What Does My Cat’s Body Language Mean?

You can tell a lot by the way your cat moves 🐈

cat body language

Ever wondered what your cat is thinking? Turns out, cats do a whole lot of communicating by the way they move. And understanding different types of cat body language will go a long way in helping you be the best cat parent you can be.

While some of your cat’s body language may be easy to miss (hello, subtle ear twitch), other times it’s so big and bold you’ll know without a doubt your cat’s trying to send you a message.

So how can you decipher cat language when he’s swishing his tail a certain way? Or arching his back?

We spoke to LeeAnna Buis, a certified feline training and behavior consultant at Feline Behavior Solutions, for more insight into cat body language and what your cat’s trying to tell you with the way he moves.

Ready to get in sync with your cat?

Ways your feline communicates with cat body language

The first step to learning your cat’s body language is really knowing your cat. And because all cats are individuals, your cat’s body language won’t necessarily mean the same thing as it does coming from your neighbor’s cat across the street.

“It’s important to consider the situation and knowledge of your own cat to catch subtle cues, like a tiny change in ear position or a small skin twitch,” Buis told The Dodo. “Other times, it will be impossible to miss, like the classic Halloween cat with an arched back and fur standing on end.”

That being said, there are several cues that seem to be fairly universal when it comes to a cat’s communication through body language. Here’s what they mean:

  • Arching his back — An arched back can indicate a fearful cat trying to look larger and more intimidating, according to Buis. It’s also something you see often with kittens and younger cats as they’re playing. They’ll puff up, arch their backs and do a sideways hop.
  • Cat tail language — Cats use their tails to communicate pretty often. Especially if you have a cat who’s sensitive to touch and gets overstimulated easily, or one who’s still getting comfortable with people, a tail swish can be a cue that your cat’s reaching his threshold and needs a break. And don’t just focus on big tail swishing. Even a tiny movement back and forth is worth noting. Stop petting for a second and give your cat the opportunity to say “OK, thanks. That was great. I’ll see ya later.” Or, “Hey, please keep going with the petting. I’m enjoying it.” Of course, cats also swish their tails when excited and when playing. Look at the situation to help you figure out what your cat’s swish might mean.
  • Crouching down — Just as cats will puff up to look larger, they may crouch down to try and look smaller and less threatening. Crouching can also be a hunting behavior as they’re strategizing the best way to pounce on their prey (or playmate).

Can a cat tell you he’s sick through his body language?

Cats are great at hiding pain and discomfort, but their subtle (and we mean really subtle) sick cat body language can give us cues to how they’re feeling.

“You may notice a cat in pain will have tension in their face, straighten their whiskers, squint their eyes and drop their ears to the side,” Buis said. “But don’t rely on this to determine if your cat is in pain at home, as that’s a job for your veterinarian.”

Instead, look for changes in his normal behavior. “If he always greets you with a tail up and suddenly it’s down, if his ears suddenly go sideways when you touch his back, or if they tend to sleep outstretched but now they’re curled up in a tiny ball, then it’s time to start paying attention and look for other indicators they may be feeling bad,” Buis said.

Do cats try to communicate with humans?

Absolutely! “Cats are smart. They’re able to pick up on things they do naturally that get reactions from us,” Buis said. “And they’ll use those behaviors to communicate that need in the future. That’s how many people know the difference between the greeting meow and the hungry meow, or why some cats will bop you on the head at 4 a.m. for breakfast. If it worked once, it will probably work again.”

Yep, that’s smart all right.

“When it comes to body language, we can best serve our cats … by paying attention to subtle cues,” said Buis. “Most cats will ‘whisper’ using subtle body language before they feel they have to ‘yell’ with swatting and biting. If we can catch those early ‘whispers’ and respond accordingly, our cats are likely to open up and be more relaxed with us.”

Here’s to communicating with your kitty! One body language cue that can’t be missed? When he shows you how much he loves you by curling up beside you on the couch.