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Feline Body Language Tips

This article originally appeared on PETA Prime.

You can tell a lot about a person from their body language. Well, the same applies to our four-legged friends. Here are some tips from my book 250 Things You Can Do to Make Your Cat Adore You to help you better understand the messages your cat is sending you.

Kittens who were weaned too early, or who just plain miss their mothers or the pleasant sensation of nursing, kneed at the air with their feet as if still pumping milk out of their mama’s chest. If they chose you to do that to, what a high compliment indeed.

Cats in cages at the animal shelter flatten their ears back in fear or as a warning, call out plaintively, and frantically push their paws through the bars. Some bat at people passing by, appealing to them in the same way any prisoner might. In less desperate surroundings—your kitchen, for instance—cats may paw at you to let you know it is past suppertime and your watch has stopped. It is rude to ignore being batted, so even if the cause of the swat is not immediately apparent, try to figure it out.

Your cat sends messages by stretching and yawning. Of course, tense cats don’t do either. Chances are, your cat feels wonderfully contented if she throws back her head, bends her spine, extends her legs, and unwinds with a yawn. Let her enjoy the feeling without being moved, asked to play, or called to a meal.

Lions and tigers and the smallest of small cats also stretch to show off to others of their kind or to predators. Such stretches mean, “I’m so in control here, I can relax.” The show of teeth that accompanies yawning can mean, “See these? Pretty big, eh! So don’t try to take advantage.”

Grooming is carried out for practical reasons, of course, but also to cover embarrassment. When a cat does something that doesn’t quite work, like jumping up to catch a moth and missing, she will immediately sit down and start vigorously cleaning a limb.

It’s as if your cat is saying, “That klutsie-seeming thing you just saw was actually quite purposeful. I was about to catch that fly when I remembered some grooming that needed to be done and, look, here I am doing it now.” Even if kitty does something extraordinarily silly, never laugh! Laughter is indeed a universally understood language.

How do your little ones communicate with you? What have they been telling you?

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  • BeautyExposed says:

    I have a 12 week old kitten named Valentine. She is a gorgeous Calico. She was born in a litter of 3 and was the only survivor. Growing up as a child all we ever had were dogs because my mom is allergic to cats. Therefore I assumed myself to be a dog person. I’ve had Valentine 1 month and I absolutely love her! Im getting a new kitty and naming him Dr. Coconut, I apologize for going into another direction. Any who. Im not used to cat behavior but Valentine loves to get in bed with me, she likes to lay on my chest. This morning I was asleep facing her and I turned over to get more comfortable. She started swatting at me. I woke up and ignored her, she proceeded and bit me! Lol I was mad. When she doesn’t get her way she bites my calf muscles she doesnt break the skin only enough to let me know she’s upset I suppose. I do have a question for you all. When she and I play she likes to bite, how do I stop her from doing this.?

  • kstariz says:

    my kitty pick me when I was at the shelter getting her after that I put a leash on her and she goes to farmers market I work at in the winter time and hangs out in the booth started doing it when she was 6 months old she totally rocks people are amazed and now she is a year and a half and still has the same mellow wonderful disposition she is a tuxedo cat and also likes to lay on my belly when I’m in bed

  • Kstariz says:

    I love all animals

  • Sunni says:

    My baby was the offspring of a cat rescued from abuse by my vet. She is now 5 and in my neighborhood there are a lot of feral cats, so I will feed them and try to catch them to be spayed/neutered. My cat has made friends with a male kitty (who follows her everywhere) who will actually sing to her at the window. Cats have always amazed me and for me, this is a first!!!

  • samantha says:

    well,i love to save kittens,cats,or animals.so the first cat i saved was libbie.a couple had found her in the woods near their home.they said that when they found her that she had been kicked in the face,whisckers plucked,and kicked in the stomach.so we took her in and she stole my heart!then about a year later we foung a litter of kittens underneath a porch.there was a cat that seemed more attracted so we picked her.we named her tinkerbell.when she first got to our home,libbie,absalutly disliked her,but after awhile libbie started to like her,she even started licking her,so now their bff’s and are loving their home as we love them.!

