When you can’t speak to your pet, it’s often hard to figure out what they want or how they’re feeling. It’s especially hard when you have a cat and only know about body language when it comes to dogs. I’ve decided to make a list of some of the most defining body language traits of a cat to make new owners (and owners who are just sometimes confused) more understanding of what their cats want at the moment.
The movement of a cat’s tail can tell you a lot about what they’re feeling at the moment. Whether they’re happy, frightened, or getting very annoyed, the way their tail moves can tell you if they’re coming over to be pet or getting ready to pounce.
Tail is up in the air
When a cat’s tail is up in the air, this usually means that they’re happy. These are usually the moments when you can approach them. Note, this doesn’t mean straight up in the air (a position also known as “halloween-cat tail”) which is usually an indicator that your cat is scared.
Tail down/ Between their legs
Your cat is feeling scared or threatened. This is usually accompanied with their ears turned back or to the side. If you see the threat to your cat, either remove it immediately or remove the cat from the situation.
Tail moving back and forth
With dogs, we know that a wagging tail means happy, and a lot of the times people assume this is the same as cats, however it’s the exact opposite. A cat’s tail moving back and forth (especially rhythmically) means that your cat is getting annoyed, and is most likely getting ready to pounce. Again, I would suggest removing whatever the nuisance is from the situation and possibly yourself to avoid getting bitten.
Cats use their ears to detect nearby dangers, as their hearing is a lot better than their sight. Ears are usually great indicators along with the tails of whether a cat is happy, alert, or scared. When a cat is happy and feeling safe, their ears will be forward, an indicator that they have no need to be stressed at the moment. When a cat is alert, and trying to inspect the situation, their ears are usually straight up and pointing to whatever direction noise is coming from. With the ears it is usually pretty straight-forward when a cat is unhappy as their ears go back or to the side. In these situations, be aware of your kitty’s surroundings and try to remove whatever is causing them anxiety.
Mouth Wide Open/Panting
This usually means your little guy is discomforted. My cat tends to pant in the car because she’s nervous, but it looks similar to the face cats make when they have ice cream and get brain freeze. Obviously brain freeze is not the most comforting state they can be in. Don’t really worry much when your cat looks like this as long as it’s for shorter periods of time. For long durations your cat is probably either dehydrated or in a state of nervousness and then you would have to inspect the situation.
Unlike with humans, we have to learn to interact and understand our pets by understanding their body language. As we become more adept to the body language we will also pick up slight nuances our cats may have. For example, I know that when my cat is meowing at me that means she’s being lazy and wants me to pick her up to be at eye level with wherever I am. Other cats may bite when they want attention. You learn all these things by just paying attention to your pet, so don’t worry if it takes a few months, or even a year, to get properly acclimated to your pet’s body language. Remember, you’re basically learning a new language.