Cats don’t get enough credit. Cats, for whatever reason, have earned a reputation among many as being mischievous, conniving, or just plain “evil.” For a pet who is truly loyal, friendly, and oozing with personality, many people look to dogs due to the unfair reputation that cats have among many people.
What a lot of people don’t understand, however, is that a lot of the problems people have with cats could be resolved if they just better understood cats’ body language. In fact, cats have many ways of expressing their emotions to us, whether it’s happiness, anger, fear, or submission. But, if those cues are misread, it can lead to a bad time.
This is a contrast to dogs, who are all-too-easy to read at times. An ashamed dog will hang his head low, while a happy one will be bursting with excitement that he can’t even control. An angry dog growls and barks, and overall, it’s just easier to see what’s going through their heads. If you want to be a great cat owner, it’s about time you start understanding how your cat is trying to talk to you.
And take it from animal experts — by understanding the body language of cats, you can help to avoid the risk of danger for both your cat and yourself. Here are some things to look for:
Your cat’s tail is a lot more nuanced than your dog’s. A dog’s tail basically has an “on” and “off” switch. It’s either wagging or it’s not, and wagging is a de-facto sign of happiness and contentment.
It’s not so simple with cats.
For starters, cats’ tails tend to get a lot more hyperactive the more energy that’s pent up inside. So, one way to gauge your cats’ mood is to see how much their tail is moving. If it’s completely still, this could be a sign that your kitty is at peace, or in the early stages of sleepiness.
However, if your cat’s tail is erratically whapping around, it could mean one of two things — either the cat has a lot of energy that’s building up which needs to be released, or it’s fervently annoyed. Sometimes, the two go hand in hand, and a lot of times, both mentalities will result in them attacking your hand if you get close. A cat who wants to play will bat at anything, and one that’s annoyed will attack if it doesn’t want you near them.
A cat with a completely still tail is much more approachable than one who has a tail that frantically whips around. Remember that!
It’s also good to keep an eye on the ears of a cat. Specifically, if a cat puts their ears back, it’s a clear sign that you should probably back away. They tend to only do this when they feel threatened or unsafe, so if their ears fold back when you get close, it’s not just some silly quirk, it means that they are very uncomfortable with your encroaching presence, and they could very well attack if you get any closer.
Let’s look at a more positive aspect of body language. Did you know that if a cat breaks eye contact with you, it’s a sign of trust? Cats have a unique distinction in the wild of being both predator and prey, so they have absolutely acute vision, but they also won’t take their eyes off of anything that they feel threatened by. Cats themselves like to attack things that have turned their backs to them, so it logically follows that cats will never turn their backs to someone they feel threatened by.
In other words, if a cat meets your gaze, and then turns your head in another direction, it’s their way of saying “we’re cool.” If they close their eyes into a slow blink, it’s actually a way of saying “I love you.” Weird? Definitely. But it’s great knowing how your kitty feels about you!
And, of course, the opposite is also true. You can sometimes tell if a cat will be aggressive towards you by monitoring their eyes. If they refuse to break eye contact, they might see you as a threat.
Also, did you know that cats’ pupils tend to dilate when they’re ready to strike? The next time you’re around a cat, get a string or a toy and let them chase it. You’ll notice that when they’re about to get into “pouncing mood,” their eyes will dilate immensely. This is telling when they’re playing with something, but it can also be a good indicator of how they’re feeling when you’re approaching them. If their pupils go wide and black the closer your hand is, it’s probably a good sign that you’re about to get mauled.
Want to build up some solid rapport with your feline friend? Next time you make eye contact, gently close your eyes into a slow blink — it will help them to feel safe and it helps to build trust.
While understanding most of these body language quirks is more conducive to your own safety than your cat’s, it’s still important to understand what your cat is trying to tell you. More importantly, a cat that’s constantly showing language that’s indicative of feeling threatened could have some deeper, underlying issue, and it’s probably a good time to take them to your local animal hospital if that’s the case.
At 2nd Street Animal Hospital, we have a team of professionally trained veterinarians who are highly experienced in animal care, ranging from cats, to dogs, to reptiles and more! We want your cat to be as happy and healthy as possible, and we encourage you to contact us today for a veterinary checkup if you have any reason to believe that your cat isn’t feeling well. We hope to see you soon!