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The Complete Guide to Your Cat’s Body Language

Make no mistake — felines are a fickle bunch. Your cat could seem perfectly content curled up on your lap and 10 seconds later deliver a swift swat with an angry paw. What gives, right?

More: 9 Reasons Adopting a Cat Is the Absolute Best

Cats are famous for their mysterious moods, leaving many a bewildered cat lover wondering what they did to offend their beloved pet. Or perhaps, trying to figure out what they did right in order to replicate it. Who wouldn’t want more cuddles from a happy cat?

Alas, trying to decipher what your cat is thinking at any given moment can be a total bust — unless, that is, you consider your cat’s body language.

To bring you one step closer to finally understanding your feline bestie, we went ahead and broke down what your furry one’s body language really means.

Happy or content

Image: Getty Images/Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows

If your kitten is either sitting or lying down somewhere purring, well, it’s a pretty good indicator they are happy. Other clues include eyes that are half-closed, ears that are forward and a tail that is erect with its fur flat. If your cat is really happy, they might be “making biscuits” — in other words, kneading a soft surface, such as your leg. This is a throwback to their nursing days when they did the same to get mama cat’s milk to flow.

More: Why Are Cats So Dang Fussy Over Their Food?

Inquisitive or playful

Image: Getty Images/Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows

When your cat’s ears start swiveling around like satellite dishes, they’re trying to pick up every little sound around them. They’re pupils are probably at least somewhat dilated too. We’ve all seen that sort of wild-eyed glint cats have when being frisky, right? Your cat’s tail will likely be up, whiskers forward and best of all, they’ll get into pouncing position. Crouched down with their butt in the air, they’ll give a little wiggle before leaping into action.


Image: Getty Images/Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows

If your cat’s environment changes in any way, you may also notice some specific changes in your cat’s body language. Their ears might move sideways or backward. Their pupils will likely be dilated and their tail tucked between their legs. An anxious cat is a slinking cat — they’ll shuffle low to the floor trying to find a suitable place to hide away from the world for a bit.


Image: Getty Images/Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows

Remember the aforementioned moments when you’re mid-playing with your cat or petting them and they seemingly swat out of nowhere? Chances are, your cat has officially become overstimulated and wants a little space. Of course, this can happen very quickly, so it does seem to come out of left field to us humans at times. Don’t feel bad, though — if your cat gives you a slight growl or swats your hand, they’re simply trying to give you warning shots. Other indicators you can be on the lookout for are dilated pupils, back-turned ears and a twitching tail.

Frightened or aggressive

Image: Getty Images/Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows

A frightened cat and an aggressive cat can look very similar (and truth be told, can be one and the same), so you’ll have to be on the lookout for context clues. When startled or angry, a cat’s ears go into “airplane mode,” or back flat against their heads. They might very well hiss, spit, growl and swat. And not surprisingly, their fur will be standing on end. With an aggressive or angry cat, you will notice very constricted pupils, though, while a startled cat’s pupils may be more dilated. In both cases, the cat’s tail could either be erect or low, and their back will likely be arched.


Image: Getty Images/Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows

When your cat comes strolling along with a little crook at the end of its slightly waving tail, it’s in a friendly mood. It is giving you the greenlight to give it attention and affection. Ears will be forward, pupils will be dilated and if we’re really being honest, it almost looks as though they are smiling a little. This is prime BFF (best feline friend) behavior.

More: A Complete Guide to All Your Dog’s Body Language


Image: Getty Images/Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows

This actually goes hand in hand with friendly body language, as most people mistake it as such. What are we talking about? Why, when your cat rubs against your legs, of course. You may think, “Aww, they’re lovin’ up on me… how sweet!” And while your cat surely does love you, this body language signifies something else: possessiveness. When your cat rubs against your legs, they’re doing so to leave their scent and thereby mark their territory. Yep, you just got owned.

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