Cat Body Language – What Is My Cat Saying?
Cat are way more flexible that you or I could probably ever hope to be. Therefore, they can get into positions that mean so many different things. And, with their tail, they have a cat tail language all their own. While cats don’t have speech like we do, they can convey quite a lot simply by what they do and how they use their tails.
There have been whole books written on cat body language, therefore it would be madness to try and cover every aspect in this one article. However, I do believe it is possible to cover the most frequent messages you will get from your cat – the things they do the most often, and they way they use their tails most often.
Why does my cat flick her tail and purr at the same time?
Cat tail signs, such as a flicking tail, can mean many things. If a cat is flicking it’s tail and is crouched, it’s usually an indication that they are stalking, or watching prey, ready to pounce.
At other times, the flicking tail will indicate that the cat is annoyed and you should keep away.
A cat will also sometimes flick his tail when he is being petted even though he is purring at the same time.
In my experience, a flicking tail means caution. If you are playing with your cat, it’s a sign that they are really into playing and you shouldn’t get too close. This is a great sign, in that they are really engaged with the play and they should be interested for several minutes. On the other hand, it also means they may overshoot and hit your foot if you aren’t careful.
If you come upon your cat, and want to pet them, or call them and they sit still and flick their tail, this means that they don’t want to be disturbed. In this case of cat body language – tail flicking is a definite warning.
When my cats flick their tail while being petted, and they purr at the same time, I still take this as a warning not to make any sudden moves, or pet them too harshly. Usually, when my cats come up to be petted, they don’t flick their tail and they seem to be pretty “blissed out” with the petting. But, when my cat is flicking her tail, she doesn’t get that “blissed out” look, even though she is purring. She shifts position several times, as if trying to get comfortable, and generally doesn’t stay for a long time. To me, this indicates that she likes the petting, but something is “off.” Who knows if it’s the temperature in the room, the way I’m sitting, or some subtle sign I’m giving her that I’m annoyed. Of course, the longer she takes to try to settle, I’m bound to actually get annoyed, so this isn’t far off.
While my cats don’t flick their tail all the time, other cats do. In this case, it is probably their way of saying they are happy, like a dog’s tail wagging. Only when you watch your cat for awhile and get to know him or her will you be able to determine if the tail flicking is a warning, or a sign of happiness. When it doubt, consider it a warning and tread carefully. At the very least, it will let your cat know that you aren’t threatening them, and they will be more comfortable with you.
Why does my cat come up to get petted, then turn around and present her behind to me with her tail straight up? Does she want me to check out her behind?
As a matter of fact, yes she does want to you to check out her backside; it’s a way of greeting.
Cats use scent to recognize other beings the way we use faces. Cats will greet each other by sniffing noses. Then if your cats get along (mine don’t!), they will move on to rubbing their cheeks together and then smell each others’ tails and tushes. Sometimes, you will see them go straight for sniffing each others’ hind ends as a way of greeting and making sure who they are.
So, when it comes to humans, they treat us with the same greeting ritual. They don’t realize we don’t recognize others by sniffing their “tails”, so they think they are just giving us the opportunity to greet them. You won’t break them of the motion; the best you can do is gently turn them and pet their head. As I say to my cat that does this most often, “Could I please have the head end? I’m not that fond of the tail end.”
There is one advantage to this though – as pet owners, we need to check out our cats’ whole bodies, including their tails and behind. When they give us their butt, with tail held high, it’s an opportunity to make a quick visual inspection to make sure everything looks good.
So, see straight up cat tails meaning a greeting, and an opportunity to do a quick health check.
Why does my cat “knead” me?
This is an instinctive motion, also called “making biscuits.” Depending on the cat, they will knead with claws extending out on the “push” and retract them on the “pull.”
Kittens do this as they snuggle against their mothers. It may help them to get the milk started. At one time, it was believed that this motion meant the cat was weaned too early. However, all adult cats do so, regardless of when they were weaned.
No matter whether it relates directly to kitten-hood or not, when cats do it, they are happy. Often, they will purr at the same time.
