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 as well as how they vocalize. 

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. It can be helpful to look at the situation your cat is in when trying to figure out what he or she is saying. 

cat body language illustrations from veterinary
behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin.

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.


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.


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.


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


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


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

Relaxed cat exposing belly


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

Behavior changes in cats can be quite subtle and difficult to notice unless you are really paying attention. So next time you and your feline friend have some time together, observe what she or he is doing and in what context, that way you can ensure you companion is relaxed and happy.

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