A young Asian girl nuzzles noses with a tabby kittenA young Asian girl nuzzles noses with a tabby kittenA young Asian girl nuzzles noses with a tabby kitten
Barks & Mewsings

The Trupanion blog

Understanding Cat Body Language and How to Help Your Feline Friend

By: Kelli Rascoe

Cats are independent animals, but sometimes they do like to play, interact, and socialize. With that being said, 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 to understanding your feline friend.

What you need to know about cat body language

Two fluffy cats sitting on white tile floor

What is important to understand your cat’s body language?

Every cat has 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 for your feline, please seek medical care.

Calico cat stretched out on a white bed

Examples of cat body language

Have you ever looked at your cat and wondered they were doing? For instance, does their posture or stance indicate they’re in pain? 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.
  • Purring. Purring is often a sign that a cat is content, however they may also purr when they are anxious.
  • Head butting and rubbing can indicate they are seeking affection, hungry, or playful.
  • Crouching and leaning backward when threatened.
  • Howling when stressed or anxious. This can also be an indication of pain.
  • Meowing when hungry or seeking attention.
  • Decreased grooming or activity when sick or stressed.

There are a number of reasons why your cat might exhibit one behavior over another. It could be your cat is sick or even stressed. Consider your environment and 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.

A cat hiding in a scratching post

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 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 next best steps.

A cat snuggled on furniture

The benefits of understanding cat body language

At the end of the day you just want your cat to be happy and healthy. For instance, taking the time to understand your cat’s body language can help provide a 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. For more on cat bites, read here.

Cat body language is a way for your cat to communicate

Your feline friend communicates in a way of its own. Each cat is unique and different and not every cat will display signs of discomfort or sickness. But by being mindful of behavior and seeking the medical care of your veterinarian, you can start to learn the best way to communicate that works for you.

To discover more on cat behavior, read Why Do Cats Knead?

A dog and cat snuggle

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Welcome to the Trupanion blog. A place to celebrate pets, pet health and medical insurance for cats and dogs.

This blog is designed to be a community where pet owners can learn and share. The views expressed in each post are the opinion of the author and not necessarily endorsed by Trupanion. Always consult your veterinarian for professional advice.

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