Since it is instinctive, you won’t be able to break them of it, nor is it a good idea to punish them in any way for it. They will do it on many soft surfaces, be that a blanket, pillow, pile of clean clothes, or your lap.
The best way to handle it, if the claws coming out hurts when they are in your lap, is one, or both, of two ways:
- Trim your cat’s claws so that they don’t hurt during kneading.
- Place something between you and the cat’s paws. Perhaps a blanket, or what I like to do, is see if I can get my cat to settle on a pillow in my lap. It gives her something to knead instead of my leg. It also gives her a stable place to lie, so she doesn’t keep shifting, trying to get comfortable on my legs.
Why do cats rub against you, or rub their face against things?
Cat have scent glands on their heads and cheeks. By rubbing against things, like furniture, door frames, and even you, they are distributing their scent and marking you as theirs.
If a cat is rubbing against your face, or as my cat does, sniffing around my lips, this is part of a greeting. Just like when they offer you their behind to “sniff”, they are checking out your scent, making sure you are you and checking out any changes they can find in your scent.
Cats may also do this if you return from somewhere you have been petting or interacting with another cat. They will sniff you and smell the other cat. Then sometimes will rub all over you, in order to erase the smell of the other cat and mark you as theirs again.
Why does my cat roll over on her back and show me her tummy when she doesn’t want it petted?
The belly is a very vulnerable area. In a fight, if another cat was able to turn over his rival, slashing at the belly could cause severe harm. Therefore, a cat rolling over on his or her back and exposing their belly indicates that they trust you not to hurt them.
However, most cats don’t actually like to have their belly rubbed. My cats will usually let me stoke their tummies 2 or 3 times before wrapping themselves around my hand and lightly scratching/bite me. They trust me not to hurt them, but they want to send a clear message that they want me to stop.
So, with respects to this cat body language – it’s a good thing, just be aware that your cat many not actually want their belly rubbed.
Why does my cat lick me?
One way cats show affection and mark you as part of their family is by grooming you. I have 3 cats and only one of them likes to try to groom me. I find it feels weird and tickles when she licks me, so I don’t mind that she doesn’t do it very often. However, since my husband doesn’t seem to mind, she will climb up on the back of the chair and lick his head all over, clearly grooming him. Since he has short hair, like hers, she won’t stop until she’s pretty much gone over his whole head. While she likes me, as my husband says, she’s clearly “Daddy’s little girl.”
Why does my cat nip me?
Unlike when a cat full on bites you, sometimes cats will seem to nip you. They may hold on for a few seconds. This is a way of telling you that they like you and they are being affectionate.
This could also be a sign of playing, and that they enjoy playing with you.
Through other clues in the cat’s behavior, you can usually tell if this is aggressive. If they are tense and their tail is flicking, it’s probably a sign to back off. Although in these instances, they are more likely to break the skin. If it’s just a little nip out of nowhere, especially when you are petting them, then it’s a sign of affection.
If you don’t like it, it is possible to stop your cat from doing this. May cat used to do this a lot more, but it hurts when she does. I simply stop petting and say “ouch”. She usually looks up and me and I say something like “That hurts, don’t do that,” then begin petting her again. She has gotten to the point where she rarely does it, although she still comes up to me for petting, so this reaction has trained her not to do it.
Why does my cat head butt me?
In the same way that cats rub against things to spread their scent, head butting can do the same thing. It’s also a big sign that the cat wants petting. Only one of my cats does this, and it is clear that she wants petting when she does it. She will even butt her head against me and hold it there. It’s as if she’s saying, “Here’s my head, pet it. I’ll just hold it still so you can’t miss it, Ok?”
Sometimes it can be difficult to interpret cat behaviors and what they mean. Cats have so many different body language displays that can mean so many things. And, the same action can mean one thing if they are playing, and something else if they are happy. As you get to know your cat, you’ll learn what their different signals mean. Or, if in doubt, presume it’s a warning and move cautiously and slowly. Your cat will then move or make some sound that helps indicate what they really want or are trying to convey. If all else fails get creative with interpreting cat body language – meaning you’ll sometimes have to just guess!