The Hervey Foundation for Cats
How to Read Your Cat's Body Language

How to Read Your Cat’s Body Language

Understanding your cat’s body language is key to building a strong bond and ensuring their well-being. By deciphering their subtle cues, you can respond appropriately to their needs and emotions, not just answering them in the moment, but showing them you have a complex understanding of each other. 

An animal can only do so much to communicate with a human. For cats, that might include rubbing against our legs, meowing, or jumping on our laps. We have a lot more options available to us, but one skill that makes us unique is the ability to try to understand other creatures’ attempts at communication. So, while it may feel like we are doing the heavier lifting in trying to understand each other, we can surprise our cats by showing just how much we care by trying to understand them. 

How do we show that we care? How do we attempt to figure out what our cats trying to tell us? A good place to start is body language, and we have included some popular interpretations below!

The Tail 

A cat’s tail can convey a wealth of information. A relaxed and gently swaying tail usually indicates a happy cat, while a tail held high with a slight curve at the end can be a sign of confidence and friendliness. On the other hand, a puffed-up tail indicates major fear or aggression, and one quickly swooping back and forth can be a sign of a cat ready to hunt or make a big move! The best way to learn your cat is to pay close attention to their tail positions and movements relative to their emotional state.

The Ears

Cats use their ears to communicate a range of emotions. Ears pointed forward or slightly to the side suggest attentiveness and a calm disposition. Ears pulled backwards typically indicate a defensive stance, and when flattened against the head, you might want to look out. This usually signifies intense emotions like fear, anxiety, or aggression. 

The Eyes

The eyes are often referred to as the “windows to the soul” and it could not be truer in cats. Cats show big emotions in their eyes and if you know what to look for you can tell how they are feeling. 

Wide-open, relaxed eyes generally indicate a cat that is content and feeling at ease, squinty and satisfied eyes can also broadcast the same. Slow blinking is usually a sign of trust and affection, while quick blinking, darting eyes, and dilated pupils can indicate excitement, fear, or aggression. Cats will also track threats with their eyes, and they are quite good at doing so. If you notice your cat is zeroing in on your hands, it’s time to slow things down. 


A cat’s posture speaks volumes about its mood. Relaxed and open stance postures indicate comfort and confidence, while crouched and tensed bodies often indicate anxiety, fear, and a soon-to-arrive fight or flight response. As a general rule of thumb, relaxed postures are a good thing, and tense, aggressive postures are not. 

Vocalizations and Sounds

While body language is essential, vocalizations also play a role in cat communication. Cats have a variety of vocalizations available to them, including purring, meowing, hissing, growling, and chirping. Each sound carries a different meaning and typically accompanies certain feelings. When feeling threatened or uneasy, a cat will often pair that with loud, angry vocalizations. On the flip side, a happy cat will also usually make some sort of noise to let you know how they are feeling, this can be loud purring, snorting, or other funny sounds! Cats tend to wear their emotions on their sleeves, and as pet owners, that’s a good thing!

Final Thoughts

Mastering the art of reading your cat’s body language is a rewarding journey that only deepens your understanding of their needs and emotions. By interpreting cues set forth by your feline friend, you can not just help them achieve their goals (like eating lunch or getting up high on a shelf), but you can develop a stronger bond by surprising them with your level of understanding and care. Remember, every cat is unique, so take the time to observe and learn your cat’s individual language.


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