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Are you a cat parent looking to understand your pet’s behavior? Like human beings, cats use body language to reveal their inner state. Understanding your cat's body language helps to build a better relationship with your pet. It takes some time, but a continued study of your cat's behavior in different situations is worth it in the long run. Although all cats are different, there are some standard cues that most cats use to portray how they are feeling. Whether you are a first-time cat parent or have been one for years, it is never too late to start learning about your cat’s behavior. Here is a detailed guideline to help you understand a cat's body language.
The easiest way to understand a cat's mood is by observing physical cues. However physical cues alone are not always enough, since they can be misleading. A specific physical cue may portray different emotions depending on the context. For example, a lifted tail can show confidence in a cat and an invitation for petting. However in another case, a lifted tail can be a reserved or timid position. It is tricky, and the wrong read may make matters worse. Therefore, only observing your cat’s physical cues is not always sufficient. There are other resources you should use to better understand your cat. Be sure to always take into account the context of the situation when reading your cat’s behaviors. Some things to consider could be if they have exercised or rested in a while, if there are other animals around, or anything else that may make them uncomfortable.
When looking at the context, view the world with your cat's eyes. When people approach cats, even with good intentions of petting, they can get a cat bite or scratch. While one may be quick to conclude that the cat is mean, you should try to understand how the cat perceived the gesture. A situation may feel unsafe for the cat and trigger anxiety.
Cats are more comfortable in well-lit and open environments. A cat should be in an environment where they are familiar with the people around and the surroundings. Be sure to factor in all the sensory inputs—smell, sights, and sounds- to accurately understand your cat.
Cats evolved as prey and predators. What this means now is that their natural instincts come out in the form of body language. For example, when they encounter a threatening situation, they tend to scrunch up to protect their bodies. In contrast, when a cat stretches out it means they are exposing their bodies and feeling safe. If a cat sees a person and stops in a frozen position, they are uncomfortable. There is a difference between a cat stretching to relax or defend itself.
It is important to consider body orientation when looking at a cat's posture. Cats point their bodies in the direction they want to go. When a cat stands sideways with their feet pointed towards the exit, they might be trying to escape. The crouched-down body position helps a cat run fast when they need to. When a cat points its body towards you, they are more receptive. Let your guard down to signal comfort.
Cat Tail Signs
A cat's tail is the most common way to understand a cat's mood. A low tail positioned straight down can show that the cat is anxious or fearful. They are typically in a very serious mood, but as mentioned before every cat is different. For example, note that Persian cats tend to keep their tails low for no particular reason. If the cat’s tail is tucked away beneath its body, it can be a sign of fear or submission. Something is making your cat nervous.
Generally speaking, a high tail indicates a positive cat posture. It can be a state of happiness or well being. Of course, the shape that the tail makes and the situation will tell you more. If the cat has their tail up and trembling, it means your presence is generating joy. This can also be expressed by a cat’s tail being up and pointed slightly forward. On the other hand, a puffed-out tail might mean the cat is trying to be bigger to intimidate a potential foe. Be careful if the raised tail appears agitated or spasming, as your cat can be stressed or angry.
The position of a cat's ears will give you information about a cat's mood. Forward ears show that a cat is relaxed and comfortable. When the cat's ears are straight up, it increases its exposure and may show alertness and readiness to play. An angry or fearful cat usually has its ears turned back. A cat may want to protect its ears by flattening the ears to the side.
If you are unsure about a cat's mood by looking at their tail, posture, or ears, take a look at their eyes. When a cat is comfortable with you, it will blink slowly. If you get a series of slow, lazy eye blinks, it is a sure sign your cat loves and trusts you. In fact, these have become known as “kitty kisses.” Try reciprocating with a slow blink to bond with your cat. The cat's pupils can tell you if a cat is stimulated or relaxed. Large and dilated pupils show that a cat is stimulated. Beware if the cat’s eyes are narrowing along with flattening its ears, as this is a clear signal that they are on the defense.
Unlike the other body parts of a cat, a cat's whiskers will not give you much information but will provide you with a hint. A confident cat pushes the whiskers forward. On the other hand, a fearful cat will bring whiskers close to the face. While isolated the whiskers may not give away much, it is best to use these as context clues paired with other body language the cat is giving.
You can also understand a cat by listening to the noises they make. Listen carefully and each meow may be your cat trying to communicate!
There are a couple reasons for why your cat is purring. Typically purring is associated with the cat experiencing pleasure or relaxation. If they purr while you are stroking them for example, they are feeling happy or sociable. However you shouldn’t always assume the purr is a positive gesture. For instance, if you pick your cat up, it may let out a nervous purr. Always consider the situation to make an informed guess on how they are feeling.
Trilling is almost similar to purring, but has a high pitch. A cat will trill when communicating with the kittens. Also, a cat may trill when an owner pets it or when feeling friendly.
A cat meows for different reasons, ranging from hunger to playfulness. Like other body languages, a cat's meows are part of the bigger picture, and one should consider analyzing the context. Constant and loud meows could show that something is wrong with your cat. In most cases, it is because your cat needs your attention in some way.
Does my Cat Love Me?
Most people assume that feline friends do not show affection. However this is due to a lack of understanding our cats and misinterpreting their body language. It takes time to learn your cat’s behaviors, and it also takes time for your cat to be comfortable enough to show their affection. It may take weeks or months, but eventually your bond will grow strong. Body language signs such as slow blinking, kneading, exposing their belly, purring, and meowing will tell you when your cat builds trust with you and expresses love.
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It takes time to learn how to properly read your cat. With some commitment you will begin to understand how your cat communicates and will improve your bond. Be sure to observe context clues, along with your cat's posture, ears, tails, eyes, whiskers, and vocalizations.Follow us @NaturVet on social media to fill us in on any cat body language we might have missed. We’ll keep you up to date on all our latest pet resources, supplements, tips and tricks, and more – everything you need to be the best pet parent possible!