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.
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.
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.
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