Complete Guide to Cat Behavior and Cat Body Language
Communication with your cat is key, and while their cat behavior can’t speak as we humans can, they have many ways like cat body language of letting you know how they feel. The way your cat looks at you, the pitch of their speech, the way their ears are resting, and the way their tail fluctuates are all signs of what your cat is feeling. As you get better at recognizing the signs, their cat behavior and their cat body language, you’ll become very familiar with your cat’s mood.
Make sure to subscribe now and receive my new book “Understanding Cat Behavior and Body Language” for free. Grab it now!
We can differentiate between vocalizing (your cat is telling you something with their voice) and cat body language (your cat is telling you something with their entire body).
Understanding Cat Body Language
How your cat reacts for example to you petting them, tells you whether or not they are interested in you continuing. If they arch their back up, forcing contact with your hand, they are telling you to continue petting them. If they back away from your touch, they wish you to stop for now. But that is not all to know about your cat’s body language.
Your cat’s eyes, ears, body and tail can all give away their feelings. Here is a basic guide to cat behavior by their cat body language:
- Arched back, fur standing up: scared or mad
- Arched back, fur flat: inviting your presence
- Lying down on back purring: comfortable and relaxed
- Lying on back growling: bothered and ready for attack
- Forward: attentive, engrossed, cheerful
- Backward/sideways/flat “airplane ears”: annoyed, furious, or scared
- Swiveling: conscientious and engaged in surrounding sounds
See the complete guide about Cat ears here.
- Constricted pupils: belligerent but somewhat agreeable
- Somewhat dilated pupils: anxious and passive
- Fully dilated pupils: protective yet lighthearted
Make sure you read the Complete guide about Cat Eyes
- Erect with flat fur: attentive, curious or content
- Fur standing up: scared or furious
- Low/tucked tail between legs: nervous or insecure
- Thrashing around: annoyed. The quicker the thrashing, the angrier the cat
- Straight up and quivering: extremely joyous and excited. Getting ready to spray something if an unneutered/spayed cat.
See the full guide about Understanding the meaning of your cat’s tail position
Cat Behavior Explained
Also known as “making biscuits”, cats work their paws on soft surfaces similar to a baker kneading dough. This is something learned from kittenhood when they massaged their mother’s teats to get the milk flowing. This cat behavior means your cat is extremely happy. Make sure you read my comprehensive article about Cat kneading.
While you might have thought that your cat was rubbing you because they love you, that’s not exactly the truth. Cats are protective over their property, and rubbing their chin and body against anything (including you), is their way of making it known that that is their territory. But don’t worry, they still love you.
Sometimes when a cat is sniffing something (perhaps your shoe), they will raise their head, open their mouth and curl back their lips and then squint their eyes. This cat behavior is how they accumulate information.
Cats have an extra olfactory organ than most other creatures: the Jacobson’s organ. It’s connected to the nasal cavity and can be found on the roof of their mouth, directly behind their front teeth. You might notice, as your cat smells something interesting, they open their mouth and inhale the air. That scent lingers past the Jacobson’s organ, intensifying the odor and the information that comes along with it. What this information tells them is beyond our knowledge. However, it is very interesting.
Common Cat Behavior Explained
Cats have a suite of prominent feline movements and behaviors that include the detection and production of sounds, odors, and body language movements, using their ears, tail, eyes and fur to convey meaning. They also use overall body posture as a way to get their message across.
Cat body posture is useful in maintaining or establishing connections with other cats. Cats that stumble into others’ territory must be adept at excusing themselves, and the affronted feline must detect this. Otherwise, a conflict would be a common occurrence. By bluffing with instantly recognizable poses, cats can neutralize potential conflict with others.
Bold cats do not turn away from the unknown. By facing towards potential risks, they can be prepared to attack or defend, where needed. In contrast, timid cats attempt to look larger than life by extending their backs into an arch and posing to the side. This bluff attempts to scare the apparent threat away.
