How to Read and Understand Your Cat
Joyce Sly
September 1, 2021
How to Read and Understand Your Cat

How to Read Cat

Cats are subtle and complicated in the way they communicate and their language may be difficult to decipher, but understanding a cat’s behavior can provide hints as to what your pet wants, needs, or feels in certain moments. This can completely change the way you interact with your cat and can be especially helpful when dealing with a shy kitty. So, without further ado, here is a guide to help you pick up on what your cats putting down.


The first step in reading a cat’s body language is to understand the context. For example, one of the most reliable signs of a happy, approachable cat is a tail that it’s lifted high in the air, but when warding off a strange cat in his own territory, a high tail can indicate willingness to attack. So, when reading a cat’s body language, the key is to pay attention to the situation as well as the physical cues.

Basic Body Language

  • Arched back (with bristled fur) – a sign of aggression. Cat is alarmed and feeling threated, trying to make themselves appear as big as possible.
  • Arched back (with a yawn) – cat is stretching. Possibly either just waking up or about to curl up for a nap.
  • Standing sideways – fearful. Ready to run if necessary.
  • Facing head on- feeling self-assured and positive.
  • Facing away – sign of trust.
  • Crouching (with alert expression) – cat is anxious. Ready to leap out of harm’s way.
  • Crouched (wiggling butt) – about to pounce.
  • Stretching, belly up – huge sign of trust, but not an invitation for a belly rub.
  • Rolling around, belly up- sign of happiness, contentment, and relaxation.
  • Standing still, frozen – assessing an uncomfortable situation.
  • Head rubbing – When a cat rubs its head against something like your leg, or a chair, they are marking their territory.
  • Kneading – signals extreme happiness.



Paying attention to your cat’s tail will give you an idea as to how a cat might be feeling. The differences are subtle, but if you learn them, you will get to know a lot about your cat. Here are some examples of what different tail positions mean in cat body language

  • Tail up (relaxed context) – Happy, cheerful, approachable
  • Tail up (tense context) – ready to fight if necessary. Often accompanied with bristled fur
  • Tail up quivering – can be a marking behavior. Excited to see you
  • Tail up hair raised at base – cat is very excited at being stroked. Maybe overexcited. This posture may be telling you to stop. Watch out if your cat tends to nip.
  • Tail down – scared, threatened
  • Tail moving rapidly back and forth – agitated, should be left alone
  • Tail moving slowly back and forth – trying to decipher a situation, make up his mind about how he feels
  • Halloween cat tail – trying to appear larger and scarier than he is
  • Low, tucked tail – cats afraid. Not sure they’re into what is happening.


Cat’s ears aren’t only for hearing. The position of your cat’s ears can be another good indication of how your cat may be feeling. Once again, context must be taken into consideration. Here are a few tips on how to decipher your cat’s mood by watching his ears.

  • Ears relaxed, slightly forward, soft and rounded – feeling content
  • Ears straight up – cat is alert
  • Ears turned back – cat is feeling irritated, over stimulated. Leave him alone
  • Ears turned sideways and back – This cat is feeling nervous or anxious. Use caution
  • Ears back and flat against head – cat is scared, feeling defensive. May also indicate cat is angry or aggressive. Leave cat alone.



Your cat’s tail, posture, and ears will probably be enough to tell you how your cat is feeling, but if there is still some doubt, you may want to look at his eyes. The pupils of a cat’s eyes can tell you if he is feeling anxious or relaxed at any given moment.

  • Dilated pupils – cat is stimulated. He is either surprised, scared, or may be feeling playful. It is important to refer to other signs the cat’s body for additional context or clues.
  • Constricted pupils – cat is feeling tense or possibly aggressive or it is very bright.
  • Stare – stare down is likely a challenge from your cat
  • Slow blink – cat feels safe, comfortable and trusts you
  • Half closed – droopy lids indicate a relaxed and trusting kitty



A cat’s whiskers also serve as a kind of barometer for your cat’s moods. Here’s a look at how to interpret how your cat is feeling by looking at his whiskers.

  • Neutral position – If your cat’s whiskers are in a neutral position on the side of their face, they are relaxed, content, or happy.
  • Perked position – When your cat pulls their whiskers forward and fan them out while keeping their mouth closed and lips loose, it means your cat is interested and engaged.
  • Flattened down – Indicate a cat is scared or shy.
  • Pulled back – Whiskers pulled back tightly to the face is a signal of aggression.
  • Forward position – If your cat’s whiskers are forward with an increased flattening of their cheek, nose, or muzzle, this is a good indicator that your cat is in pain.


We hope you found this guide to be helpful. Taking the time to learn and understand your cat’s nonverbal communication may take some time, but it will improve your relationship with your cat, which will ultimately lead to a happier cat and happier cat owner!