Cat Care

Cat Language

Cat Care > Cat Language

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In the cat, body language is a very important means of communication. An alert but relaxed cat walks along with its tail held high, possibly with the end bent forwards slightly, and the ears pricked up. When its owner approaches, it may lower its head and raise its rear quarters, holding the tail erect and rocking slightly before purring and rubbing against the person's legs as described above. The cat's behavior expresses pleasure and anticipation in meeting its owner. Tail wagging that becomes steadily more pronounced is a means of expressing anger and is usually accompanied with growling.

A cat that is frightened by the approach of another animal it perceives as a potential threat tenses its whole body and may be ready to run if necessary. The pupils of the eyes widen and the cat may crouch down, lower its tail and flatten its ears against its head, which are submissive gestures. If the encroaching stranger approaches too closely, however, the cat may arch its back, raise its body hair and stand sideways, accompanying these warning signs with growling, hissing and bared teeth. The tail is usually held erect and, while still alarmed, the cat is trying to communicate that it is not to be trifled with. This defensive behavior combines elements of submission (widened pupils and flattened ears) with those of aggression (raised hackles, arched back, bared teeth and growling). If this approach does not deter the encroaching animal, the cat may spring into the attack, especially if it thinks that it cannot escape.

In encounters with other cats, the behavior displayed depends on the circumstances and the individual temperament of each animal. If both animals are torn cats, each may adapt a determined and aggressive stance to establish which is dominant. Each cat tenses its body and stretches its head foreword, with ears pricked and tail held stiffly horizontal or slightly lower than the line of its back. The tail waves slightly and each cat slowly and stiffly approaches the other with narrowed pupils, trying to stare out its opponent. These movements are accompanied with angry growling that rises and falls in intensity. During this 'standoff' period, tail-wagging and growling may increase until, if neither backs down, one cat eventually launches into attack. The weaker cat may eventually show submissive behavior, crouching down and flattening its ears or running away in retreat.

Licking and cat grooming is another indication of mood in a cat. When excited or upset, the cat may lick itself with vigorous, quick movements in an almost obsessional manner, as if trying to shut out what is happening around it. This is a type of displacement activity that seems to help the cat to cope with whatever has caused its agitation as a means of calming it down. This type of licking is in marked contrast to the slow, luxurious grooming indulged in by a relaxed and contented cat that is at peace with itself and its surroundings.

Cats may change quite suddenly from submissive to defensive behavior and this occasionally arises when an animal is being stroked and petted. A cat often lays half on its side and half on its back with the upper paw raised while being stroked. This is similar to the submissive posture adapted when trying to appease another potentially aggressive cat, but the raised paw is ready to strike if necessary.

Usually, if stroking continues beyond a certain point, the cat suddenly becomes irritated and lashes out with its claws and teeth before leaping up and jumping away. It seems that the animal suddenly feels threatened and the stroking is no longer welcome, as though the attention is coming from another cat. Usually, before the moment of attack is reached, the cat gives warning signs such as flicking its tail and possibly growling. It is wise to be wary when stroking a cat in this position and to avoid continuing for too long, as this behavior is common and can be quite painful for the person concerned!