What Is Your Cat Saying?

As much as it may feel like your cat understands you perfectly and just chooses to do the opposite of what you want, cats don’t actually speak English. Most of cat communication is through body language, along with scent marking and sounds like meowing, hissing, growling, and so on. Since you are probably unable (and unwilling!) to use your cat’s scent marks to communicate with them, understanding their body language is your best bet.

When looking at your cat, watch their whole body – ears, tails, whiskers, and all that’s in between. Are they relaxed and stretched long? Tense and curled tightly? Ears up, back, or sideways? Tail up and relaxed, stiff, or swishing?

Cat Body Language

Below is a quick review of some of the important emotional states you may see in your cat. This is meant to provide you with a general sense of what to look for and list how most cats usually look and act. However, every cat is an individual and may use a slightly different combination of body language to communicate. Take time to watch your cat and you will begin to see what they’re telling you.

Signs Your Cat Is…

  • Loose body, stretched out or standing with a flat back
  • Tail up with slight curve or held loosely near body
  • Eyes open with “normal” almond-shaped pupils
  • Ears forward or slightly to side
  • Meowing or purring

  • Body tense with raised hair along back
  • Tail flicking, swishing, or held stiffly straight up
  • Pupils dilated (rounded)
  • Ears sideways
  • Growling or hissing
  • May turn head toward hands or lift a paw in warning
  • Body tense and still, crouching
  • Tail wrapped tightly around body
  • Pupils dilated
  • Ears sideways
  • Growling or hissing

  • Body tightly crouched with paws tucked underneath or standing with arched back
  • Raised hair on back and tail
  • Pupils dilated, possibly eyes closed
  • Ears fully sideways and/or back (“airplane ears”)
  • Growling or hissing

Need help understanding what your cat is saying and working on their behavior problems?