Catty remarks: The body language of your cat

It’s a known fact that cats talk to us. They yowl, they growl, they meow. But cats don’t use their voices so much as their bodies for communication. Here’s a summary of feline body language.

Keep calm

Calming gestures are the most common ways for cats to communicate. Their purpose is to keep the cat calm in stressful situations or during moments of discomfort. Keep in mind that — just as a woman twirls her hair around her finger when speaking to an attractive man, or a nervous person bites their nails — cats aren’t trying to communicate anything by employing calming gestures, they are simply expressing their state of being.

Below is a list of the most frequently used calming gestures among cats, in order of importance. Watch your kitty closely and you’ll see that they employ these gestures regularly throughout the day:

  • Blinking
  • Licking the end of their nose
  • Licking the torso or paws two or three times
  • Yawning
  • Quick stretching

Back off

When cats become irritated, they will often use their tail as a primary tool for voicing their dismay. They may start by whisking the end of their tail and can take it all the way to a full-fledged, violent whip if the irritation doesn’t stop. If there’s one thing we should teach our children about cats, it’s that they should respect cats when a cat whip their tails, and leave them alone. This is often the first tactic cats will use, and don’t be mistaken: you will gain absolutely nothing from bothering them once they’ve employed it. Contrary to popular belief, doing so will not make them more patient in the long-run, nor will it teach them that you’re “the boss.” Au contraire, the more you insist, the more clearly your cat will understand that this signal isn’t working. This could result in their resorting to scratching or biting in order to get their point across. Note: A cat who appears to enjoy being petted but whips their tail and suddenly bites may be demonstrating petting-induced aggression. This means they become irritated when petted in a certain area — often around the hips. You can avoid being bitten by only petting them in the neck or head area.

Frightened, or assertive?

A scardey-cat is easy to spot. Like us, cats will curl up into themselves when they become afraid; their eyes will dilate (careful: this may also mean they are in heat) and they’ll bury their head into their shoulders. A frightened cat may also align their tail along the side of their body, or bury it between their hind legs.

Assertive cats are sure of themselves and will often impose themselves in order to claim something as their own. Note than cats will almost always demonstrate this behaviour in front of another cat, and rarely in front of humans. The composure of an aggressive cat will be the complete opposite of that of a frightened cat. They will often be high on their paws with their head perked up and their tail pointing to the ground. The idea is to appear as large as possible in order to intimidate.

In either case, the cat may yowl or growl. However, don’t assume a cat who yowls or growls is showing aggression: this is simply their way of saying “Get away from me. Get any closer and it won’t be pretty.” It is important not to punish such behaviour. Not only is it futile to do so, but it could also result in the cat simply choosing to no longer give this warning before taking action. It would be equivalent to removing the smoke detector in your home. Wouldn’t you rather smell the smoke that is warning you that your house is about to catch fire?

By paying closer attention to your cat and understanding what they’re trying to tell you with their body, you will be better prepared to avoid aggression-inducing situations and improve your relationship with kitty!

Here's an example of a frightened cat in front of an assertive one :


Keep him happy!