What Your Cat's Body Language Means

Cat behavior is a conundrum. From the random gallops through the house to impromptu yoga poses, learning how to read your cat’s body language can make you a better pet-parent.

Here are some of the more enigmatic types of cat body language you may see on your journey to develop a psychic connection with your feline friend.

We’re All Equal

The first key to understanding cat body language is by viewing the world through your cat’s eyes. According to Dr. John Bradshaw, anthrozoology researcher and author of Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet, cats view humans as equal to themselves. In other words, we’re all just big cats.

This means that your cat uses the same body language to communicate with you as he does with other cats.

The Slow Blink of Trust

If you’ve been living with your cat for some time and he hasn’t tried to kill you, you’ve likely seen him give you the slow blink of trust. This highly-desirable form of body language usually happens when your cat is sitting or lying down and looking directly at you. You’ll see your cat slowly close his eyelids, pause for a moment, then open them again. 

While this signal can be easily confused with snobbish boredom, it’s actually your cat’s way of saying that he trusts you.

Cats are survivalists by nature, which means they’re always on alert for threats. It’s the same reason why your cat seems to challenge every new visitor to your house to a staring contest. When your cat is unsure of someone, he refuses to take his eyes off the suspect. But when he feels safe, he lets you know by willingly closing his eyes and letting his guard down.

So the next time your ferocious fluff ball gives you the slow blink of trust, give it right back. Congratulations - you’ve just bonded with your cat a bit more.

The Gaping Snarl

Usually when we see animals (or people) snarl, it’s a sign of aggression or annoyance, right? Not so with cats. When a cat opens his mouth slightly and curls back his lips in a semi-smile, he’s actually trying to play “Guess That Smell.”

Unlike other mammals who rely on smell, your cat has a leg up. Your cat has an extra smell-sensing organ in the roof of his mouth called the Jacobson’s organ. This odd facial expression is actually called the flehmen response and lets your cat maximize his smelling superpower.

No need to worry. He’s not mad at you. He’s just trying to decide if he likes the flavor of the air.

Belly-Up Yoga

This one probably has you snapping pictures and saying “awww” every time. It’s when your cat lays on his back and lets his paws flail about. Some cats take to a graceful twist while others look like dropped pancakes.

Whichever form your cat takes, when he’s belly up, don’t pet him. While it’s true that being belly-up is a sign of vulnerability and trust, it’s not an invitation for contact. In fact, touching your cat on his belly while he’s in this position can make him feel threatened, anxious, or defensive - hence the horrid scratching 3 seconds later.

Resist the urge to bury your face in that adorable, fuzzy belly and save the petting for when your cat is laying on his side or when he comes to you.

Talking Back

While your cat expects you to catch on to his language, he’s also picking up what you’re layin’ down. Over the 9,000 years that cats have been living as domesticated pets, they’ve caught on to the fact that humans are vocal creatures. This is why your cat will meow at you when you speak to him.

Oddly enough, cats use very few vocalizations with other cats, say researchers at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Those meows are just for you. So you should feel pretty special the next time your cat tries to speak your language.

In fact, cats will use specific sounds when they want to tell you certain things. Every cat has his own vocabulary, so our glossary of meows will look different than yours. But if you pay attention to the sound your cat greets you with when you come home, the sound he makes when his bowl is empty, and the way he claps back when you say his name, you’ll start to notice patterns.

Couple that with your new-found knowledge of how to read your cat’s body language, and you two will be in perfect harmony.

Here's a little "cheat sheet" for you to keep

Does your cat have some odd or adorable body language? Snap a pic and share it with us on Instagram @PrettyLitterCats or tell us more on Facebook.

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Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell

Author



18 Responses

Laura tinoco
Laura tinoco

September 21, 2018

We have 2 cats…one is sweet, the other is salty. If the tuxedo cat is belly up, rub away! If the tabby is belly up, it’s a trap!! 😂😂😂

Tony
Tony

September 10, 2018

My Noodles is born feral and I’m the only one that can ever see her
As soon as anyone knocks or rings the door bell, she’s off and running under the bed. And won’t come out until the coast is clear.
She’ll sleep in my lap. After is constantly playing with with Apple my yorky, who is half her size.
She always gives me the close eye so I feel pretty special!!!

Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell

January 04, 2018

Marisol – I have a cat who loves bey rubs, too! I think every once in a while a few cats break the mold and throw us a curveball. Just like some cats hate having their paws touched while others love foot rubs, some cats are just odd, which makes them infinitely more lovable, in my opinion. Getting to know each cat’s likes, dislikes, and unique quirks is half the fun of being a cat parent!

