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Cats use body language to communicate a variety of information and emotions to others. To convey their state of mind, they mostly use their ears, tail, eyes, body posture, and vocal cords. Types of emotions and behaviors that can be demonstrated are fear or anxiety, frustration, pain, play, mating, contentedness or relaxation, and curiosity. Often body language can be used to display multiple emotions. Thus, when trying to figure out your cat’s body language, try to understand the context in which he is communicating.
Body Language and Behaviors
Fear/Anxiety AvoidanceThese types of behaviors are an effort to maintain safety from a perceived threat by avoiding the threat.freezing (in an effort to be less noticeable), especially if confined or unable to escape; such cats are often quiet and do not vocalize or make noise. Note that a “frozen” cat can switch quickly to “repulsion,” becoming aggressive towards the cause of fear
Fear/Anxiety Repulsion These types of behaviors are an effort to maintain safety from a perceived threat by getting rid of it.
Fear/Anxiety/CuriosityThese information-gathering behaviors are an effort to learn about an object, person, environment, and/or if perceived as a threat, to determine the severity.
Frustration These types of behaviors are reactions to something that is not meeting the cat’s expectations or their inability to control something (e.g., hunger, not wanting to be held). These behaviors are an effort to achieve what they desire.
PainIt is extremely difficult to notice pain in cats as they tend to hide pain well, but they do demonstrate some noticeable behaviors.
PlayThese behaviors are used during play and to initiate it. Hunting behaviors are similar to those of play.
Relaxed/ContentThese show the cat is content and often demonstrates trust in their environment.
MatingThese are an effort to demonstrate receptiveness to mating, such as showing signs of going into heat or estrus.
Behavior changes in cats can be quite subtle and difficult to notice unless you are really paying attention. To learn more, see a chart of cat body language from Dr. Sophia Yin.
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