Cats are a part of our families. They are an integral part of our lives, households and society. In the U.S., about 45 million households own a cat. You aren't alone if you count yourself as one of the millions of proud cat parents. Even with a close connection with your cat, there is still a lot left to learn. Reading cat body language can be an ongoing process when you have cats. After all, every cat has its own distinct personality. However, there are some common threads regarding how cats behave and what they are trying to tell you.
Cat Body Language: The Cat and Human Connection
Cats and humans have a long history together, but no one knows for sure when it all began. Many theorize that most cats became domesticated at the same time throughout the Middle East and were all descendants of the African Wildcat. The oldest known domestic cat is from a 9500-year-old grave in Cyprus, where a human and cat were buried together.
Origins of the Cat-Human Bond
While it is difficult to say when cats became domesticated, most agree that cats were likely drawn to human civilizations much like other animals, such as rodents and birds. Cats hunted vermin, and people appreciated that they kept the pests from eating their grain. Felines and humans mutually benefited one another; their relationship grew to where it is today.
Celebrations of Cats Throughout History
Many people associate ancient cats with Egypt. Ancient Egyptians, like modern humans, probably wondered about cat body language too. While ancient Egyptians did not worship cats, these animals were revered. Cats represented fertility, power and justice. People saw cats as hunters and protectors because they killed both vermin and venomous snakes.
In Rome and Greece, cats were equally beloved. They controlled vermin populations following the use of weasels and ferrets.
Cats have been well respected all across the Middle East throughout history, particularly in Muslim civilizations. In Europe, in the Middle Ages, cats were still mousers, but the Church began to align witches with cats. However, monks and nuns continued to have a close relationship with the cats in their monasteries.
Cat Adoption in Modern Day
In Victorian England, Harrison Weir created the first cat shows and considered cats the most perfect domestic animals. By the late 19th century, cats were seen as pets worldwide, and they continue to be a popular pet choice throughout the world today. While many still keep cats as mousers and hunters of vermin, these pets also have a special place in our homes.
Cat Body Language: The Meaning Behind It
People who do not have cats make the mistake of thinking that cats are antisocial. Most cat parents, however, know differently. One cause for this misconception is that many people don’t know how to read feline body language. Most people understand dog body language, but cat body language is very different and tells a unique story to their human counterparts.
Reading Their Faces
Facial expressions on cats are one of the most controversial factors when reading their physical cues. Many cat parents believe they can read their pet's facial expressions. Other people don’t think cats have expressions at all. These latter do not think you can observe a cat's face to determine mood.
The eyes tell the biggest story regarding cat body language. For instance, when a cat looks at you and slowly blinks, it may mean the animal is friendly towards you, trusts you and will allow you to approach. An intense stare with constricted pupils also displays confidence.
Since different breeds of cats have different facial structures, it can be challenging to determine how much of an impact the facial structure has on reading emotion on a feline’s face. If you know your cat well, you can probably pick up on its feelings from subtle differences in expression. The best way to read a cat’s face is to know the cat.
Paying Mind to Their Ears
Cat ears are expressive too. Different breeds have different structures; this can sometimes change how they use their ears to communicate. When paying attention to cat body language, you’ll notice that their ears move at about 180 degrees. Cats move their ears to hear where noises are coming from.
While at rest, a cat’s ears are in a neutral position. The neutral position is primarily a forward-facing position. If a cat becomes alert, its ears may be straight up or forward, trying to listen. However, if the cat's ears face opposite directions and lie down on its head, it tends to be a sign of discomfort or fear.
Watching Their Tails
Dog parents know a lot about dog body language and the use of the tail. After all, happy dogs tend to have wagging, loose tails, but the same is not true for cats. Cats use their tails as much as dogs, but if you are a dog parent, don’t expect cat body language to be the same. The first thing to note with felines is the speed of their tail movement. When a cat’s tail moves back and forth slowly, at an even pace, they are typically focused on something. You may notice that they are watching birds outside or toys on the floor.
Once the speed picks up, this signifies agitation. Petting your cat when it doesn’t want to be touched is a surefire way to get your cat agitated, and you might notice the quick flick of the tail.
Upright, slightly curved tails tend to represent confidence and happiness, whereas a tucked tail or lower position may indicate nervousness or discomfort with a situation. If a cat wraps its tail around you or another animal, it is displaying friendship. A puffed-up tail could mean the cat is upset or angry.
Cat Body Language: Feline Emotion
Like all animals, cats go through a variety of emotions. Understanding how to read those emotions can help you learn how to best care for your cat and to notice when something goes wrong.
