Guide to Reading Cats

How To Read Your Cat's Body Language

Cats may seem like mysterious creatures that are impossible to read, but our felines are actually communicating with us all the time. Through their body language and facial cues, cats can tell us if they’re comfortable, afraid, aggressive or even ready to play.

“Cats are constantly communicating their pleasure, displeasure, boredom, anxiety or illness, but it can be nuanced and easily missed if we don’t take the time to notice,” said holistic cat behaviorist and celebrity cat consultant Layla Morgan.

Being able to accurately gauge your cat’s mood is especially important when taking him outside. If you can tell that your cat is truly enjoying himself, you may want to extend your hike and venture into new terrain, but if your cat seems frightened or on edge, you’ll know it’s time to head back indoors.

The illustrations below will help you better understand felines’ nonverbal cues. However, it’s important to take other factors into consideration when assessing a situation, including the environment, your cat’s personality and your cat’s comfort level with being harnessed and outdoors.


Tail Up

Tail Down

tail up
A straight-up tail with flat fur and a tail held high 
with a curve at the tip like a question mark both 
indicate a happy, playful, approachable cat.

tail down
A cat that’s carrying his tail low to the ground may indicate that he feels threatened and could act 
aggressively. However, some cat breeds tend to carry
their tails low, so it’s important to know what’s 
typical behavior for your pet.

Tail Tucked Between legs

Tail Straight Up with Fur on End

tail tucked between legs
This tail position means a cat is anxious or fearful. There’s likely something in the 
environment that your pet is responding to 

tail straight up
If your cat’s tail suddenly becomes big and bushy, you’ve got a severely agitated animal on your hands. Cats puff up like this in an attempt to look larger and frighten off the perceived threat.

Tail Moving Slowly Back and Forth

Thrashing Tail

tail moving
This slow-swishing tail often means a cat is curious, and the animal’s attention may be 
focused on something in particular, such as
an insect. You may see this tail movement 
occur just before your cat pounces.
thrashing tail
When a feline’s tail is whipping back and forth 
rapidly or slapping the ground, this indicates an 
irritated cat that may act aggressively.


Ears Forward

Ears Straight Up

Ears forward
A happy, relaxed or playful cat’s ears will point up and be positioned slightly forward.

Ears straight up
When a cat’s ears stand at attention like 
this, the animal is alert because something
has caught his attention.

EARS Sideways and Partially Flattened

EARS Turned Back or Flat

Ears sideways and partially flattened
This kitty’s ears indicate that he’s 
irritated, anxious or frightened.

ears turned back or flat
When a cat’s ears go back like this, it’s a sure sign 
that the animal is fearful or angry and may act 


Alert and Blinking

Constricted Pupils

This kitty is actively taking in the world 
around him.
This may indicate that a cat is agitated; however, 
cats’ pupils will also constrict in brighter light.

Dilated Pupils

Slow Blinking

A cat’s pupils will dilate when he becomes 
fearful or angry. However, pupils may also 
dilate in low light.
This action indicates that a cat feels safe and comfortable. In fact, the slow blink said to be a cat’s way of 
smiling at you.


Credits to: Adventure Cats
Illustrations By: Liz Cox


Adventure Cats