A Guide to Cat Body Language

By Tara MacIsaac, Epoch Times
October 28, 2013 Updated: October 28, 2013

Cats communicate not only in purrs and growls but in many complex motions, using ears, eyes, tails, and body to express themselves. These expressions are often misunderstood. Here’s a guide to help you better understanding your cat.


Up: Happy and approachable
Down: Scared or threatened
Wagging rapidly: Agitated
Wagging slowly: Alert, assessing the situation
Stiff, up: Trying to appear larger, aggressive
Straight up and quivering: Excited. If your tom cat has not been neutered this gesture can also mean he is ready to spray.

A content cat with its tail up. (Shutterstock)



Forward: Content, playful
Backward: Irritated
Up: Alert
Flat against head: Defensive, angry, stressed. It’s good to give the cat the opportunity to hide or get up high. 
Swiveling: Attentive, trying to pick up sounds

A playful cat with its ears forward. (Shutterstock)




Dilated pupils: Surprised, scared, stimulated, nervous. If they are fully dilated, the cat may be defensively aggressive. Pupils may also dilate when a cat is playful.
Constricted pupils: Tense, aggressive. Pupils may also constrict, however, if a cat is content. 
Note the pupils may also change size simply according to the light.
Stare: Challenging
Slow blinking: Comfortable
Half-closed: Relaxed

Constricted pupils. (Shutterstock)

Dilated pupils. (Shutterstock)



Back arched, fur standing on end: Frightened, angry

Back arched, fur flat: Happy to be petted, welcoming

Belly up: Exposing its belly is a cat’s sign of trust, but it’s better to rub the head than the belly, according to Cats Protection. Rubbing the belly can be like a violation of the trust the cat is expressing. Cats will often nip at or push a human’s arm away when its belly is rubbed. 

Rubbing: Cats are marking objects, or their owners, with their scent.

*Image of cat on its back via Shutterstock