An Introductory Guide to Cat Body Language | PetFirst
An Introductory Guide to Cat Body Language
Pet Care & Health

An Introductory Guide to Cat Body Language

by PetFirst Pet Insurance
10 months ago

As cat parents, we’ve all wondered from time to time what it would be like if our beloved feline friends could talk. But, just because cats can’t speak, doesn’t mean that they can’t communicate with us. In fact, they use body language to talk to us all the time. Everything from our cat’s ears, tail positions, eyes, and body posture can offer insights into their mood and state of mind.

Read on to begin decoding your cat’s body language!

Body Posture

Your cat’s posture is a good starting point for understanding his current mood. To understand the full picture, take note of what his ears and tail are doing at the same time. 

  • Exposed belly: Cats expose their bellies when they are feeling happy, confident, and relaxed. It may be tempting to pet your cat’s exposed belly but beware– many cats will bite and scratch when you try. Just because they show their belly doesn’t mean they are inviting pets. However, there are some cats that do enjoy belly rubs. 
  • Arched back: A cat with an arched back and a rigid tail is fearful and may act aggressively. If your cat is in this position, give him plenty of space so he can calm down. 
  • Crouched: Cats crouch when they are attempting to make themselves small and unnoticeable. Your cat may do this when he is nervous and trying to stay out of harm’s way. Other times he may do this when he is hunting and trying to remain inconspicuous to his prey. A nervous cat will crouch and tuck his tail, whereas a cat that is hunting will swish their tail and focus on their prey. 

Ear Position

Cat ears are incredibly expressive and they are always at work. Have you ever noticed that your cat’s ears move even when he appears to be sound asleep? There’s no way you’ll be able to sneak up on him: Cats can pinpoint sounds to their source. 

  • Forward-facing: When your cat’s ears are pointed forward it indicates that he is alert or curious. The more alert he is, the more pointed his ears become. For instance, your cat’s ears may be forward when you are petting him, but they will perk up even more when you pour food in his dish!
  • Pointed out to the side: This indicates that your cat is feeling anxious or uncomfortable. He is likely trying to assess his surroundings and deciding how to handle himself. You may notice your cat’s ears do this when he hears a loud noise, or when a new person or animal enters his surroundings. 
  • Flat ears: If your cat’s ears are pinned flat against his head, he is feeling scared or aggressive. In instances like this, it’s best to give him space and ensure he has an escape route to remove himself from the uncomfortable situation. 
  • Flickering ears: If your cat’s ears are swiveling back and forth it indicates that your cat is listening intently. Cat ears have over 32 muscles each, helping cats position them perfectly to take in the sounds of their surroundings. 

Tail Position

Your cat’s tail is another powerful window into his mood. Everything from your cat’s tail position, shape, and movements offer insights into how he is feeling. 

  • Erect tail: When cats hold their tails upright, it usually means that they are feeling confident and happy. If the tail is curved slightly at the tip it’s a sign that your cat is feeling friendly.
  • Low tail: If your cat is feeling anxious, scared, or agitated he will carry his tail low or tucked underneath his body. 
  • Medium, neutral tail: A relaxed cat will often hold his tail in a neutral position, extending straight out from behind him. 
  • Rigid, puffed tail: A rigid puffed up tail is a tell-tale sign of an aggressive or fearful cat. While this is usually rare, your cat may puff his tail if he feels threatened. If this happens, give your cat plenty of space, as approaching him may increase his overwhelm and cause him to act aggressively.
  • Swishing Tail: Do you ever notice your cat swishing his tail back and forth? This means he is focused. You might notice your cat doing this when he’s playing with toys, or looking out the window at birds.  

Final Thoughts

By now you can see that your cat has all kinds of non-verbal ways to communicate with you. Sure, it’s not the same as a conversation, but understanding your cat’s body language certainly helps you to respect his boundaries and engage with him in meaningful ways! 

Here at PetFirst1, we know accidents and illnesses happen to all pets. It’s important to always watch your pet’s body language for any signs of discomfort or behavior that is unusual. Frequently monitoring your pet’s body language and checking your pet from snout to tail can help you look for signs and symptoms of accidents or illnesses.

PetFirst Pet Insurance1 can help cover unexpected vet visits2 and provides peace of mind that if your pet gets sick or injured, you don’t have to worry about the financial aspect of your pet’s care. PetFirst Pet Insurance1  has cat and dog insurance policies2 as well as Routine Care Coverage2 to fit every budget.


1PetFirst Healthcare, LLC (“PetFirst Pet Insurance” or “PetFirst”) is the program administrator authorized to offer and administer pet health insurance policies underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company, a Delaware insurance company, with its main office at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, or New Hampshire Insurance Company or The Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania, each with its main administrative office at 500 West Madison Street, Suite 3000 Chicago, IL 60661. For costs, complete details of coverage, and a listing of approved states, please contact PetFirst Healthcare, LLC.
2Like most insurance policies, insurance policies offered by PetFirst Healthcare, LLC contain certain exclusions, exceptions, reductions, limitations, and terms for keeping them in force.

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