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Understanding your cat's body language and behavior
Your cat shares many of your emotions. At Purina you can find a practical guide for understanding your cat's body language and behavior.
Once you understand the basic aspects of your cat's behavior, you can quickly interpret how it feels. If you are trying to understand your cat's behavior, our guide will help explain everything you need to know to speak your cat’s language!
NEUTRAL STATE (RELAXED)
This is how your cat will spend most of his waking hours and is a fundamental part of its feline language: relaxed, happy and comfortable in a familiar environment. It should look as if it were satisfied to see life go by. .
- If it is lying down, it may be stretched out, curled up in a ball, or resting with its head raised and its legs neatly collected under its body.
- Its eyes will blink gently or they will be half-closed.
- Its ears will relax, keeping them carelessly upright and forward, although they will turn sideways if the cat hears something around it.
- Its whiskers will also be relaxed, moving away from its cheeks, as if it were smiling.
- Its body will maintain an elegant and relaxed posture, without any tension suggesting that it is about to strike.
WHEN YOUR CAT IS FOCUSED
It may seem cute and fluffy, but your cat was born and designed to be an excellent hunter: it can easily stalk and capture its prey, and is able to focus 100% on its target.
If your cat focuses on a small moving object, or something new around it, you will notice that its body language changes as it tries to decide what the best response to that stimulus is.
- Its eyes will open and its pupils will contract.
- Its ears and whiskers will be pointing forward, with its body inclined towards its target.
- Its body will be crouching while stalking, with its hind legs retracted under the body.
- Your cat’s tail will be standing to attention at a low position behind it. The tip of its tail, like its hindquarters, may move spasmodically as it prepares to attack.
- If it is focused on you, for example, if it’s trying to get a snack or a cuddle, it may rub up against you with its tail upright, but do not be fooled: it’s still focused on its objective!
A happy cat is easy to recognize: you will understand its body language easily. This is the state in which you want your cat to be in most of the time, since it’s the ideal state in which to enjoy a good time together.
- If it is sitting, it will be relaxed and upright, with its ears facing up and forward but relaxed, sometimes pointing them gently towards familiar sounds, like your family’s voices.
- If it is lying down, it may have its legs tucked under its body, stretched out on its side, or it may even be on its back with its legs extended outwards, which indicates that it is completely happy and at ease.
- It may doze off with its eyes closed or half open, or appear to have heavy eyelids, almost as if it were daydreaming. If it blinks very slowly, also try to blink slowly to show you that you are relaxed: this imitation behavior is a fantastic way to strengthen your bond with your cat.
- Its whiskers will relax and its tail will remain still (or vertical with a slight curve if you are greeting it). If you pet it, it may close its eyes with satisfaction and begin to purr gently.
Cats are very sensitive, especially to change. It can take cats a while to adapt to unexpected changes, so learning to recognize its anxiety symptoms will help you to help it relax. The sooner you recognize the signs of your cat's body language, the sooner you can give it a reassuring pat when it approaches you in search of trust and attention. Give your cat 2 or 3 days to get used to any big changes.
- Your cat’s eyes will be open without blinking, with pupils dilated in an oval or circular shape.
- Its ears may move from their relaxed front position in search of information, turning independently. If the cat is very anxious, it may even pull its head back.
- It will begin to lower its head, with its whiskers pulled back to look small and harmless, or it may move them forward as a sign of alert.
- As its anxiety increases, your cat will start to shrink, or arch its back getting ready to run.
- The language of a cat’s tail is very important: it may keep it still or slowly move the tip from side to side, which is a symptom of anxiety.
The behavior of an anxious cat can be subtle, but there’s no room for doubt when it is scared: if it’s afraid of something like a loud noise, your cat will not calm down with a quick pat and it is likely that even its favorite toy or treat won’t work. Its body language will tell you that it’s terrified, And it will only calm down when it feels safe. Try not to move abruptly when going to reassure it, since it could interpret this as another threat. Instead, if possible, eliminate anything that may be frightening it and wait for it to calm down.
If your cat shows this behavior frequently, it’s worth consulting your vet, so he can refer you to the appropriate specialist.
- Your cat's ears will fall backwards and its may lower its head while gazing directed upwards.
- It might run away or, if this is not possible, it will remain standing or squatting very still.
- Its eyes will be very open with fully dilated pupils and flat or bristling whiskers.
- They can hiss or spit at nearby threats, growl or hiss.
- Some cats stretch their front legs to look taller or arch their backs and bristle their hair to look bigger. Their tail may remain under their body or move quickly from side to side.
Your cat may express frustration at an immediate problem, such as not having its favorite toy, or suffer from continued depressive frustration from lack of stimuli, (for example, not being able to express its need to hunt).
It's easy to misunderstand a cat with long-term frustration, so if you think yours may be suffering from this problem, it is important that you ask your vet to help him recover a more pleasant state of being.
- An intensely frustrated cat usually focuses on its cause of frustration with determination, and will do everything possible to achieve its goal.
- All its senses are focused on its goal: eyes fully open with dilated pupils, ears forward and whiskers pointing forward and extended.
- It may walk around impatiently if it’s not able to get what it wants.
- Cats can’t hold on to this frustration forever, so if they do not get what they want, they may give up or, in some cases, fall into a state of constant frustration or even into a depression, depending on the source of its frustration.
- Cats with long-term depression may often seem lethargic, have no appetite and show no interest in playing or interacting with others.
If your cat displays angry behavior, you will have to be careful. Always avoid provoking an angry cat: do not stare at it or yell at it, do not make any sudden movements or try touching it or calming it down, as it can interpret this as a threatening gesture and attack you. Instead, retreat slowly, eliminate any possible threats (if you can do this safely) and give it time and space to calm down.
If your cat shows signs of anger frequently, you can ask your vet or an ethologist (Pet behavior specialist) help you understand the reason for this negative body language.
- An angry cat will be stiff, keep its tail stiff and straight, or curled around and underneath its body.
- It will act very differently from usual: may be silent, hiss, spit or growl.
- It will try to look big and threatening with bristly hair and very stiff front legs, or it will squatting with an intimidating demeanor.
- Its ears will be flattened and folded back, and whiskers will be rigid and pointing away from the face.
- Its look will be hard and penetrating. Its pupils will contract, although some cats can keep them rounded without blinking.
When an angry, frightened or frustrated cat feels that the threat has passed, it will begin to feel relieved. Learning to recognize signs of relief is just as important as recognizing when your cat is angry or scared, as this helps it regain its normal state of relaxation.
- Your cat’s whole body can show relief: some cats even stretch their bodies to release tension!
- Its eyes, ears, head, body and tail will visibly relax.
- Its whiskers will revert to their calm position, away from the face and it will lower its head.
- Some may yawn, divert attention and half-close their eyes, or even groom themselves.
With a certain knowledge of how your cat reacts to changes and their displays of happiness, you can help it stay healthy, both physically and emotionally. If you want more information on cat behavior, get in touch with our Pet Care team.
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