10 Ways to Read Your Cat’s Body Language

Cats communicate through expressive body language. From their meows to their fluffy tails, cats tell us a lot from their behavior.

Oct 11, 2023By Jessica Meder
ways to read your cat body language

Cats are some of the most expressive animals. Their body language and behaviors tell us a lot about how they are feeling, their needs, and why they act the way they do. This list provides ten examples of how cats express themselves and why.

10. Happy

Happy Cat

Everyone wants their cats to be happy. When your cat is relaxed with upright ears and a steady tail, these are great signs that they are pleased. Another common sign that a cat is happy is when they are purring. Purring has a calming effect on cats. The combination of purring and closed/slowly closing eyes perfectly show that they are feeling happy.

9. Stressed

Stressed Cat

Cats have some tell-tale signs that they are stressed. Growling can signal that they are stressed, but it can also signal other emotions. A low growl combined with the cat curling/scrunching into themselves signals that they are stressed. They also could have a puffy tail, pinned ears, panting, and dilated pupils.

8. Warning/Irritated

Irritated Cat

When cats start feeling stressed or angry, they will likely give off warning signals that they are displeased with their current environment. A low, quiet cat growl is a standard indicator of irritation with cats. Unlike dogs, cats wag their tails when annoyed or angry. If your cat is wagging its tail, it is likely irritated, and something needs to be changed. The faster the tail wags, the more irritated they are.

Another common sign that cats are irritated, more specifically when being pet, is petting aggression. Your cat may bite or swat when they are overstimulated when being pet. Most of the time, this is not meant to harm you but to show they are irritated with your actions.

7. Dominant

Dominant Cat

Cats are socially hierarchical animals. When there are multiple cats in a group, some will try to overpower others. When cats try to show dominance, they will tower over another cat, often with their back arched. They may also pin another cat down to assert their dominance. A cat’s dominant behavior does not mean that they are aggressive. This is part of the social behaviors between cats. Cats can play aggressively, but not often that cats that are socialized with each other appropriately will act out dangerously toward the other cat.

6. Submissive

Submissive Cat

Submissive cats reflect the opposite behavior when compared to dominant cats. They cower under another cat, shy away from intimidation, and do not fight for the top role when playing or establishing social dynamics. A cat’s submissive behavior does not mean they are weak or hurt. It is part of the social behaviors of cats.

5. Affectionate

Affectionate Cat

Despite their wild side, cats are very affectionate animals. When they form bonds with people or other animals, they are very open to showing their caring side. A common form of this behavior is kneading (commonly known as “making biscuits”). When a cat kneads, they mimic a behavior from when they were nursing as kittens. In adulthood, cats will do this as a comforting action and show affection.

Cats will also rub their head against people to put their scent on them. It means that you are a part of their family or their community. A communal scent is a sign of comfort and trust.

4. Territorial

Territorial Cat

Much like with affection, cats use their scent to mark their territories. When they rub their bodies on different objects, they keep them as their own. Cats can also show territorial behavior with their food and litter boxes. They are often very protective of these areas, especially around other animals.

3. Alert

Alert Cat

Cats are natural hunters. Because of this, they become highly alert in an instant. Their pupils will enlarge and focus, their stance will stiffen, and they often crouch into a hunting pose. When a cat is alert, it isn't easy to distract its attention from what they are focusing on. Cats can be stressed when awake, but a fear-inducing stimulus typically causes this. When alert about prey or toys, a cat is likely not stressed.

2. Hyper

Jumping Cat

Funny cat videos often show cats when they are in their most hyper states. Because cats are nocturnal, they will usually be hyper at night. When cats run and jump in excess (often called zoomies), you can see their hyper body language. They are alert with extra energy.

1. Content

Content Cat

Content cats are comfortable in their environments. This is how cats appear when relaxed, resting, and happy. Content cats are one with their surroundings. Their eyes are often open, and they are unaware of their surroundings. Cats are most content in a familiar environment when they are alone or with a trusted family member.

Jessica Meder
By Jessica Meder

Jessica is a writer and content creator currently living in Tampa, FL. She has two cats named Hermione and Demitri. As a lifelong animal lover, she loves creating content about household pets and wildlife. In her free time, you can find her at a coffee shop or in a bookstore—bonus points if it is pet-friendly!