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Understanding Your Cat - Cat Body Language

We like to think of our cats as our fur-children, even though they really can't speak to us. Or can they? Cats may not be able to talk to us but they can communicate through body language. Did you know that if your cat wags her tail it's not a sign of happiness - she's actually annoyed? Here's a few more body language clues to help us discover what our cats are really trying to tell us...

Calm & Content:

Cats who are in a calm and happy state of mind hold their ears alert and pricked. Their tails are still, held either straight up, or relaxed. If your cat is really relaxed, she'll gaze at you with half-lidded eyes. If she flutters her eyes at you, it means she trusts you and feels safe. Another way to tell if your cat is happy is if she kneads her paws.

If your cat lies down on her side or back and exposes her belly, she's letting you know that she's happy, and wouldn't mind if you came over to give her some love. Often this means she's inviting you to rub her tummy. But be careful - not all cats like belly rubs. The ones that don't will soon let you know by grabbing your hands and giving a quick bite.

Pleased to See You:

When your cat is happy to see you, she'll greet you with her tail held straight up. She'll rub her face against you, using the scent glands in her forehead, chin and whiskers to 'mark you' as part of her territory. She might also purr, but surprisingly, purring isn't always a sign that your cat is content.

Why do cats purr, anyway?

Kittens are able to purr by the time they're two days old. It's their way of communicating with their moms. As cats grow older, they continue to purr to indicate happiness. But did you know that cats also purr when they're sick or anxious? Some animal experts believe it's a form of self-soothing, like when a person hums to stave off nerves. Cats also purr to show submission to another cat, or to indicate friendliness.

Hunting, Curious & Playful:

When your cat's in stalking or hunting mode, she'll drop her body low to the ground. She'll keep her tail down, while the tip twitches. Just before she's about to pounce, she might wag her butt.

If your cat is mildly curious about something, she'll hold her tail at half mast and slowly switch it from side to side. An upright tail curved to one side or held in a 'question mark' means your kitty's excited, and might be ready to play.

Wants Something:

You'll know when your cat wants something from you - whether it's food, affection or clean litter - when she leans into your legs with her whole body. Some cats will even do a little hop as they rub your legs. This is kitty language for, "Hey, you up there! We need something down here!"


It's easy to tell when a cat starts to get annoyed. When your cat's fed up or had enough petting, she'll flick the end of her tail back and forth. When she's really annoyed, she'll lash her tail back and forth. If she thumps her tail, watch out! She's really upset. Growling and swiping at you with her paws also are a result of extreme kitty annoyance.

Fear & Aggression:

When your cat is afraid, she tries to make herself look smaller. She tucks her tail close to her body and hunkers down into a ball before backing away. She'll lay her ears back sideways and her pupils will be dilated.

If she's afraid but on the defensive, she'll bare her teeth and expose her paws as she confronts the threat in a sideways stance.

Aggressive cats look like "Halloween cats." They try to look as scary and intimidating as possible by arching their backs and puffing up the fur along their hackles and tails. This is known as piloerection. Your cat will also pull her whiskers back, with her paw raised and ready to swat, while her tensely-curved-tail will lash from side to side.

Hissing is an obvious sign of a fearful or aggressive cat. If she's ready to bite, she'll show her teeth, and give low warning growls.

Although these behaviors should generally help you decipher what your cat is thinking, every cat is an individual with their own personal nuances and body language. Taking the time to figure out what your cat is really trying to say will deepen your bond with one another.

K.L. Bonfiglio is a freelance writer and owner of, a website dedicated to connecting cat lovers with cute cat gifts Looking for more information about cats? Visit our blog, which features informative cat articles, product spotlights, cat videos, funny cat photos and more.

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