Cat body language and expression may be obvious cat to cat, but often the subtle postures are lost on us humans. Understanding what you cat is trying to convey can be very important.

This review attempts to help de-mystify your cat’s body language when he or she is stressed, frustrated, scared as well as when they are feeling happy and playful.

Relaxed, happy cat

Cats use body language to communicate a variety of information and emotions to others. The primary body parts they use to convey their state of mind are their ears, tail, eyes, body posture, and vocal cords. Types of emotions and behaviors that can be demonstrated are fear or anxiety, frustration, pain, play, mating, contentedness or relaxation, and curiosity. Often body language can be used to display multiple emotions. Thus, when trying to figure out your cat’s body language, try to understand the context in which he is communicating.

Fear/Anxiety Avoidance

These types of behaviors are an effort to maintain safety from a perceived threat by avoiding the threat.

Fear/Anxiety Repulsion

These types of behaviors are an effort to maintain safety from a perceived threat by getting rid of it.

Fear/Anxiety/Curiosity

These information-gathering behaviors are an effort to learn about an object, person, environment, and/or if perceived as a threat, to determine the severity.

Frustration

These types of behaviors are reactions to something that is not meeting the cat’s expectations or their inability to control something (e.g., hunger, not wanting to be held). These behaviors are an effort to achieve what they desire.

Pain

It is extremely difficult to notice pain in cats as they tend to hide pain well, but they do demonstrate some noticeable behaviors.

Play

These behaviors are used during play and to initiate it. Hunting behaviors are similar to those of play.

Relaxed/Content

These show the cat is content and often demonstrates trust in their environment.

Mating

These are an effort to demonstrate receptiveness to mating, such as showing signs of going into heat or estrus.

Here is a chart by behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin that illustrates feline anxiety:

body language of feline anxiety

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