Cat Talk: Cat Body Language

Understanding Cat Body Language

What Does This Cat's Body Language Say?
What Does This Cat's Body Language Say?. Photo Credit: © iStock Photo/Debi Bishop

Cat Body Language

Cats rely on a distinct feline body language composed of vocalizationsscent cues, and eartaileye and fur cues to communicate. Body postures also make a statement.

Cats use body postures to smooth or establish relationships. A cat who blunders into another’s territory must be able to apologize, and the offended cat must understand, or fights would constantly erupt. Cats avoid fights by bluffing with universally understood feline postures.

Confident Cats

Confident cats face the unknown head on. This position allows them to be ready to strike or defend, if necessary. Fearful cats turn sideways and arch their backs, to look larger than they are. This bluff may make the perceived threat go away.

Cats also use scratching to show status. Scratching offers three levels of communication: visual marks, scent cues, and the action itself. Similarly, cats place themselves on high perches to show elevated social position, but retreat to low hidden areas such as under the bed to communicate lower status, uncertainty, or fearfulness. This also takes them out of competition for the most prestigious, high-ranking territory such as tops of windowsills, owner beds, and top tiers of cat trees. Territorial aggression may also present itself between long-term family cats and newer additions. It seems where cats are involved, a permanent territory is not always guaranteed.


Submissive Cats

Cats surrender by flattening themselves on the ground to look as small and non-threatening as possible. They tuck all four feet beneath them, and hold ears and tail tight against the body.

Cats may posture fifteen minutes or longer without fur flying until one finally backs down. The cat who chases off the less dominant cat wins the confrontation.

However, in multi-cat households, it may be just a matter of time before the "winning" cat is confronted by another contender for the crown. It seems there is always a newcomer or a background cat eager to claim the prize, even temporarily. 

The lesson here for us humans is "never assume anything" when it comes to our cats' hierarchy. Today's alpha cat may be tomorrow's retiree, and Timmy Timid may end up being the new alpha.

Affectionate Cats

Cats place themselves in vulnerable positions to communicate affection and trust. They groom one another or their owner, solicit play by rolling and presenting their tummies, and may sleep, cuddle or play together. The cat sleeping with his back to you or rolling over on his back, showing his vulnerable tummy to you is showing ultimate trust.

Touching noses or bumping hips as they pass also are signs of trust and affection. And the cat that leaps into your lap, turns around, and presents his (ahem!) nether regions invites you to sniff — is offering the feline equivalent to a friendly handshake.