Understanding Cats' Body Language

Cat body language
rabertid12 / Twenty20
  • 01 of 10

    Cats Communicate Non-Verbally

    picture of cat with fever eyes
    Sumner is clearly showing fever eyes, with a temperature of 104 farenheit. Note the third eyelid. photo © Margaret Schill AKA GalensGranny

    We can learn a lot about our cats' temperament, as well as their health at any given time by learning and observing their body language. They may or may not vocalize, but in most cases, cats' body language is unmistakable.

    As an example, the "third eyelid," known also as the nictitating membrane, in the inner corner of the eye, normally barely shows. However, when a cat is very sick, the third eyelid will show. Combined with a "glassy look" and other symptoms, the appearance of...MORE the third eyelid is an indication, in this case, for immediate veterinary intervention. Sumner, pictured here, had a temperature of 104° and was a very sick cat.

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  • 02 of 10

    Third Eyelid with Happy Eyes

    Photo of Cat with Happy Eyes
    The slightly open third eyelid is an indication that Evinrude is having a moment of bliss. photo © Mell AKA TC's Mommy Dearest

    On the other hand, the third eyelid will often show when a cat is very contented, or very sleepy, or both. Evinrude here is enjoying some "lovies" from his human, and the circumstances indicate that he is very happy, rather than sick. This is a convincing argument for knowing your cat's normal disposition, behavior, and observing his body language during various daily events. You'll be better equipped to quickly access and respond when something goes amiss with your cats.

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  • 03 of 10

    Cats' Intense Interest: Predatory?

    Cat watching bird outside of window
    Coco displays intense interest in the woodpecker just outside her window. photo © HOSTPat

    Cats display interest with a number of body signals. Their ears will tilt forward to better hear. Whiskers direct forward and their eyes will widen. In this picture, Coco displays more of a predatory interest. One can almost hear Coco chittering at the noisy woodpecker just outside her window. Her slightly "curled" upper lip and open mouth indicate that she is most likely displaying the flehman response to the temptation of the bird. Her crouched posture and slightly turned-back ears, as...MORE she schemes toward catching it are also a dead giveaway to her emotions.

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  • 04 of 10

    Cat Body LanguageCautious Interest in New Cat

    cats in cautious meeting
    Ronron exhibits curiosity, interest, and possibly fear or aggression toward new housemate Philo. photo © Rachel Church

    The way integration of a new cat to existing cats in a household lays the groundwork for their future social hierarchy. Ronron, the cat on the right, appears to be displeased with the intrusion of Philo. Ronron has one cautious paw raised and her head is pulled back slightly, indicating " fear aggression," and both cats are staring intently at each other (an attempt at intimidation.) However, as Rachel pointed out, Ronron's ears are still directed in Philo's direction, so we can...MORE tell her curiosity is stronger than her fear.

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  • 05 of 10

    Cats' Active/Passive Competition

    two cats with one mouse
    The jury is out over who will keep the mouse, Veto or Ninja?. photo © Yesrie

    These two cats are playing a familiar game of competition, and the winner remains to be seen, judging by their body language. Yesrie, the human caregiver to these ebony companions, describes the scene best:

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  • 06 of 10

    Fight or Flight?

    Photo of cat with puffed tail and arched back
    Mr.Cat shows the puffed up tail and arched back of a cat ready for flight or fight - play fighting?. photo © Tanis

    It is uncertain whether Mr. Cat is in a flight or fight mode. His puffed up tail, arched back, and sideways position are indicative of both, depending on the circumstances. Cats will assume this posture when frightened, but also when they are preparing to do battle, whether it be for real or in play fighting. Have you ever watched two young kittens play-fighting? They will face off in this position, then one will launch himself sideways onto the back of the other, and their rough-housing will...MORE begin.

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  • 07 of 10

    Trouble Brewing

    Two cats brewing trouble
    Trouble is brewing between Bandit and George, but is temporarily at bay. photo © Lwittemire

    This is a favorite perch on the porch for viewing the bird feeder which can be seen in the background. George's expression: ears slightly lowered to the side, indirect eye contact, and erect posture, indicate that he's not pleased that Bandit is taking up the entire space, and some form of physical resolution to the situation may be forthcoming. Bandit is attempting to make eye contact and reading George's signals, although he really doesn't seem too concerned. He was there...MORE first. "Bring it on, big boy."

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  • 08 of 10

    Feline Possessiveness

    picture of cat with feather duster
    This is a classic picture of a cat fairly shouting, Mine, all mine!. photo © Shari

    Gus shows possessiveness with his feather duster, whether against another cat or a human pursuer. Laid-back whiskers and ears, slightly crouched body position, and lowered tail make it very clear that no one, whether cat or human, had better try to take away HIS feather duster.

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  • 09 of 10

    Innocent Victim Caught in Cat Fight

    Cat caught in the middle of a fight
    Auntie and Grandma are going at it in earnest while Buzzbomb is saying, Let me outta here!. Photo Credit: © HOSTYesrie

    This picture is a priceless scene of an innocent victim caught in between two cats who are duking it out. The aggressiveness of the two combatants is unmistakable, while poor Buzzbomb, caught in the middle, wants to be anywhere but here.

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  • 10 of 10

    Dominance and Resignation

    Photo of two cats sleeping
    Even in sleep, Jaspurr exhibits dominant body language, while Bubba shows resignation in yielding. photo © Franny Syufy

    Bubba (the gray cat) is a 17-year-old alpha cat in retirement. He has willingly turned over his legacy to Jaspurr, three years old. Whether intentional or not, even at sleep, Jaspurr has asserted his dominance over Bubba with his back leg thrown over Bubba's neck. Bubba, in turn, gazes inward in apparent resignation. It should be noted that shortly after this photo was taken, they were engaging in mutual grooming, evidence that Bubba still retains control at times.