Understanding the Language of Cats


Many pet owners have often pondered of their beloved friends, “I wonder what you are thinking”.  While there is a good chance it may be “Why is my food dish empty?”, our pets actually can communicate with us about how they feel, whether they want to be with your or alone, or if they feel content or threatened.  Communication can be vocal, but cats often express themselves through body language too.

Cats have a language all their own that they use to express their needs, desires and moods.  Here are some things to watch for so you and your cat understand each other and build your mutually happy relationship:


One of the most expressive assets your cat possesses is its tail.  Typically, a cat’s tail contains 18-23 vertebrae and a muscle structure that give it the ability to move that tail with incredible precision and expression.  We have all seen ripples of movement radiate from the tail base to its tip or how the cat will wrap its tail neatly around its paws when sitting.

When your cat approaches you with their tail high in the air, it means they are looking for friendly interaction with you – perhaps to rub against your leg or get a few chin scratches.  However, if the tail is down or wrapped around their body as they walk, they could feel threatened or insecure.  A tail that slashes from side to side indicates they are upset or angry, while a quivering tail tip usually indicates that your cat is interested in what is happening around them – perhaps you have a new toy or some treats in your hand!


A cat’s pupils tend to enlarge when they are stimulated. This can either be due to happiness or excitement such as when stalking their favourite toy, or it can also mean they are fearful due to a strange noise or situation.  Narrow pupils can often mean aggression, and it may be a good idea to give them some space.

Finally, the tension of a cat’s eye can reveal a lot about a state of mind – relaxed eyelids equal a relaxed cat, while a wide eye usually means a fearful cat.


Like their tails, cats have amazing control over their ears, often rotating them like a radar dish in order to better hear a sudden or interesting sound.  Generally, if they are facing forward, it usually means they are alert if they are ‘perked’, while forward and relaxed suggest they are happy and comfortable.  Rotation of the ears to the side or rotation in a circular manner means they may feel intimidated as they explore the sounds of their environment.  If your cat has its ears pinned backward, it is a sure sign that they are terrified of something and it is best to give them some time and space to calm down.  If you can determine what is causing them fear, remove it from the cat’s space if possible.


When a cat is feeling tense or scared, they often try to make themselves look bigger (the classic arched back and puffed-up tail stature) to try and intimidate and scare off an intruder.  Conversely, they may make themselves appear smaller to signal that they are not a threat to another animal or you.  When they are crouched with all four paws squarely on the floor, they are ready to move in an instant. Whereas, if they are curled under their chin, it usually means it’s nap time!

Cats also may roll on their back and squirm around.  This is usually a positive sign that they are content. They may also be getting in a good scratch from the floor or stretching out for their next adventure.


Did you know that cats typically do not communicate vocally with other cats?  This amusing, and sometimes irritating, form of communication is reserved for humans.  Cat meows usually mean they want something – food, a toy, to play or simply your attention – and it usually works!  Cats may also chirp as a friendly greeting or chatter when excited at the sight of a prey species, whereas a growl or hiss means “stay away!”.

And, what about purring?  It’s been said that there is no more calming sound than that of a cat’s purr, and most humans would probably agree!  Cats purr for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common is when they are feeling happy and content. However, cats will often purr when they are ill or injured as well, as a means of self-calming and feeling more comfortable.

Now, armed with some knowledge of cat language, your assignment is to have a chat with your cat and build a stronger relationship and bond with them.