How do I know what my cat is feeling?
Updated: Mar 15, 2022
Cats have a reputation for being aloof and not caring about their people, but just like dogs cats can express a wide range of emotions. They can also be just as loving and companionable as their canine counterparts. Part of discovering the many emotional facets of cats is understanding their body language.
It’s all good
A relaxed body and soft gaze let you know your cat is content and at ease. Their ears and whiskers will be relaxed, neither pushed forward or backward. A neutral tail that isn't swishing or twitching tells you Kitty is in a good mood.
Many cats love to be petted, but the problem is many people aren’t aware of a cat’s cues about where and how they would like pets. Offer the backside of curved fingers to your cat and pause. Your cat will tell you exactly where to pet by offering you their neck, top of head, or rear end in return. If they like what you’re doing you’ll get purrs, head bumps, and cheek rubs from them. Their hind end might rise up in an ‘elevator butt’ when you scratch near the base of their tail. They might make kneading motions with their paws (aka ‘making biscuits’). You might also see them flop to their side and rub against the ground. These are all great signs that your kitty is liking the attention.
Play with me
Playtime is serious business for cats. It can look a lot like hunting prey, and essentially, it is an outlet for cats’ natural hunting instincts. A cat in play mode will likely have an alert posture, zeroed in on whatever is catching their attention. They might crouch down as if to stalk something. Some cats will raise their back, make a rainbow curve with their tail, and move in a sideways hopping motion.
I need a break
One thing cats do extremely well is set their boundaries. When we don’t recognize or respect those boundaries, we get a hiss or a swat.. Remember that aloof cat who wants nothing to do with people? It could be that there needs to be some trust built, which you can do by listening when they tell you they would like a break or don’t like a certain type of petting.
Before they get to the hissing and swatting part, cats usually give other signs that they are reaching their limit: A swishing tail or twitching skin. Dilated pupils. A quick head flip towards a hand that is touching them. These behaviors often indicate your cat needs a break from petting or playing.
It’s hard to misunderstand a cat who is growling, hissing, swatting, spitting, or stomping. Other more subtle clues that your cat just isn’t feeling like company, or is even feeling fearful, include lip licking, ‘airplane ears,’ rapid breathing, and a tense, tucked in body. This video from Fear Free Homes gives a close look at cat body language in action.
Under the weather
One of the biggest challenges of being a pet parent is seeing your cat in pain. Cats do hide their physical discomfort well, so it can be tricky knowing when they’re not feeling one hundred percent. Your cat might seek more snuggles for comfort, or instead find a quiet, secluded spot to be alone. Usually a low appetite and more frequent naps or lethargic behavior let us know that something is not quite right, and it could be time to see a vet.
Providing an environment where your cat feels safe and respecting their boundaries by listening to their body language are excellent ways to build a loving bond. If your cat has a special way of letting you know how they feel, please share in the comments! Want deeper insight into what your cat is feeling? Book a lightwork session here.