How To Read Your Cat’s Body Language

Cats are a mystery. It’s difficult to tell whether your cat is relaxed or nervous, however knowing the subtleties of cat body language can give you an advantage.

“Cats have very sophisticated body language,” says Dr. Alison Gerken, a clinical behavioral medicine resident at the Florida Veterinary Behavior Service in West Palm Beach. “They convey their feelings by moving their tails, ears whiskers, bodies, and ears, by altering their facial expressions as well as shifting their tails. Since the changes are subtle and unnoticed by us.”

Doctor. Gerken says a common misconception about the body language of cats is that it implies that cats are “mean, evil or vindictive” while the cat is in fact scared. “By the time cats are growling, hissing, lunging, swatting or biting, they are so scared that they are panicking,” she says.

If you don’t notice the cat’s first signals It’s easy to conclude that the cat switched off a switch and then suddenly became aggressive, however, typically, it takes a long time before gradual ramping up to these behaviors. It’s important to learn to recognize these signals.

The Early Signs

Cats exhibit signs as they begin to feel scared. Although fearful body language can be subtle, it’s not difficult to determine if your cat is anxious.

“Licking of the lips (when not associated with eating) may indicate some level of nervousness, as is tucking the tail under the body,” says Dr. Terri A. Derr the director of Veterinary Behavior Options of Minnesota’s Twin Cities metro area. “Staring with a fixed gaze at something could be a sign that the cat is concerned about it.

Feline Body Language Tips

Our experts in behavior analysis break down typical signs of fear among cats.


The majority of people know most people are familiar with the “Halloween cat” pose, the cat that stands tall with arched shoulders, the head lowered, and hair hanging straight and away from the human body (piloerection).

“Cats assume this posture when their sympathetic nervous system — the ‘fight, flight or flee’ response — is activated when they feel threatened or startled,” Dr. Gerken says. “This position can allow the cat to appear larger than those they perceive as threatening. This could be a sign that the cat doesn’t desire to be in contact with.”


The ears of a cat are relaxed face forward, in a neutral posture. If a cat presses her ears on her head, be aware of the warning. “You better run,” Dr. Derr half-jokes. “At the very least don’t reach for this cat. A cat that has completely flattened ears fights for existence.”


The shape of your cat’s eyes may alter based on how she’s experiencing, giving clues to her emotional state. A cat that is relaxed has a relaxed gaze with eyes that are open. An anxious cat might be prone to squinting or closing her eyes and her pupils could dilate. Dilated pupils and squinting eyes could also be indicative of a medical condition and should be examined if these symptoms persist.


The position of your cat’s tail and motion will tell you the way she’s experiencing it. “Cats may thrash their tails or thump their tails on the ground when they are angry, irritated, or annoyed,” Dr. Gerken says. “This is a signal to end the exchange. Cats can put their tails in a tight circle over their body when they feel scared, defensive, or even sick.”

If you observe your cat lying or sitting on her back with its tail curled around her body but you are unable to pinpoint a reason for her to be anxious or upset It could be that she’s sick. Schedule an appointment with your vet if this behavior persists.

On the other hand, some cats might glance away from an object that is creating anxiety. Cats that are scared may also twitch their tails or even pull their whiskers away flatly on their backs. “Cats may also flop to their sides and expose their bellies,” Dr. Gerken says. “Many people believe that this is a sign to invite the belly rub but find themselves in awe when the cat smacks and bites. This posture of the body can be a sign that cats are scared.”

Based on Dr. Derr, cats prefer to escape from an uneasy situation. “That’s why many cats disappear when visitors first arrive,” she says.

If your cat tries to get away and find a quiet, secure area leave her alone. Do not force her to stay in the same place and meet new people when she’s stressed, as this can most likely be a disaster. Let your cat have the freedom to be secluded and let her go out to explore at her own pace.

If a cat is unable to remove herself from the object that she is afraid of the cat may become anxious and fearful to scared. In this situation, your cat’s expression is usually evident and loud.

“A terrified cat becomes defensive; she tries to make herself smaller,” Dr. Derr says. “She sits down, puts her tail in her lap or wraps it around her body, and is able to pin her ears back. The farther back her ears are the more scared she gets.”

The cats that are extremely scared can lean towards one side and then lash out with their claws, or make a loud sound or a yowl. It is a sign of “Go away!”

When Your Cat is Afraid

If your cat starts to display anxious body language, check the surrounding environment for potential stresses and eliminate the sources of stress or allow your cat to withdraw away from them. If for example, your cat becomes angry when people or visitors arrive at your home then let her relax in a room that is quiet until they leave.

(c)Casey Christopher/Instagram @ImogenTheKitten

“If you are unable to remove the stressors, it’s OK to comfort your cat,” Dr. Gerken says. “This could be petting, play, or even the grooming process. If your cat exhibits an expression of fear when you’re in a relationship, this could be an indication to end the interaction and allow your cat some room.”

In the words of Dr. Derr, sometimes the most effective option to soothe your anxious or anxious cat is absolutely nothing. “Leave them alone, be sure they have a place to go where they feel safe, usually someplace up high where they can observe their environment easily,” she declares. “They don’t want to feel at peace; they need to feel secure. They’ll settle by themselves and return to normal, loving interactions.”

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