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How to Know What Your Cat is Thinking

The information posted on this blog is based on the author’s personal experience. What works for some pets may not be right for you and yours. Please consult your veterinarian for all of your pet’s health, wellness, dietary, and behavioural issues.
Calico cat with big eyes on hind legs wearing bell collar

Have you ever looked at a cat and wondered what they were thinking? Unlike dogs, who are more obvious about their feelings, cats can be more mysterious and difficult to read. A cat communicates with body language, they way they move, and the noises they make. To really understand cat communication styles, watch their behavioural patterns. Here are a few common ways to know what your cat is thinking.

Tails

  • A tail that is straight up means a cat is happy (a great tail to see!); a tail facing down maybe be a sign that they feel threatened or scared
  • A tail that quickly moves back and forth may mean they feel agitated or want to be left alone (no petting!)
  • A puffed-up tail means a cat is scared or feels threatened
  • A tail curled towards the cat’s body means it is feeling friendly or curious; a tail curled away from the cat’s body can mean it is unsure of a situation

Ears

  • When ears are up, a cat is happy or listening attentively; when ears are flat back against the head, it is a sign that the cat is angry
  • If ears are forward, a cat is feeling playful or attentive
  • When a cat makes their ears flat and out to the side, they feel angry, aggressive, or threatened (leave your cat alone at this point to let them calm down)

Eyes

  • Slow-blinking eyes means your cat trusts you or feels comfortable; unblinking eyes means they are focused on something, or may also feel threatened by something
  • Dilated pupils can mean they are curious, trusting, surprised, fearful, or excited: constricted pupils mean your cat is potentially upset or agitated, so leave that furry friend alone. (If your cat is sunbathing and their pupils are constricted, they’re likely just relaxing!)
  • Half-closed eyes can mean a cat is relaxing, trusting of you, or that their guard is down

Body

  • When a cat’s body is rigid or stiff, it often feels angry or upset
  • A cat will pace if they don’t get what they want (like that ice cream you’re eating)
  • A cat will cower and lower its body when it feels anxious or upset
  • If your cat is stretching its back up high, like a Halloween decoration, it’s either stretching or potentially feels threatened (this usually includes hissing, spitting, yowls, and fur standing straight up)

Meows/Vocals

  • If a cat feels threatened or angry by something in its environment, it can
    hiss, spit, or even snort(be cautious when introducing new pets into the home!)
  • A cat may yowl out of desperation when they don’t get what they want
  • Purring can mean a few things – cats are content and relaxed, emitting a low, slow purr, or frustrated, emitting a louder, faster purr
  • Trilling can mean a cat is happy, nervous, or even that it’s in heat
  • Meowing can also mean a few things – cats may feel lonely, hungry, bored, or just talkative. A cat meows low and long if they feel upset or are defending their territory

Each cat behaves differently; there is no definitive list to live by, but these signs can help you better know what your cat is thinking. Pay attention to what they show you because it helps you understand what they are thinking. Take time with your cat and be patient – you’ll develop a mutual, harmonious way to live.

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About the authors

This blog is written and maintained by GEARS volunteers! We are a mix of animal behaviour enthusiasts, storytellers, adoptive parents, and just plain animal lovers.

Do you have a great GEARS “Happily Ever After” story to share? Are you an expert on dog/cat training methods? We’d love to have you guest post! Send an email to marketing@edmontonanimalrescue.org

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