  • Genevieve says:

    My cat absolutely loves to talk. She even goes as far as breaking up her noises into syllables and patterns. Super cute to listen to, but also when she chooses to talk, it can go on for hours. She’s my girl and I don’t know where I would be without her always snuggling with me nightly.

  • Rachel says:

    I rescued my 6 year old Weezy almost 8 months ago and it has been an experience I would do over and over again. She has shown us what she likes and doesn’t in different ways. Some of our least favorite which she does the most which is biting and scratching. I gather she must have been played with too rough as a kitten? Nevertheless, she is ours now and would never have it any other way. We are working on it and will continue to love and care for her. Some of the cuter ways to show us what she wants is with a cute little meow! I will be sleeping and I’ll fell little feet on me meowing and saying “mom it’s time for FOOOOOD!” or (now) a meow that she doesn’t want to be pet or a meow to move over because “I want to come up!” I love when she talks and thinks it the cutest thing. I didn’t know about the laughing thing and found out the other day when she was trying to snuggle and butting her head on my side. I thought it was so cute and funny that I burst out laughing well shortly after I got a paw to the arm with claws out probably as far as she could reach. Lesson learned!!!

  • Athais says:

    My two male cats are so communicative, although there are times that I don’t care for the way that they communicate.

    The litter box is in the bedroom closet. If it is too full, at about 3:00 AM, I will awake to the tabby sitting on my chest, swatting at my face. I always try to clean the box before I go to bed.

    If the orange and white cat feels it is time to eat, he will run up to me then run to the kitchen. Definite eating time is when he parks himself by the food rug.

    Both my cats are like children. Children always seem to have to have you attention when you are on the phone. Well, the phone is now the computer and the children are now cats. Both my cats will come and attempt to need my stomach when I am on the computer and they want attention. If I don’t put the computer down and give them attention, they will start nipping or will literally impede progress by standing on the keyboard.

    I thought raising my two children was hard. These cats are going to be the death of me!!!!

  • Brenda says:

    I have a little man who is 9 months old and a growly old lady who is 6 years old. They each have their own personality and were both strays I took in. The growly old lady prefers to be left alone and spends her time putting little man in his place. She doesn’t like anyone touching her or acknowledging her expect my son. When he comes to visit, she’s all over him. He’s the only one who can brush her or pick her up without losing a finger or two. Little man is so affectionate to me but hides on everyone else when they first come in. He loves to lay on my chest with his head on my shoulder. I’ll pet his face and he pats my cheek with his paw very gently, petting me back. For the first time in the 4 years that I’ve had her, growly old lady has started to play with the ton of toys I have scattered all over the floor for them. I think watching little man chase balls and play has reminded her how to do it. lol I’m not sure I agree with the laughter comment, though. If I laugh out loud at something little man does, he’ll look at me and repeat what he did to get me to laugh again. Then we always cuddle after.

  • Melissa says:

    My baby Allegra, 4, is an absolute diva. I got her at 6 weeks from a man by the side of the road and she has had my heart ever since. I have a single bed and she sleeps directly in the centre. Heaven help me if I move her haha! She stretches as far as she can on the floor and will roll from side to side. Lately shes taken to chasing her tail again. And she snores! Its the most adorable thing ever :)

  • Carrigan CarnivalDaze says:

    i had a cat named Mittens for about 2-3 yrs. and she was the highlight of my day, especially since she was so eccentric, exactly like me. she was such a sweetheart. but i had to give her up so that we could move into a better home. i gave her up, without thinking. and im still haunted by that one choice 3 yrs later. it kills me inside that i have no idea where she is. moral of the story, dont be dumb, and if you have to give away an animal, make sure youll still be able to see them. i hate myself for giving her up

  • Tiggys Girl says:

    Mr. Tigger is a finiky cat. he will only drink out of a cup. only poop in pine litter, yell at you if you even think about closing a door. smack you in the face to show he is the boss when you hold him like a baby- its the way he likes to be held- he tells us when its time to wake up, even though he really doesnt need food or water- he just wants some company- if a box comes he will perch nearby manging -thats a word, MANG he hells it- until you empty it of its contents. he has had 18 years so far to train me i am his girl and i am well trained, but he is just getting started on my live in boyfriend who is the ONLY man he has EVER liked. tigger will mush you, (the kneading they discribed) and YOU WILL hold still, or suffer the wrath. also he hates basketball shirts. my boyfriend has one and tigger has repeatedly hooked it with a claw, pulled it down and peed on it and ONLY it. i love my kitty.