Cats also have a form of social hierarchy as seen by scratching. This presents three types of display cues: the appearance and smell of the scratches, and the scratching motion itself. Also, cats place themselves high up to convey a greater status above others but withdraw to hide under low places such as beds and tables as a mark of lowliness, unease, or when they are afraid. This behavior also removes them from potential conflict over sought-after locations like windowsills, the owner’s bed, and the highest levels on cat furniture. Existing cat residents and newer members may clash over such territory, and through their interactions, the territory may change paws frequently.
To show submission, cats attempt to appear as small and as harmless as they can, by laying as close to the ground as possible. The cat will draw its feet underneath itself, and draw its ears and tail close to its body. A confrontation may involve posturing by two cats for as long as a quarter of an hour without any direct hits until one submits to the other, recognizes that it is the less dominant one, and backs off, leaving the more aggressive cat the winner of the altercation.
Despite this, it is usually not long before a victorious feline in a house with many cats receives a new opponent for being top dog (or cat!). It is common for lower-positioned cats to contend in elevating themselves in the feline household hierarchy. What we should learn from this is not to expect today’s pecking order of our cats to remain the same tomorrow. It may be that a loser on Sunday becomes the winning alpha cat on Monday and that Shy Simba quickly elevates to Mighty Mufasa at short notice.
Cats present themselves in exposed postures to convey trust and friendliness, such as by showing their tummy to you in a gesture for play, or by licking you or their cat peers. Cats also spend time napping, snuggling up to each other and playing around. When cat naps with its back exposed or lie back to display its underside, it is telling you that it trusts you completely.
Other signals for cat friendship include letting their noses touch, or brushing hips as they pass. When a cat jumps onto you, turns and invites you to smell its er— private parts, take that as a casual, well-meaning handshake from the animal kingdom.
Cat Sounds Explained
Cats have a surprisingly wide vocabulary, and interpreting their chirps and cat meow sounds tells you a lot. They can tell you if they’re in pain, feeling affectionate, feeling endangered, or simply that it’s time to get up.
The traditional “meow” can mean a million different things. A cat’s meow could be meant as a greeting, an instruction, a disagreement, or a proclamation. Cats can spend endless time wandering around, meowing to themselves.
While a chirp or a trill is how a mother cat calls their kittens, when it’s directed towards you, it’s your cat’s way of telling you to follow them (often to their empty food bowl). When multiple cats are together, this is sometimes how they will talk to each other.
The soothing sound of your cat purring usually signifies his contentment. Whether they are happy or eating, you may hear your cat purr. Contrarily, a purr may be your cat’s way of comforting himself when he’s sick or anxious, similar to how a child sucks their thumb.
An annoyed cat may be heard hissing, growling or spitting. With these cat sounds they express annoyance or aggressive behavior. This can be accompanied by cat spraying. It is best to stay clear of a cat in this state.
Almost like a cry for help, a yowl or a howl from your cat means that they are in agony. It is important you locate your cat upon hearing your cats meowing. They may be stuck somewhere or in pain, and need your help. If your cat has yet to be neutered or spayed, this is part of their mating behaviors. Furthermore, if your cat is aged, they might be experiencing dementia, and howling is due to their disorientation.
While your car sits, staring out the window, you might hear him twitching, chittering, and chattering. This cat behavior is supposedly an over-exaggerated “killing bite”, something a cat does when they snatch their prey by the neck, slicing their teeth through the bone and snapping it.
A Guide to Your Cat’s Moods
Here are a few tips that can help you decipher by cat behavior what your cat is feeling:
Your cat can be found either sitting or lying, with his eyes half-closed and pupils narrowed. Their tail should be sitting practically still, with their ears pointed forward and a gentle purring can be heard from their mouth. If you find him kneading, this indicates that they are extremely happy.
Your cat can be found with his ears sideways or back and dilated pupils. Their tail will be found low near the floor or tucked between their legs as they prowl close to the ground, searching for a hiding spot.
Scared or startled
Your cat can be found with their ears flat back against their head, with their whiskers back and an arched back. Just like a Halloween cat, their fur will be standing upright and their tail erects or pointed downwards. They may make sounds such as a yowl, growl, hiss or spit.
