they often show very confusing and conflicting signs to us. For example they may be lying in a relaxed position but their tail is flicking in annoyance. You need to take the whole situation into context by looking at what is happening in their environment.
To understand cat body language we need to look at each body part separately.
Vertical – a vertical tail means that your cat is happy. It may also be curled or in a question mark type shape.
45 degree or horizontal – a 45-degree tail is your cats way of saying that they are neutral about a situation however when it moves to a more horizontal position this means that they are unsure of the situation. There is also a circumstance if they are jumping or climbing that it could be used for balancing.
Lowered – a lowered tail is a sign of unease and uncertainty. They could also be stalking prey.
** When there is a storm coming and Ziggy hears thunder she will go off to one of her hiding places with her tail lowered.
Between legs – when a cats tail is between their legs this means that they are very fearful. They are in defensive mode trying to make themselves smaller to protect themselves from injury.
Bottle brush – this is when all the hairs on your cats tail stick out to look like a bottle brush. This usually happens when they have been startled by something. It can be offensive or defensive move - fight or flight. They are trying to make themselves look bigger to scare off predators.
** This most often happens to Ziggy when there is another cat lurking around our house.
Inverted U shape – this shape of a tail indicates defensive aggression. It may be used during play fighting as kittens.
Flicking, Thumping & Lashing – When your cat starts flicking their tail this is a sign that they are annoyed and or irritated. It is important to look at the situation though as some cats also do this when they are waiting for food or stalking prey – almost like an anxious, excited type of gesture.
** We call this the threshold marker!! When patting or brushing we know when Ziggy has had enough when her tail starts flicking!!
Upright - Upright ears signify an alert, interested, cat who is happily taking in their environment.
Forward/Slightly turned – Forward facing ears means that your cat is relaxed and content. This is usually seen when your cat is resting.
Sideways & Flatish aka Aeroplane Ears – When your cats ears are flat and to the side this means that they are slightly anxious or concerned about something.
Back & Flattened – When your cats ears are completely flat and facing backwards your cat is showing high anxiety and/or aggression. They are keeping their ears out of harms way. This action will usually be accompanied by other highly anxious or aggressive signs.
Dilated & Round Pupils – Your cat could have dilated pupils due to low lighting. It could also signify high emotional arousal for example excitement or fear.
Constricted Pupils – It could be bright lighting causing your cats pupils to constrict. It can also signify confidence or even offensive aggression.
Staring – have you ever had a stare off with your cat? Well you are likely never to win! Cats stare quite intently when they wish to show dominance or they could just be concentrating on something.
Droopy Eyelids – When your cat allows their eyelids to droop like in the photo below this means that they are totally relaxed. They feel safe and comfortable.
Slow Blink – The ultimate compliment!! A Slow Blink is like receiving a kiss from your cat! This is only shared with people and animals they trust. When your kitty gives you a kiss you can return it by blinking slowly back at them!
Whiskers are highly sensitive & provides communication to a cat about their environment.
Forward facing – Forward facing whiskers indicate interest. They could be hunting or trying to get information about their environment. Check If ears are forward and upright as this is also a sign of an alert and interested cat. If ears are pinned back however this could also be a sign of offensive aggression.
Backwards and flattened – Backwards whiskers shows a defensive mode, they are trying to keep their whiskers safe and to look as small as possible. If ears are pinned back as well this is a clear sign that they are highly anxious or aggressive.
Positions in between – Any whisker position in between fully forward or fully back, for example sideways or droopy indicate that your cat is relaxed.
Stiff Legged/Elevated Rear – In this position your cat is trying to defend themselves from danger. They may also have a bristled tail to try and appear bigger.
Hunched/Crouched – In this position your cat is trying to escape from danger. This is different from a normal crouching position as they are trying to appear smaller.
Lying down – This usually indicated that your cat is happy and relaxed. Examples of lying positions include the Bread loaf, Sphinx and Belly Exposed.
**This is Ziggy in her "Paws In The Air Like You Just Don't Care" position!
Kneading aka Making Biscuits – Cats like to knead soft objects, like pillows, bedding or cuddly toys or even their owners or sibling animals. This is a complete sign of trust. The theory behind why cats do this stems back to what they learn to do as kittens when nursing on their mother.
**Ziggy always does this when she hops up on to the bed and when she gets into her donut bed. Her cousin Fudge used to do this on a teddy bear!
Head Bunting/Butting – This is a very bonding gesture as they are transferring their scent on to you. They also do this to get attention. It signals friendship & respect.
** Ziggy does this to our legs quite often!!
Stretching & yawning – This is the ultimate happy relaxed kitty cat. A very positive sign which means relaxation and comfort.
** Ziggy loves to stretch and yawn! So I think this means she is pretty happy!!
2 positions to be aware of –
Crouched – a crouched position can also mean that your cat is alert and readying themselves to pounce. Check for ear position and whisker position.
Belly exposed – during a physical confrontation this will mean that they are readying their claws for action to defend themselves.
When it comes to vocalisations you need to be aware that some cats are way more chatty than others. So do not be discouraged if your cat is not a huge talker.
Cat vocalisations can be split into 2 groups – Get Away From Me & Come Closer:
Get Away From Me – Hiss, Growl, Spit, Snarl, Yowl – always accompanied by negative body language
Come Closer – Meow, Mew, Purr, Chirp, Trill – usually higher pitched and even melodious!
Two sounds to be aware of:
Purring – not always positive – it can also mean pain, anxiety and sickness. Cats purr to try and soothe themselves.
Chattering – cats do this when they are watching prey. It is an extremely cute noise and there is even an Instagram account dedicated to capturing these cute sounds. See below if you wish to check it out. However you need to keep an eye on your cat! This sound signifies excitement. Your cat might start to feel frustration if they can't access the prey so this is where you need to be able to provide a stimulating environment for your cat to let out their frustrations.
Putting it all together
Remember that cats can often show confusing and conflicting signals so when looking at your cats body language context is important. You must assess all body parts along with what is happening in their environment.
You must always respect what your cat is telling you, they are still wild and share 95.6% DNA with Bengal Tiger Cats.
Remember they are not Dogs! Cats haven’t been bred to be domestic and to serve us for thousands of years like dogs have.
This information has been taken from an awesome course I just completed that is available for free on Catology.
Catology is an awesome resource for anyone who wishes to understand their cats behaviour and communication.
Catology currently offers an E-Book called "It's Not Your Cat, It's You", an online course called "From Hisses to Kisses" and a Free course which is about Body Language.
The topics covered are things like aggression, litterbox avoidance, furniture scratching, annoying night time behaviours and counter surfing. All the things that we wish our cats wouldn't do!!!
Most people don't realise that these things can be fixed when we look at what is happening in the cats environment. It may be something very simple that needs changing. If you can't find the answers you are looking for in the E-Book or courses then you can book an Online Consultation with Chris the Cat Man who will be able to step you through what you need to do to address the behaviour that has become an issue.
Visit the Catology website here: https://www.catology.com.au/
Photographs are from either Pexels or taken by Ziggy's mummy Sonya.