Pet parents want their cats to be happy. Since cats do not show all their emotions on their sleeve, it can be difficult for some people to determine if their cat is happy. There are various signs of a happy cat. One of the first signs that most people recognize is purring. Purring cats are generally happy cats.
To determine if your purring cat is happy, look for a relaxed posture. He may also "make biscuits" or knead blankets, furniture or even his favorite people. Most cats pick this up as kittens when feeling secure with their mother. A feline with happy cat body language may approach you or others with a high tail while rubbing against you or butting you with his head. Cats are also more playful when happy, particularly younger cats. You may catch your feline attacking a toy mouse or playing with a feather.
Drooling can also be a sign of an affectionate and content feline. If you are cuddling your fur baby and he drools, this is a sign of happiness. However, drooling with no sign of stimulation could indicate medical issues.
Animal behaviorists deal with aggression often when it comes to cats. However, many people take it less seriously than dogs, generally because cats do not pose as much of a risk to human safety. Cat aggression is formidable, however. They have teeth and claws to inflict severe lacerations.
Aggressive cat body language will be either defensive or offensive. A defensive feline does not usually face his opponent head-on. He will turn sideways, crouch, tuck his head in and curve the tail around the body. The ears could be flat sideways or backward. Sometimes, the whiskers will retract or pan out to assess the distance of the danger. Hissing and spitting is normal in aggressive cats and may be followed by quick strikes of the paws.
On the other hand, an offensive cat stands stiff and upright, with a tail lowered or held straight down. He might have his hackles up with constricted pupils and a direct stare while facing the opponent or moving toward him. Often, offensive cats yowl, growl or howl. Common aggressive movements also include scratching, biting and swatting.
When cats display aggression, do not touch or discipline them. Reassure your cat from a distance and try to identify the triggers. You have to understand the cat’s motivation behind the aggression to be able to help him. Cats may be aggressive because they are territorial, stressed, sick or afraid.
Cat body language can be difficult to read when cats are in pain. They may try to disguise their pain instinctively. Look for signs of reduced appetite, movement and interest in his normal habits. A playful and social cat who suddenly withdraws from the household could be in pain. Felines in pain may also show irritability, hiss or growl more often.
Another sign to look for is a decrease in grooming. Felines spend a good amount of time grooming themselves, but when they stop grooming and retract from being touched, it is a telltale sign that something is wrong. In general, cats appear tenser and more compressed while in pain.
Look for changes in the cat’s posture. Rely on what you know about your cat’s body language and trust yourself when you think he looks off. Cats may suddenly hunch or lower their heads and stand crouched rather than upright. If your cat is never aggressive, but when you try to pet him, he hisses or swats at you, it could indicate pain somewhere in the body.
Cat Body Language: Illness and Worrying Body Language
Cats do not always know how to tell us they do not feel well. They may cower or find new hiding places when they feel uncomfortable or ill. While some behavioral patterns, such as a lack of grooming and changing litter box habits, can be a sign of illness, their body language might also tell you what’s happening.
Slowing Movements and Energy Levels
Playful cats may have less energy than they had before. When you try to play with your cat, he may show disinterest in toys and other playtime activities. When he does try to play, he may move slowly. Even his eyes might seem dull, glossy and unfocused. Every movement might be slower and lethargic. When ill, cat body language often includes a limp or difficulty jumping on furniture with as much flexibility and grace as normal.
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Hunching With Discomfort or Pain
Look for a cat who stays in a crouched position most of the time. His tail might tuck under him and his head might stay low with ears drooped or lying flat to either side of his head. He may hold his eyes shut with whiskers pointed downward. An ill cat might also keep his body tightly curled into a ball with his tail around himself.
Purring is more closely associated with health and happiness in a cat, but it can also be the opposite under specific circumstances. If the purr presents with happy, content cat body language and your cat typically purrs often, there may be nothing wrong. However, purring can also be a way for cats to try to soothe themselves. Sometimes, a purring cat is trying to tell you that something is wrong and he needs help. If your cat purrs while displaying signs of pain or discomfort, then he is not purring to express happiness.
Cat Body Language: Be Your Cat’s Best Judge
No one knows your cat the way that you do. By learning to read cat body language, you can enhance your relationship and make the right decisions based on your cat’s feelings and behavior. Your cat relies on you to give him the world. At Bloire, we understand that your cat is your baby and deserves to have the best life possible. Check out our product line to find ways to make playtime better for you and your feline fur baby.