Understanding cat behaviour

Cats body language can be subtle, meaning that it's not always obvious how they're feeling. Use this guide to help you recognise important body language signals.

If you're concerned about your cat's behaviour speak to your vet first who may then refer you to an animal behaviourist.

View the cat behaviour infographic.

A happy cat

These cats are relaxed and happy.

Graphic of cat standing and relaxed with tail curved © RSPCAGraphic of cat lying down on stomach and strecthed out © RSPCAGraphic of cat sitting and relaxed © RSPCA

  1. Cat is standing, has a relaxed body posture, ears are in a natural position, tail is held upright with the tip of the tail curved, eyes are normal shape, mouth is closed.
  2. Cat is lying down, belly is exposed, body posture is relaxed, body is stretched out, ears are in natural position, eyes may be partly closed, mouth is closed.
  3. Cat is sitting, body posture is relaxed, tail is held out loosely from body, ears are in natural position, eyes are a normal shape, mouth is closed.

A worried cat

These cats are telling you that they are uncomfortable and don't want you near them.

Graphic of cat crouched and tense with lowered body posture © RSPCAGraphic of cat hiding © RSPCA

  1. Cat is in a crouched position, muscles are tense, body is held tightly, tail is tucked tightly into body, ears are slightly swivelled sideways, head is slightly lowered and tucked into body, pupils are dilated, mild tension shows in face.
  2. Cats who are worried or anxious may hide.

An angry or very unhappy cat

These cats are not happy and want you to stay away or go away.

Graphic of cat lying down with flatterned and tense body © RSPCAGraphic of cat with body slightly rolled and showing teeth angrily © RSPCAGraphic of cat standing with arched body and hair raised showing teeth angrily © RSPCA

  1. Cat is lying down, body is flattened, ears are flattened to the head, pupils are dialated, tail is held tightly into body, body is tense, lims are held tight and close to body.
  2. Cat is lying down, body is flattened, ears are flattened to the head and drawn back, body is slightly rolled over to one side, pupils are dilated, mouth is open and tense, teeth are showing.
  3. Cat is standing, back is arched, body is held sideways, hair is raised, posture is tense, front paw is slightly lifted off the ground (ready to swipe if needed), ears are lowered and pointing out to the side, mouth is open and tense, teeth are showing, tail is tense.
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