Cats are independent animals. They like to play, interact, and socialize — often on their own. Because of that, it may be hard to interpret when they’re trying to communicate with you. Whether you have a kitten or a multi-cat household, the ability to understand cat body language is helpful for any pet owner. We sat down with Trupanion veterinarian Dr. Caroline Wilde to learn more about cat body language and the benefits of understanding your furry family member.
What you need to know about cat
Why is it important to understand your cat’s body language?
Every cat has a unique way of communicating. Also, your cat may respond differently or communicate differently based on its personality. Wilde breaks down the importance of understanding what your cat is trying to say to you.
“Cats are more subtle than dogs in terms of the ways that they communicate, so it is important to watch a cat’s cues carefully and then respond appropriately. Cats may lash out when scared, so it is important to watch your cat for cues to avoid injury. Understanding normal behavior can help detect ‘abnormal’ behavior sooner, thereby allowing earlier detection of sickness or injury.”
If you’re a new cat owner, you might still be trying to understand and get to know your furry friend. So it might take time to know if your cat is sick or if something more is going on with your cat’s behavior. If you have any concerns about your feline, please seek medical care.
Cat body language: what to look for
Have you ever looked at your cat and wondered what they were doing? For instance, does their posture or stance indicate that they’re in pain? Here Dr. Wilde points out key indicators of a cat communicating with its body –
Consider the following:
Cats use their posture, ears, eyes, fur, and position of their legs and tail to communicate.
Headbutting and rubbing can indicate they are seeking affection, hungry, or playful.
Crouching and leaning backward when threatened.
Howling can mean they’re stressed or anxious. This can also be an indication of pain.
Meowing may mean they are hungry or seeking attention.
Decreased grooming or activity may occur when they are sick or stressed.
There are a number of reasons why your cat might exhibit one behavior over another. Consider your environment and think about if anything new has been introduced or changed. For example, a new home or move can easily affect your cat’s mood or behavior. Wilde weighs in on some common signs (and red flags) of a stressed cat and the reason behind the behavior.
Signs your cat is
stressed or anxious
Hissing or growling.
Hiding can be an indication of fear or sickness.
Arching their back and fur standing on edge, with tail up. Cats often do this when feeling threatened, in an attempt to appear bigger to any potential threat.
Dilated pupils. Pupils dilate in response to stress hormones released in the body.
Crouching with ears flat. Cats do this when feeling threatened.
Tail twitching. Cats do not wag their tails…when they are rapidly twitching their tails it is often an indication of stress or anxiety.
Depending on your cat they might not show all signs or only just a few. Regardless, you should seek the care of your veterinarian and they can provide a treatment plan and recommend the next best steps.
The benefits of understanding cat
At the end of the day, you just want your cat to be happy and healthy. Fortunately, taking the time to understand your cat’s body language can help provide better well-being for your feline. For example, “when a pet owner correctly interprets a cat’s body language, it can help build the human-pet bond,” says Wilde. Naturally, the bond between you and your cat is very special, and that starts with understanding. Also, “cat bites and scratches can have very serious complications, so understanding a cat’s signals can help prevent injury,” interjects Wilde.
Studying your cat’s body language is a way for you to understand your cat
Your feline friend communicates in a way of its own. Also, every cat is unique and not every cat will display these signs of discomfort or sickness. But by being mindful of behavior and seeking the medical care of your veterinarian, you can start to understand learn the best way to communicate that works for you.
is a digital content writer and editor for Trupanion. She spends her workday writing for the Trupanion blog. She loves writing about pets, being inspired by pets, and luckily gets to hang out with her rescue dogs all day long. In her free time, she enjoys exploring and traveling with her family. Her work has been featured on the DOGTV blog, KitNipBox blog, Get Your Pet blog, Fansided, among many others.