  • cathy says:

    I’ve had several cats over my lifetime and have never seen something like what my current cat does now.
    1. He has a foot fetish – he stick his face into people’s shoes and rubs it – and rubs himself on people’s feet
    2. He a very large and fluffy cat so ithink he might do this because he’s hot – but he liks to lay on his back – a lot

    Any reason why he does any of those things?

  • Cheri Nappi says:

    My 10 yr YOUNG silver tabby, mc mix will not fall asleep until he’s comfy on his back, belly in air, 1 paw holding mamas hand(&arm)& super duck(a toy he got for his birthday) in the other!♡ ツ Whomever says animals don’t have thoughts or feelings…..
    TRY GOING OUT&GETTING 1&♥IT INSTEAD OF EXPERIMENTING ON IT!! ツ

  • Rebecca says:

    What does it mean when your cats tail shakes or vibrates?

  • Elsje says:

    I have 3 rescues and 1 kitty that I got as a baby i.e 4 cats. Each have their own personality. White Snowey, half persian (rescued from our neighbour) has a language of his own. He asks for food, more food & drinks each request in a different way. He also loves trying out new places to sleep. On top of the fridge, inside the veggie basket, inside the kitchen cupboard, on top of the roof of the house. He is hilarious. My husband can play with him, pick him and hold him upside down he loves any attention and comes back for more. He loves being picked up and when we want to put him down he hits his nails into us, refusing to be put down on the floor. Dogs are WONDERFUL, but no one understands an animal unless they understand the heart of a cat!!

  • VegCat says:

    My big boy Leo, a rescue, is the master of this home. He won’t swat or do anything gentle like that. He loves to eat and he *barks* at me (yes! sounds more like a bark than a meow) and he’s so demanding! I have to get it done or he won’t stop! and forget about doing something when he wants to be pet, he will lay on your hand and if you move it, he barks again! Izzy, my baby girl, is the opposite, unless she wants fresh water from the osmosis purified water spout in the kitchen… it HAS to be the filtered water, no other would do… They (and all my other critters) are my pride and joy!

  • minxlj says:

    My Stitch LOVES to be brushed, even though it’s his longhair brother Lilo who actually needs to be groomed! He’ll chase me around for the brush, even shoving his head in the way to get his turn first when it’s Lilo’s time to be brushed. He won’t be left out!

    He also nudges his head underneath my chin in the mornings, pushing his nose into me and burying his face when I wrap my arm around him. He has to have a cuddle in the morning (they weren’t weaned properly before we had to rescue them from a house, so he still does the ‘kneading paws’ action on me every day – I think they do it in contentment to a substitute parent) and both greet me at the door when I get home, no matter what time it is.

    If it’s late I get sternly meowed at, all the way down the hall through the house into the kitchen, until the time his food hits the bowl! :D

  • Ams says:

    My baby girl always acts like she is queen of the house, even tries to push our dogs around, and neither of them are small breed. She is so adorable and spends most of her time stretched out in the middle of the floor purring like a motor boat

  • emy says:

    my boy and girl love to be the center of atention so once one sees a new person the other one pushes him or her away. my girls 19 (going on 20)and her names kitkat and my boy is 7 and is named tabby

  • Jordyn says:

    When my girly is happy she curls up in a ball and does this weird flip-thing with her head and she closes her eyes… I just want to rub my face into her stomach because she’s SO FRIGGEN AMAZING SWEET. Her name is Chaos *faint*

  • katzma says:

    Both my boys loved to be brushed, rapturously purring the whole while. When I’m elsewhere occupied, they follow me around, waiting for the brushing to begin again. I somehow “know”, this feels like love to them.

  • kathy says:

    I feel bad because when I spent time with my neighbor’s cat I’ve been laughing the whole time because she is so cute. I stopped laughing after reading this. I have a question about the ears going back as a sign of fear. Lately she’s been randomly doing this but I can’t imagine she’s afraid. Is there any other meaning? She kind of gets low to the ground and puts her ears back as she walks. I thought this meant she was hunting. (I’d rather she was inside but she’s not my cat.)