Annoyed or over-stimulated
Your cat can be found with dilated pupils, earns turned around back and a twitching or waving tail. You may hear your cat growl or show their teeth as a warning for you to back down. They may start biting or scratching if over-stimulated.
Your cat can be found crouched near the floor, with their ears flat against their body and their whiskers back. Their tail will be wrapped around themselves or between their legs, with their pupils dilated.
Your cat can be found with their ears pointed forward, their tail pointed up, and their whiskers forward. Their pupils will be slightly dilated as if they are stalking their prey (playing is similar to hunting behavior). They will be low to the ground with their rear end raised. If you noticed your cat wiggling his butt, be ready to see him pounce at his toy!
Mad and aggressive
Typical cat behavior when your cat is mad are his ears back and his pupils constricted. Their tails could be up or down, with their fur standing upright. If your cat is feeling aggressive, it may stare down some other cat, growling at him to go away.
When it’s inconspicuous what your cat is feeling, try using some of our tips on reading and understanding cat body language and behavior and take a look at The Cat Language Bible.
8 Frequent Cat Behavior Problems and Their Solutions
Do you want to maintain a loving atmosphere without the usual cat behavior problems? Here’s how to deal with different cat behavior problems you may encounter.
Who doesn’t love cats when they are tame? But it’s hard to love them when they make a mess of your clean furniture or suddenly decide to have a jumping party on top of you while you’re asleep. Do not succumb to despair – every problem has its solution. Here are some tips on how you can overcome some common issues.
No to the Litter Box
Perhaps the most frequent cat behavior problem that cat owners experience has to do with litter boxes, according to Jonas Jurgella (author of The Cat Language Bible). This can be awfully annoying, but you should bear in mind that there always is a reason for this. Whatever the issue is, luckily, there is also a solution.
Try talking to your vet. It is possible that your cat has some medical problems with the urinary tract (such as different diseases and inflammations). To make sure that these are not turning your cat away from the litter box, you should have your vet check her.
Another issue may come from the fact that cats love to have their litter box available whenever. Make sure you have a separate litter box for each one of your cats. Also, try different litter boxes until you find what type of litter and litter boxes your cat prefers.
Most importantly, make sure to clean the litter box regularly, because dirty litter may also be the reason your cat is doing its business elsewhere. Make it a rule to clean the litter box once a day as a minimum, and even twice a day if you have more cats.
Scratch, scratch, scratch
You may think that scratching your furniture and curtains may be just your cat’s way of messing with you, but there are actually various reasons for such a cat behavior problem. Cats usually scratch things in order to mark their territory, sharpen their claws, play or let off steam. Luckily, there’s a way to deal with this, too, claims Jurgella in our interview.
Here’s what you can do:
- Try buying some new scratching posts. Put a little of catnipon it to lure your cat.
- Have your cat’s claws trimmed. It is simple enough and you can easily master it. Have your vet explain the process and you’ll be surprised how little time this could take.
- Make your cat a fashionista. There are different fancy claw caps or nail caps that you can buy for her. These will make it impossible for your cat to destroy things around your house.
If your cat gets aggressive, you may want to consider different reasons for such bad behavior. It could be anything really – their way of playing, lack of interaction or mere protection of the territory, but also certain medical problems.
The first thing you should do is visit your vet. Even humans react with crankiness and aggression to physical pain and cats are no different. To eliminate possible serious problems have your cat checked.
In case you have a male cat make sure that he’s neutered. If not, then this may be the reason for his aggression. Even worse, if you have other cats, his aggression may rub off on the rest of them. In order to fix him just get him spayed or neutered.
Another possible reason for your cat’s bad mood may be that there are not enough things to play with. The solution? Even simpler than the problem – buy your cat enough toys, bowls, litter boxes etc. Make sure to distribute these around your home so that your cat doesn’t get bored.
An important piece of advice for dealing with an aggressive cat is never to respond with aggression. You may want to separate your cats if they attack one another, but don’t hit them or get between them. Use water squirters, raise your voice or just throw something light at them to make them stop.
