Figuring out what your kitty is saying is easy with this handy guide that explains the ways cats express themselves.

By Kristi Valentini
June 17, 2021
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cat laying in lap
Credit: Alena Ozerova / Adobe Stock

Have you ever wondered what your cat was thinking? It can be hard to read felines because they have natural poker faces. Even though kitties don't convey their feelings with facial expressions, they do communicate in other ways that you can pick up on.

"Body language is the cat's primary method of communication, even more so than meowing," Angela Hughes, DVM, PhD, Global Scientific Advocacy Relations Senior Manager and Veterinary Geneticist at Mars Petcare, says. "Learning how to tell what your cat is saying is a great way to strengthen your bond. It helps you better understand your kitty's wants and needs so you can respond to them."

How to Read Your Cat's Signals

Cats mostly express themselves with the position of their tails, bodies, and ears as well as their eyes. Here's how to decipher what your feline is trying to tell you:

Slow Blinks

Cats sometimes show that they're feeling happy and relaxed by slowly lowering their eyelids. It's a slow-motion blink that says, "I'm chill. You're chill. We're all chill." A recent study found that cats are more likely to approach someone who throws a slow blink their way too. So, give it a try!

Back Rolls

When kitties roll on their backs, it's a sign that they're feeling especially at ease. "The tummy is a very vulnerable area for a cat to show. It takes a certain level of trust and comfort for cats to expose their bellies," Hughes shares. Seeing a flash of tummy means your feline feels safe with you.

Purring and Kneading

Sometimes cats turn into massage therapists, kneading your body with their paws and purring away. This is a cat's primary way of showing love. Typically, when your cat is purring, he's sharing how happy and content he feels. But if you notice your kitty purring at odd times, it could be your cat's way of dealing with stress. "In some circumstances, cats may purr, knead or suck on something to self-soothe," Hughes notes.

Licking or Nibbling

If your cat licks or nibbles you, it's because he considers you part of his pride. Your kitty is saying that he sees you as an important part of his social circle.

Tail Up and Vibrating

Ever notice your cat's erect tail vibrating when you get home from work and take out his favorite treats? That's a sign your kitty is excited.

Headbutts

In the world of people, headbutting communicates anger. But it's the opposite with cats. It's just another way felines show love. A head butt to your legs or face is a nudge to get your attention and affection.

Tail Swishing Back and Forth

Generally, says Hughes, a swishing tail indicates fear. But it can also be a playful motion showing that your four-legged friend is interested in something. Consider the situation to figure out what your cat is trying to tell you.

Chatter

When your kitty makes quick, little bursts of sound-usually while watching birds or other prey -it's called chatter and it's adorable. It means your cat is excited, Hughes says.

Ears Down and Back

When a cat's ears are pinned flat against the head, it's generally a sign he's frightened. But in some situations, it can be a sign your kitty is about to pounce in play.

Chirping

A chirp is a short, rolling meow (sounds more like rowr) that mama cats use to call their babies to them. According to the Humane Society, if your kitty chirps at you, it's a request to follow them (perhaps to the food bowl or to the door).

Hissing

Hissing is never a friendly gesture. It's almost always a sign that your cat is frightened or overstimulated, says Hughes. Give your kitty some space or a safe place to get away from others for a while if he's hissing.

While the above guidelines hold true in most cases, Hughes cautions that kitties are individuals who might not always follow the rules. "Pay attention to what your cat specifically likes and dislikes and how he tends to respond. That'll give you the best understanding of what your kitty is communicating in various situations."