  • arpana says:

    great article as it ensured me my babies are all content and love me back!! got a couple of scratch scars on my stomach from sharp claws but they are now known as love marks! would prefer it if my orange monster batted at me instead of screaming out when he wants his litter box cleaned, but he knows it works!

  • Rhonda says:

    My cat is a three year old Russian Blue. I took her in when her previous family had to give her up (allergy issues). Although she doesn’t like being picked up, she will sleep on my lap for hours until I have to eventually move her, she kneeds me whenever given the chance, purrs when I kiss her, and loves to lick my face! She also refuses to eat anything but dry fish biscuits and she doesn’t care if you hold her back legs/paws :)
    I have never seen her hiss or bite. She is the sweetest cat ever…

  • Arielle says:

    I don’t think it’s true that they knead because they were taken away from their mother too early. Three of my four cats are the babies of my girl and they all do it and have never left Mama. Although I know my girl was, because when she was a kitten she used to try to suck my earlobe! Lol

  • michelle says:

    my fiance’s cat doesn’t care for me :( I was even there when she first came home. I try to love her but she doesn’t want any part of it. She only loves my fiance. Makes me sad.

  • Fanta says:

    My Maggie is the hairiest love of my life. She will wrap herself across mine or my boyfriends (her papa she adopted) feet and she will wrap her paws around our ankles and literally pet us with her paws, while staring up at us adoringly.
    I’m so grateful for my girl :) x0x

  • Jeanie says:

    My kitty-girl, Ebony, is in love with my feet for some reason. She’ll grab them gently and love on them if they’re bare.

  • TheJeanGenie says:

    One of mine bites my toes in the middle of the night when he is hungry, making impossible to sleep!

  • TheJeanGenie says:

    One of mine bites my toes in the middle of the night when he is hungry, making impossible to sleep!

  • Krystal says:

    My little boy does the exact thing with regards to kneeding. He jumps on my lap and purrs whilst plunging his claws delicately into my podgey stomach. It always makes me smile although sometimes I have to bare the sharpness of his paws. All worth it though. I love my cats so much. I’m sure they are happy. I hope they are. The thought of my boy being taken away from his mother prematurely breaks my heart, but I’ll always look after him. Nature sounds cruel. Nature is cruel, but I’ll always love him dearly :)

  • Superchik says:

    Our female cat, Junior (we call her June for short) paws at our faces when she wants love. And if you stop, she’ll keep pawing. Sometimes she’ll actually use her claws tool if you ignore her. She has us trained very well!

  • LostGurl66 says:

    I love reading this bcos it assures me my 2 babies love and trust me back. I originally planned to only foster to non-feralize them but couldn’t part with them. Best thing to happen to me in a long time after humanely losing my last babe to kidney problems.

  • Maria Seydel says:

    My sister’s cat brushes up against people’s legs all the time (sometimes he’s so eager he misses the target). Talk affectionately to him and he will do it again. We call him ‘the lover cat’ – so adorable :)

  • paxton says:

    My 5 month old British Shorthair doesn’t mess around. If he wants attention he just sits on my feet. Even if I’m walking around. Perfectly clear & very successful….

  • lisa says:

    my cat has always had his own pillow that he kneeds and sucks he’s 5 now bless him x

  • cathysilvester says:

    All very informative. Only I’ve lived (and loved it) the past 18 years with a ferile, neutered big man cat who has always seemed delighted in his ability to spray things. Nothing in his life is beyond spraying. I’ve had to throw out several duvets, pillows, boyfriends clothes, boyfriends. He sprays anything he doesn’t like the smell of. It has been the bain of our relationship….but I love him so. Wnen I questioned my vet on Fudge’s spraying boyfriends clothes, my vet said the solution is clear…don’t have a boyfriend!
    Good luck with the book, and if you come up with a solution, please reply. x

  • clairehelene says:

    oh my, we have extraordinary expressive cats here! easy to understand what they want! and better do it fast….and yes, they are mad if we laugh at them!