How to Read a Cat’s Body Language

Which of the cats in the above photos looks happy? Which looks scared? Which look angry? Which looks playful? What is it about their eyes, ears, and whiskers tells you how they feel?


Wide-open eyes are good. Your cat is feeling friendly, curious, or excited. Half-closed eyes mean your cat trusts you enough to relax.

Slit eyes and narrowed pupils are bad. Your cat is feeling stressed, scared, or angry. Stay away!

Stares are the way that your cat shows a desire for control. In contrast, slow blinks are one way that your cat shows affection. If you receive one, return the love with a slow blink.


Forward ears are good. Your cat is feeling content and could also be inviting you to play.

Straight up ears and twitching ears are signs that your cat is on the alert and perhaps is on a mission. By keeping their ears straight up during play or while on the hunt, cats can hear what they need to make a great pounce.

Sideways and backwards ears are bad. If your cat’s ears look like they’re in “airplane mode,” your cat is ready to “take off in flight.” Your cat may be feeling anxious or ready to defend itself. Let your cat find a hiding space and regain its confidence.


Whiskers to the side mean your cat is happy. If you see your cat with relaxed whiskers, use the opportunity for a petting session.

Fanned forward whiskers is a sign that your cat is on the prowl and is open to play. The cheek pads will also appear to puff up.

Pulled back whiskers are a sign of fear. The flattened whiskers are a defensive reaction that make your cat look smaller.


High tails and curved tails are typically good. Your cat is in a friendly mood. A little twitch or a slight curve can mean your cat is actively inviting you to hang out or play.

Loose swishing tails typically means your cat is focused on an object. You might see this tail before your cat pounces on toys or food. In contrast, tight whipping tails indicate that your cat is aroused. Your cat might lash its tail during play, but it also might be saying STOP.

Tucked tails, lowered tails, and puffed tails are bad. Your cat will typically start out by crouching with its tail tucked to signal submission. A lowered tail conveys unhappiness, while a tail that’s erect like a pipe cleaner means your cat feels backed into a corner, with no choice but to attack.

Wrapped tails sometimes mean that cats want to be alone or are trying to warm themselves. Most often, your cat will curve its tail around another pet or you to show friendship.

Now you know your cat is talking to you every day! Not just with a “MEOW,” but with their eyes, ears, whiskers, and tail! Use what you know know about a cat’s body language to better understand your cat.

Written for Lakes Animal Friendship Society and reprinted with permission. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2020. Photos are courtesy of Pixabay.

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