Marisol
Marisol

November 23, 2017

I don’t know what to say about the belly up rubs, because my calico absolutely loves it when I pat her tummy in this position. She only does it when she’s making biscuits and taking a break. She doesn’t mind at all and has never tried to scratch me or bite me when I rub her belly. However, my two males kitties are less desiring of belly rubs. They prefer to be laying down sideways if I rub their bellies. Perhaps, it’s more of a preference or tolerance issue?

Jim Anderson
Jim Anderson

November 09, 2017

We have two cats, a Siamese and an alley cat whose mother was ferral. At 7p.m. every night they both jump up on the arms of our leather chair for treats. They have to sit first, which they do when reminded. The Alley Cat retrieves a toy from his basket of toys, usually a stick with a feathery “thing” on the end. After playing a while, my wife throws it back to the basket, the cat retrieves it (twice) and they play until he loses interest. Cats can be trained.

Colleen O'Ryan
Colleen O'Ryan

October 15, 2017

I have Three fur babies and have had them since they were born. One very polite and generous Boy and two Girls. They all like to lay on their backs, with belly ALL exposed to
anyone that will spend the time giving them a Belly Rub /Massage. It seems to help them get rid of frustrations and

just feel very good.

I had read that IF a Cat Lay like that then it was because they felt very safe and secure WERE they were at all!!!! My Boy, Oreo, comes to me and asks for me to rub his belly. He will roll from one side to the other SO that I get ALL of his belly and sometimes I put him to o sleep by doing that. They love it so much that I will never stop making them feel wonderfully and give them some stress relief.
, Because I have Three very sensitive Cat’s.
I even had to get them special for for their bellies. So, what do you think 3

 Cat
Cat

October 14, 2017

I have been blinking at and back at cats for years. I call it giving me sweet eyes when they slow blink at me.. I have bonded very quickly with rescues this way. Also my girl often lays on her back with her belly exposed . And i gotta tell you.. I often rub her belly or put my face on her belly.. She loves it .. She usually starts licking me.. I have done this now and then to my other cats through the years and seldom have they minded. I think it is more about knowing your cats and knowing what they consider allowable and what they like and don’t like. And also your relationship with them..
Lauren
Lauren

October 13, 2017

I’ll stop the belly up yoga rubs. Oops. He just looks so darn cute.

Larry Jordan
Larry Jordan

October 13, 2017

My wife and I have been married for 44 yrs. and have always had a variety of pets that always included at least 2 cats. They do seem to like reversing the roles. If one does have a good relationship with their cat, they will ‘train’ you just as much, if not more, than you try to train them! lol Many of our past feline friends, as well as our current 2 ‘seniors’, both 14-1/2 now, like to think they are our ‘guardians’ and that we are their ‘pets’! They do to a large degree rule the ‘roost’ here. lol They have adapted well to the PrettyLitter and are now using it exclusively. I like it as well. Thank you for your product.

Jen Eldredge
Jen Eldredge

October 12, 2017

Good article as I am trying to figure out our new cat’s personality. Does anyone know how to turn off the Beeketing pop-ups on this page? Soooo annoying. I wanted to read this article but the page was blocked over and over.

Carole
Carole

October 12, 2017

I also want to know why my cat never covers his poo, Annelise.
October 12, 2017

Josie Newhouse
Josie Newhouse

October 12, 2017

I enjoyed the article. Thanks! My kitty loves Pretty Litter. Great product.

Angela Cowger
Angela Cowger

October 12, 2017

As an avid cat lover with a multiple cat household, I’m always looking for ways to improve my cats care. Pretty Litter is amazing! It really does eradicate it the litter smell and my cats love it! I am sold on this product and have recommended it to other cat lovers. Thank you!

Jonathan Kolber
Jonathan Kolber

October 12, 2017

Well done! I’ve read dozens of such articles over the years, and learned some new things today.

Annelise
Annelise

October 12, 2017

Still wish I could figure out why my cat never buries her poo. :/

Peggy Magyar
Peggy Magyar

October 12, 2017

I have a cat that does not purr. She seems happy and at ease, comes when called or answers when I call her, an otherwise seems like any normal cat. I’ve had her since she was about 10=weeks old, and she did purr a bit then. She’s now 5/years old. A purebred Bengal, and my other family member is a 12 year old Papillon. Any ideas?

Margaret Summit
Margaret Summit

October 12, 2017

As seniors with 3 cats, we have switched to Pretty litter , and it is a life saver…no more heavy litter to throw away, and no more heavy litter to lug up 2 flights of stairs…it may cost a little more, but it is safer for us in the long run….and the cats seem to love it as much…

robert
robert

October 12, 2017

well,I learned few things here today.

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