How To Understand Your Cat’s Body Language

As loving owners, it’s our job to meet the needs of our cats as best we can. To do this, you need to know what signs to lock out for to understand not only when your cat is happy and relaxed, but very importantly, when he may be feeling stressed or uncomfortable. This is no easy task, but there are many subtle signs that we can keep an eye out for, providing useful cues for what your cat may be trying to communicate or how he may be feeling.

The meaning of purrs

Adult cats will purr when in contact with a person or another recognisable cat and when rolling or rubbing against inanimate objects. It’s normally supposed that purring in these circumstances may signify a positive emotional state.

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However, cats may also purr to prompt us to provide them with some form of attention (including food). Research demonstrates such a purr comprises a ‘crying’ sound concealed within it, which is comparable to the noise that human infants make, and which we’re biologically programmed to respond to – fundamentally, cats are attempting to control us by tap into our maternal and paternal instincts!

Cats may also purr when they are experiencing high levels of pain or distress, such as at the vets following an accident, in this context, the purr may be used as a way to ‘ask’ for help, although it’s also thought cats may purr to calm themselves and promote self-healing.

Examining the behaviour and posture of your cat when he purrs (is he tense and hunched or is he relaxed and rubbing against you?), and considering the context within which the purring occurs (is he distressed or injured? Is it feeding or fuss time?) can help to decipher what his purring is likely to mean at that time.

The slow blink

Many people perceive a cat’s slow blink as an indication that he is friendly and relaxed. Whilst this can sometimes be the case, many cats will also slow blink when they are feeling quite threatened and uncomfortable.

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On its own, the slow blink may simply serve as an appeasing signal that lets us know the cat isn’t a threat. However, this actually tells us very little about how the cat is feeling at the time.

To ensure that you simply accurately interpret this behaviour, as with the purr, it’s significant that you simply consider other aspects of your cat’s behaviour and body language, along with the circumstance they can be in (is he curled up on your own lap at home or being examined at the vets?), so that you can develop an entire picture.

Understanding your cat

Whilst many behaviours displayed by your cat can be subtle and vary in meaning, he will certainly appreciate your attempts at understanding him! Here are three things that your cat would probably want you to know about him:

Not all cats are cut out to be pets – Just like humans, cats vary hugely in terms of how sociable they are. This is determined by their genes, their parents’ temperaments and their experiences (particularly early on in life), and is not something that we can alter. If cats don’t have the right temperament traits and were not carefully socialised when young, they may find living alongside people in later life very stressful.

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We probably touch cats a lot more that they want us to – Even when cats are friendly, the amount and type of handling they enjoy can vary between individuals, and some sociable cats may actually prefer a much more’ hands-off’ relationship than we realise.

Cats are wonderfully furry and soft, and it’s a natural instinct to want to pick them up or give them a good stroke. Many people find that when stroking their cat, he can go from being very affectionate and friendly to aggressive or grumpy in a matter of seconds. What’s most likely happening is the cat has become increasingly overstimulated from the type or amount of handling, and as a result has begun to feel very uncomfortable.

Some cats will want just short amounts of stroking, and most will only prefer being touched around their facial glands (around their cheeks, chin or base of the ears). The aggressive behaviour is a cat’s way of telling us he doesn’t like where we are currently touching him, or that he has generally had enough. Whilst your cat may be giving off many subtle indications that he feels this way prior to behaving aggressively, we sadly often miss many of these and carry on stroking him until it’s ‘too late’.

The best way to avoid this situation is to let your cat dictate how much stroking/handling he would like. This way, he will feel more in control of what’s going on and less likely to behave aggressively.

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