5 Ways To Read Your Cat's Body Language From Whiskers to Tail

From standing on their hind legs to wagging their tails to aggressively staring, cats have a lot of strange (but adorable) behaviors. As it turns out, many of these cat gestures are signs — your cat is smart, and uses these movements to tell you much of what you need to know about their mood, perspective, and state of mind. Read on to learn about (and see examples of) five of the most common forms of cat body language.

1. Tail Tales

Cat with its tail raised
Alexander Sobol/Shutterstock

A wagging tail means your cat is attentive — but if the tail starts wagging too much, your cat could be getting upset. A raised tail is a sign of acceptance and openness, especially in a kitten.

2. The Eyes Have It

Close-up of cat blinking
Sunat Praphanwong/Shutterstock

Never look directly into the eyes of a strange cat for long — he will perceive it as aggressive and challenging, and could attack. You’ll recognize the fear in that cat when pupils become particularly wide. Especially constricted pupils suggest your cat may feel tense. Surprisingly, the best way to make eye contact with a cat is through the squint and blink — your cat blinking back at you suggests he feels safe.

3. What Ears Say

Cat with ears pointing forward

Ears pointed forward means your cat is focusing on you, but ears pointed back suggests your cat could be afraid.

4. A Whisker Away

Cat showing its whiskers in profile

Whiskers, those sensitive, tactile hairs that grow on a cat’s muzzle and elsewhere around her body, are sentinels of emotion and mood. Whiskers bent back suggest an anxious, uncomfortable kitty. Whiskers bent forward, just like ears bent forward, reveal a cat at attention and alert to the world.

5. Making a Stand

Cat standing on hind legs

When the body is stiff and erect, the tail raised like a brush, your cat is in a protective stance, trying to make himself big. A cat on hind legs could be playing a game.

A version of this article appeared in our partner magazine, Inside Your Cat’s Mind, in 2022.