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Think You Know Your Cat? Here’s What Their Body Language is Telling You

5 minutes read

If you're a proud cat parent like me, you'll know that your feline companion isn't always easy to read.

For my whole adolescence, I wanted a dog so bad.

I constantly oozed over miniature dachshunds and fantasised about the day I'd finally get one of those fur-covered sausages.

But then I befriended my neighbour's cat, Millie – and dogs were a dream of the past.

I bought my first home and immediately filled it with chaos after finding Jafar and Safiya (Safi) – sibling kittens, born on my birthday, which was also Friday the 13th *queue spooky music*

Jafar (left) and Safi (right) - enjoying each others' company for once.

Since cats and dogs are two of the most popular household pets, they often get compared for their behaviours toward humans.

Dogs are praised for being a man’s best friend, while cats are shamed for being a**holes.

I wholeheartedly understand how people get to that judgement, but I think a better phrase to describe cats is - misunderstood.

To support this thought, Netflix recently released, Inside the Mind of a Cat – a one-hour documentary that shares research findings from the world's leading cat psychologists (erm, how do I apply?)

The documentary stresses how research on cats is hugely lagging compared to their canine equivalents – there is still so much mystery in how cats behave.

So, if in the last five minutes your cat has headbutted your calf, scraped its gums across your face, or hissed at your neighbour, Derek – here's some information that might help that bewildered look on your face.

😸 Signs of a Happy Cat

If you've learnt anything so far, it's that cats are nothing like humans or dogs.

They have some subtle (and not so subtle) tell-tale signs that they're feeling happy, safe, and content.

You can rest easy if your feline friend shows any of the following signs.

👁 Slow blinks – AKA cat kisses. This is a sure sign that your cat feels safe in its environment and wants to let you know that they feel relaxed in your company. Try slowly blinking back at your cat to reciprocate the feeling.


🐈 Raised tail – when your cat's tail is lifted and facing toward the ceiling, this is its way of greeting you. Gently approach your cat and give them a pet to acknowledge its courteous behaviour.

🤝 Shows their belly – people often confuse this with, "come and stroke my tummy", but this behaviour indicates that they're feeling playful and relaxed – it's equally a huge sign of trust. Ensure you pet their head, not their stomach, to avoid a savaged hand.

If this ain't a sure sign of a relaxed cat, I don't know what is.

😻 Hop-ups – nothing brings me more joy than when my cat, Safi, jumps on her back legs and gives the nearest hand a headbutt. This is another friendly greeting by cats, but the excitement usually comes from a place of need. (i.e., feed me, stroke me, please me.)

😿 Signs of a Stressed or Anxious Cat

Cats are highly intuitive and sensitive creatures. Since they are territorial, their well-being and sense of safety come from their home environment.

If something in their environment suddenly changes or causes an alert, this can result in your cat feeling anxious or stressed.

Here are some distinct indicators that your cat is feeling uneasy:

👂 Flat ears – cats' ears contain 32 muscles and can rotate up to 180 degrees! But, when your cat has flat ears, this indicates they're anxious.

🙈 Crouched body – this is their way of trying to hide. It may just be an unfamiliar smell or noise in your home that causes them concern. Ensure your cat has plenty of places to retreat when they feel this way – cats gravitate toward high areas for safety.

👀 Wide-eyed – although you might think of Puss in Boots when you imagine a wide-eyed kitty, your cat isn't trying to manipulate you like this famous feline. Dilated pupils paired with the above signs can indicate stress or anxiety.

It should be noted that cats can also have dilated pupils when they are excited or feeling playful - other paired behaviours should help communicate how they are feeling. 

🙀 Signs of a Threatened Cat

If your cat feels threatened, the signs are almost impossible to ignore.

Spiked fur – when a cat's hair stands on end and its tail bushes up like a feather duster; this is indicative of a threatened cat. This can happen during a fight with another cat or seeing an unknown and obscure object, i.e., me in fancy dress as a cat – Safi wasn't impressed.

Arched back – if your cat looks like a Halloween decoration, it's most likely feeling frightened. If there's something in their environment that you can remove to make them feel safe, do so.

source: seraficus from Getty Images Signature

Hissing – it goes without saying that hissing indicates a threatened cat. Call me a lousy cat mum, but I can't help but laugh when my cat, Safi, hisses at her brother, Jafar. Her tiny face is the least scary thing I have ever seen.

Safi, the ferocious beast.

😻 What About Purring?

You might have noticed I've missed the most distinguishable behaviour from the lists above.

Surely, purring means your cat is happy...

Well - not exactly. There's a big misconception about what it means when a cat purrs.

Since cats usually purr as a result of attention and affection, further research has developed to understand more underlying reasons for this attention-seeking behaviour.

Other than the commonly understood reason for happiness and contentment, cats can also purr because:

🤕 They're injured or in pain – studies have suggested that a cat's purr can aid in healing injuries and illness. So, cats may show signs of sickness or discomfort when they purr.

😖 Stress – like how they use purring to aid healing, cats associate their purr with a relaxed and soothing state. These intelligent creatures use their intricate system to provide therapy for themselves. Paired with a higher pitch purr or anxious behaviours (listed above), this could indicate a stressed cat.

🗣 Communication – Since mother cats and kittens use purring to communicate or express specific needs, cats can use purring to try and communicate with their humans. Pair this with other behaviours, like heading toward their food bowl; they're probably trying to tell you they want feeding.

💛 Cats Are a Man's Best Friend

Taking the time to educate yourself on these beautiful creatures you've decided to share your home with is crucial in supporting your cat to live a healthy and fulfilled life.

Cats do what they want – regardless of your understanding of them.

But knowing why your cat behaves the way it does will ensure you can meet their every need and be the good kitten slave that you are.

Meow, for now. 😽


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