Cat body language: our guide to the basics of cat communication

As any pet parent knows, cats can be emotional and loving companions. But there’s no doubt they show it in a very different way to us humans – or even other animals. That’s why it’s helpful to understand the characteristically subtle signals cat body language sends out, if we want to have a better grasp of how our pets may be feeling.

This quick and simple guide – put together by our pet experts – is designed to help you understand the basics of cat body language. While we hope you find it useful, it’s also important to remember that every cat is different and cat behaviours are often influenced by individual breed, personality, and history.

Understanding cat posture meaning

We may be used to seeing our cats contort themselves into all sorts of weird and wonderful shapes. But, if we’re trying work out how they’re feeling, there’s really only a few main cat behaviours we need to look out for.

Common cat postures

  • Looking forward
    If your cat is facing you, their posture is normal, and their tail is high, it’s likely they’re feeling happy and confident. They may also be interested in a bit of interaction.


  • Small and scared
    Nervous or anxious cats often try and make themselves appear smaller by tucking themselves into a ball. This crouching posture can also mean they’re getting ready to spring away from danger, should they need to.


  • Big and scary!
    When they’re scared or angry, cats try to make themselves appear bigger. That means arching their back and turning their body side-on to you.


  • Laid back?
    If your cat’s laying on their back, with their tummy exposed, they may look relaxed. But, as many a scratch-covered pet parent can tell you, the truth may be a little more complicated!


While this type of cat body language does usually mean they feel secure and comfortable with you, cats also sometimes lie on their back when they’re ready to fight. So, while it might not mean they’re feeling aggressive, an unwelcome tummy scratch could still leave you with some unwanted bites and scratches.

Unless you know your cat loves their tummy touched, it might be a good idea to use caution, and go for a head scratch. Or even leave them be if they seem nice and relaxed.

Understanding cat tail signals

They may not wag them as excitedly as dogs do. But, if we know the subtle signs to look out for, a combination of tail height and movement can create a unique cat language – one that tells us a great deal about their mood.

Tail height

This is happy and confident cat body language. Walking towards you with their tail high is also a common greeting to someone they’re happy to see – making it a simple way to potentially tell if your cat misses you when you’re gone.

As a general rule, the lower your cat’s tail, the less comfortable they are feeling. If it’s sticking straight out behind them, they may just be unsure of the situation. If it’s even lower ­it could signal defensiveness, or even aggression. It’s worth noting that certain breeds, like Persians, do carry their tails low as a matter of course, however.

Tucked under their body
This type of cat body language suggests something is making them nervous or frightened, as this is usually a sign of submission.


Tail movements

Slowly from side to side
Usually means your cat is focused on an object, such as a toy or another furry companion.

Fast back and forth
Suggests they’re scared or angry. It’s probably best to give them some space!

Wrapping around
If you see your cat wrap its tail around a companion, it’s a good thing! In cat language, this usually means they’re friends.

Often a sign of a friendly cat. They’re interested in spending some time with you and may even want to play a game.

Puffed up
As with the arched back, this type of cat body language suggests they’re trying to make themselves seem bigger, which means they may be agitated or frightened.

Understanding cat ear signals

What pet parent hasn’t marvelled at the amazing flexibility of our cat’s ears? But did you know cat ear signals can also be extremely useful in helping us read their mood?

Facing forward – this is also sometimes called ‘neutral position’. This usually indicates your cat is feeling calm and confident.

High and erect – this type of cat ear signal usually shows they’re on the alert. They may be looking to play, or just be showing a heightened awareness of their surroundings.

Low and sideways – sometimes known as ‘airplane mode’, this position generally suggests your cat may be frightened or nervous.

Low and flat – one to watch out for! This type of cat body language usually precedes aggressive behaviour, such as biting or scratching.

Understanding cat expressions

While they may not have quite the same range of expression we do, it’s still possible to tell a lot about our cat’s mood from their face. We just need to pay attention to what their eyes and whiskers are telling us.

Eye closed and whiskers relaxed
A relaxed and contented cat. They may even slow blink, which usually suggests they are very comfortable with you.

Eyes open with whiskers forward
This type of cat body language usually means your cat is on the alert. Pay close attention to the size of their pupils. If they’re not enlarged, they’ve probably just noticed something that interests them. If their pupils are larger than normal, it may mean they’re anxious, worried, or stressed. An understanding of cat ear signals could prove useful in helping you decide which it is.

Eyes down with whiskers drooping
This could indicate that your cat is listless, or even depressed. This is often the result of a prolonged period of stress. So, it’s probably a good idea to get them checked by your vet if you see this expression too often. Particularly if you’ve noticed other changes that don’t feel like normal cat behaviours. There are many reasons cats like to sleep so much. But, if you notice yours sleeping too much or too little, for example, it could also be a sign that something is up.


Understanding YOUR cat

As you can see, there’s all sorts of subtle cat body language we can look out for to help us understand how our pets may be feeling. But remember, you’ll need to consider how posture, tail movement, ear signals and facial expression are all working together to get a real idea of your cat’s mood. And don’t forget cat body language is only one element of cat communication. There are lots of other cat behaviours - such as meowing, marking, hissing, biting and scratching - that can also tell you a lot about how they’re feeling.

Finally, don’t forget that no-one knows an individual cat like their pet parent. So, while we hope you’ve found these tips useful, it’s important to always take into account the breed, history and natural temperament of your pet.

Get answers from the experts

Got a question about fleas, ticks or worms? We can help! Take a look at our FAQs or send us a message.

Two Paragraphs

Join the #PetParentClub

We’ve got an amazing community of dedicated pet parents on our social channels. You’ll find pet care tips and cute pics, plus advice from our pet experts. We can’t wait to welcome you to the club!