If all of these don’t help, visit a specialist in veterinary behavior. A qualified person is more likely to determine the reason for your cat’s aggression.
Does your cat just love jumping around your house while you’re asleep? This may be a trait of species – originally, cats were nocturnal animals. This cat behavior problem is among the most common ones, yet it is also easy to deal with.
Again, the first thing you want to do is visit the vet. Have him check there are no medical causes behind such behavior. If there are no medical issues, it is always a good idea to try and tire her out. Playing with your cat before sleeping may get her exhausted and make her fall asleep.
Remember, a well-entertained cat is also an exhausted cat. Buy enough resources so she has a lot of activity during the day. This will wear her out and make her want to sleep. It may be a good idea to occasionally leave some new and unfamiliar things to keep her occupied. In case your furry friend likes to hang out with other cats, you can get another one. They will keep each other busy and entertained.
Finally, the safest move is to feed your cat at night. Cats usually sleep after having a meal, so it could be a good idea to prepare a big late-night meal. Some people even suggest buying a timed feeder which can do this for you while you’re asleep – you only need to set it. Not only does this feed your cat instead of you, it also keeps her entertained.
Painful Play Sessions
Cats are animals that like to play with you – that is how they develop and maintain their coordination and social intelligence. However, playing can often be painful as cats tend to bite and scratch. Apart from looking bad, these wounds can get infected and cause you additional problems. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid these, as well.
Keep your cat occupied with things other than your hands and feet. You can buy her toys or even get another cat so that the two can play with each other. You should try to play with your cat at least twice a day (for 10 minutes minimum). But don’t use your own hands – use toys, balls or even bags or papers so as to keep the claws away from your skin.
Perhaps the most important thing is to train your kitten while it’s young. If you teach them it’s OK to bite while they’re still small and harmless, they will continue with this behavior until they are old enough to hurt you.
However, keep in mind that you don’t want your cat to be scared of you. Avoid hitting her, because if it doesn’t scare her, she will interpret it as playing and get really rough with you.
If you’ve noticed your cat licking, scratching or even biting herself, then perhaps she got fleas. Other common symptoms of these parasites may be hair loss or skin irritation.
The safest option is to visit your vet. He can suggest different ways of treating them. Make sure that you use the treatment on all your cats. One flea and one cat are all it takes for all of them to get fleas. Do not by any chance buy products on your own, or use dog products – some treatments may harm your cat instead of helping her.
What fleas are for your cat’s skin, tapeworms are for her insides. These pests usually occur alongside fleas, because a way to get them is to swallow a flea. However, the symptoms are not as explicit. Tapeworms are usually seen in cat feces or even in the anus area. If you notice something white that may resemble a worm or rice, your cat most likely has tapeworms.
However, there is no reason to panic, as these are not as dangerous as you’d think. However, they may result in your cat losing weight, experience abdominal pain or other problems when not treated. Some suggest feeding your cat with garlic as a home-made solution, but this is not scientifically proven. For a cure, rely on your vet.
Sounds of Being in Heat
This problem occurs in female cats when they are in heat. At these times, they often meow and yowl loudly in order to attract a suitable male for mating. This can rub off on a male cat, which can become quite vocal too once he hears the sounds of a female. Such behavior occurs every 18-24 days during cat breeding season of eight months.
The safest option for dealing with this problem (other than getting a mate for them) is to spay or neuter them. Female cats can get pregnant from around 16 weeks of age, so make sure you do it before. The earliest age when a cat can be sprayed is when it is about 8 weeks old.
If you’ve already done this and your cat is still meowing and yowling quite a bit, there may be another problem. It may be the fleas, or hunger or thirst or even a dirty litter box. Always be on the watch for these sounds and don’t punish your cat for them or she will learn to hide the problems, which may cause greater complications. However, there is always a chance that she is just trying to get your attention.
In most cases, a veterinarian is the answer to your problems. Even when the issue doesn’t have a medical cause, a specialist can help you determine what the matter with your cat is. What is important is to ask for help and be patient with your kitty, and all the problems can be overcome.