Other than meowing and purring, cats have a lot of different ways of talking with us. I’m not talking about scratching and biting, I’m talking about body language. You can tell a lot from a cat by being able to analyze the expression on their face (especially ears!) and their tails. Learning a few key cues can often mean the difference between a nice relaxing petting session and a hand full of scratch marks.

Feline Tail Body Language Chart

Chart of Cat Tail Positions with Descriptions

The Tail – The Emotional Signpost

The tail is a great signpost for a cats emotional state. If you’re ever wondering how your cat is feeling about a situation, a quick look at the tail is usually all you need. I will cover a few of the more common tail positions, as well as some that can help you avoid those unexpected scratches. In no time you’ll find yourself communicating with cats and breaking down the body language barrier between species.

The Question Mark – Curious

This is an easy one because it is very intuitive. Surprisingly cats will hold their tail in a question mark “?” stance to show that they are curious about a situation. Often they will also be prancing towards you or slowly waving their tail from side to side. The question mark tail is one that is easily approached or potentially curious about whatever you are doing or holding.

The Flick – Watch Out!

If you notice during a petting session that your kitties tail starts to flick, or even thump, very rapidly, this is a signal to back off and stop whatever you’re doing. Often cats who “bite without warning” do give warning signs, and this is one of the common ones. We often are just having trouble communicating with cats and reading their signals. Your cat is likely thinking “I’ve told you 5 times already I don’t like that anymore!” right before it bites. So don’t get too angry at your cat, just because he can’t speak English and speaks its own feline language. Beware of the thumping or flicking tail!

Puffed Up Tail – Watch Out!

This is a well known cat body language signal. The straight up, puffed out tail is a sign of fear, which can potentially lead to aggression. You may also see the hair on the back standing up, sending you the “Halloween cat” signal. Give this cat some time to relax before interacting.

Cats can use their tails to signal many different types of emotions, many of which are mentioned in the picture above. If you would like to learn more about the various cat tail signals, please visit the links at the bottom of the post.

Ears and Cat Feline Emotional States

Ear positions and their meanings in cats

Ears

Flat and Back – Watch Out, I’m Scared

A cat with this look on its ears may also be telling you to go away vocally as well. Even if your kitty is not speaking it’s uneasiness to you, it’s a good idea to give this cat some space and time to relax.

Ears Facing Forward – Happy, Curious

Please pet this cat. This cats eyes will also usually look relaxed. This cat likes you and wants what you have to offer, as long as it’s affection, play, or treats.

Cat Body Language Stances and Meanings

Cat Stances and General Feline Body Language

Other Body Language Signals

The Look – Watch Out!

Often when petting your cat you will get what I like to call “the look” or the “evil eye”. This cat will turn its head sharply towards you and glare at you with wide pupils. This is the time to stop what you’re doing and give your cat a few moments to relax.

Look at My Belly – Caution

During moments of affection some cats will choose to flop on the floor and sprawl out, possibly scratching your furniture at the same time. This cute feline behaviour, beckons to most, “please give me a belly rub”. Unlike a dog, who may enjoy this belly rub, most cats will not be so appreciative. The abdomen, or belly, is a weak point on a cat and many cats will react negatively if you “attack” this weak point. Instead admire from a distance or incorporate a toy and be happy that your kitty is comfortable enough to let down its defenses around you.

 

I hope you enjoyed these tips on communicating with cats and find them helpful in reading the actions of your own kitty. You will hopefully end up finding that you can avoid a lot of the previous situations where your cat acts aggressively. Listening and understanding what your cat is telling you can make your relationship a lot stronger!

If you still find you need help with your cat, especially cat aggression and urination issues, please contact a veterinarian. We are here to help when you need it. If you are interested in learning more about cat body language, feel free to visit the links below.

Have Fun!
Dr. Tim Julian

Links
Catster – Cat Body Language
Arizona Humane Society – Understanding Cat Body Language
The Conscious Cat – Feline Body Language