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A Brief Guide to Understanding Cat Behavior

Cats are notorious for their shifting moods, being your best friend one moment and twitching and hissing the next. We’re used to dogs’ consistent affection, but cats are more specific with their behavior. Some would call it erratic and devilish, but if a cat bites you at your first encounter, there’s normally some context surrounding their actions. A cat sitting down can mean so much more than an owner may think.

Understanding your cat is attainable, and learning cat body language is pretty simple! With a little effort, any cat owner can become an expert on cat behavior.

Understanding Cat Body Language 

Reading body language seems complicated, but it’s as easy as following your instinct. It’s not difficult noticing when cats are anxious or fearful, happy, or relaxed. The best way to measure their moods is by observing their most active movements and expressions. 

The Eyes

Eyes are windows to the soul, and this stands for all cat behavior. Here are some moods to identify from their eye expressions:

  1. Slow Blinks – A comfortable and trusting cat will blink slowly and lazily. Some experts say that slow blinks are cats blowing kisses. Either way, it’s a good sign. A cat curled up will commonly do this.
  2. Dilated Eyes – Large, dilated eyes usually mean stimulation from fear, excitement, or anger. Check out your surroundings to see what might be scaring your cat, i.e., loud noises, strange people, new smells.
  3. Aggressive Eyes – If narrow and constricted, watch out, they might be ready to pounce! It’s not necessarily a negative; a cat could be in hunting mode, which means you might end up with a dead bird on your porch later. As a gift, of course!

Cat Ears

This is where it gets tricky. The cat’s ears require more context to determine a cat’s behavior.

  1. High and Erect – This kitty is on alert, or it might want to play, so grab whatever toys you have and give that cat some fun. 
  2. Forward – That’s a calm and confident cat! This is usually how a cat’s ears will be when napping, relaxing, or sunbathing. 
  3. Flattened Down – As a protective tactic, the cat’s ears flatten to hide when they are angry or fearful, making themselves as small as possible. A cute way to remember is that they’re called “airplane” ears.


Surprisingly, there’s not much to tell from a cat’s whiskers. What can be deduced is that a scared cat will bring its whiskers towards its face, making themselves smaller. Meanwhile, if a cat is happy, they’ll have their whiskers forward. 


  1. Purring- It’s usually good, but sometimes it’s not! Most cats purr when they’re happy, but veterinarians also say that cats will purr when sick or injured. Keep an eye out for unusual lethargy or discharge. 
  2. The Fear/Aggression Series – This lets anyone know that they’re threatened and ready to fight. A growl warns whoever is near to back off; then, a hiss means they’re going to fight or flee. Finally, a yowl or screaming means they’re desperate and in true danger. Keep an ear out if you hear the series! 
  3. Chirping and Chattering – These both lead to the same cat reaction. It means that a cat wants to attack a bug or bird but blocked by obstacles like windows and height. It’s a form of excitement and frustration. 
  4. Constant Meowing – Well, this could mean a lot of things. Cats meow because they’re hungry or chatty. However, it could also mean injury or pain. Either way, every cat is different and will meow whenever they feel like it. 
  5. Trilling – This is like purring but higher-pitched, and used by cat mothers to communicate with their kittens. They will also trill to greet their owners. It’s a really sweet familial vocalization.

Cat Tail

A cat’s tail can be seen as a mood barometer with the posture being indicative of either a calm or mean cat. These cat tail meanings are the most physically visible aspects of behavior. 

  1. High and Quivering – This means a cat is happy and comfortable. When going up to a stray cat, if the tail is vibrating, then it’s friendly. A cat wagging tail is much like a dog’s, excited to be around you. 
  2. Tucked and Low – This cat tail indicates that the cat is fearful and uneasy. The anxiety manifests as the cat making itself smaller when threatened, much like the ears and whiskers. 
  3. Flicking – Tail flicks mean agitation; the cat is probably upset and ready to pounce. If there is flicking and the cat doesn’t like being touched, then it’s best to give them space.

What Does Their Body Posture Mean?

What Does Cat Body Posture Mean

Ultimately, a cat’s body shape and posture are what typically determine their moods and behaviors. However, there’s still a matter of understanding the context and the ambiguity of some positions. 

  1. Arched Back – This could be a sign of aggression, arching to seem bigger as a predator. However, it could also just be cat stretching to become more comfortable. At this point, check the ear and eyes for cues. If scared, their hair will also stand up. 
  2. Normal Posture – If a cat is facing you and pointing their body in the direction of your advances, then this cat is confident and comfortable around you. Congratulations! A cat will signify how they want to be touched by directing certain parts of their body against you. 
  3. Ball Shaped – This is once again a tactic to make a cat seem smaller when scared or anxious. Their next step might be to pounce and attack, so try to give them space.
  4. Forecasting – A cat position will forecast what they want;  for example, a cat looking up at you wants attention and comfortable in your vicinity. However, a cat in the sideways position is getting ready to flee, uncertain of you.
  5. “The Venus Cat Trap” – A cat laying down on its back, belly up, is not always an invitation to rub. Not all cat body language can be accessed correctly, so if a cat doesn’t want to be touched lying down, then they’ll trap your hand and bite and scratch.

More Than Just Body Language

Understand Body Language of Cat

Cats experience general anxiety much like humans, so it may be possible that you’ll need more than merely an understanding of body language. The following may be helpful when dealing with an anxious cat:

  1. Cat calming collars
  2. Thundershirts
  3. Cat calming pheromone diffusers
  4. Calming cat food and treats

If none of these work, consider taking them to the veterinarian or a certified cat consultant. 


Cats are lovely companions and not as high maintenance as most people think. They’re soft, cuddly, and full of love. However, they don’t come with open invitations to pet them and require some context to understand their needs. With effort, cat body language and behavior isn’t an impossible feat.

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