Person petting cat who is laying on white couch

Decoding Cats: How to Read Your Cat’s Body Language

Author Icon from Laurel Lewis

Cats are mysterious. They do things for seemingly no reason and gaze at us with their hypnotizing eyes. They slink around like snakes, hide in nooks and crannies, and enjoy observing us from the highest perch in the home. They appear to be independent, but many of their behaviors are showing us that they are symbiotic with us. They use their bodies and sounds to communicate with us, and sometimes we don’t know what they are saying.



You can find articles about cat body language, behavior, and quirks on the internet, including this quick watch from our KONG Classroom trainer, Georgia Duncan. We’ve put all these resources together for you in a guide to reading your cat’s body language. Keep in mind, cats will adapt their communication style to fit the special relationship they have with you. While a guide is helpful on a basic level, the best way to understand your cat is to observe their behavior and how they respond to you.

Excited & Playful Language

Cats show us that they are excited or in a playful mood by how high they are holding their tail, pupil dilation, ears shifting, and a change in whiskers. This behavior can happen when cats are playing and when engaged with catnip! cat playing with a green caterpillar catnip toy

  • Ears: Forward or backwards, but not flat
  • Eyes: Dilated pupils, opened wide
  • Whiskers: Expanded and forward
  • Body: Energetic but relaxed, not edgy
  • Paws: Batting items off countertop, playing with toys
  • Tail: Extended upward, twitching at the tip, smoothly swishing back & forth, question mark shape means your cat is curious or interested
  • Sounds: Chattering and meowing

Relaxed, Content & Happy

When our cats are relaxed and content, their tail becomes less stiff, their skin relaxes, and they settle into a pile of ‘cat’ on the bed or your lap. Their eyes and whiskers soften. However, don’t mistake them rolling onto their back as an invitation to pet their belly. An exposed cat belly simply means they trust you, feel safe, and are exposing their most vulnerable part. Pet their belly and you might find your cat’s arms and legs wrapped around your arm, biting and clawing.

  • Ears: Forward and soft, focused on you
  • Eyes: Half closed, “smiling”, or almond-shaped
  • Whiskers: Relaxed and neutral
  • Body: Smooth coat and skin, loose and relaxed
  • Paws: Kneading means settling down and getting comfortable
  • Tail: Upright or slightly lowered, curled around body when laying down
  • Sounds: Purring

Angry, Anxious, Agitated Language

Acknowledging the signs of an agitated cat can help you give them room to settle down and return to relaxation mode without getting scratched or bitten.

  • Ears: Laid back against head, pointed, flat to sides, and sometimes flickering
  • Eyes: Open wide, pupils dilated, eyes pulled back at corners
  • Whiskers: Flat against face
  • Body: Skin rippling means time to step away, arched back, hair is raised, head tilted, body rolled slightly to one side or hunkered down
  • Tail: Low, tucked under, or curled tightly into body
  • Sounds: Low growling or meowing, hissing

Love Language

Happy Bengal cat loves being pet by woman's hand under chin. Lying relaxed on window sill and smiling

Our favorite kitty language is love language. If you’re having a hard time connecting with your cat, try letting them come to you and rewarding them with super tasty treats. Try not to force love onto your cat, as they need to build trust before they can bond with you.

  • Ears: Natural and up
  • Eyes: Soft, blinking slowly
  • Whiskers: Natural and neutral
  • Body: Rubbing against you, rubbing face on you, gently head butting or “bunting”
  • Tail: Up with a curve or relaxed
  • Sounds: Purring

Try this fun exercise to communicate with your cat!

Look at your cat, and with your eyes softened, give a slow blink toward them with a slight turn of your head after. If they blink back, it’s a sign of appreciation and love, like a cat ‘kiss’ or cat ‘hug’. If they return the slow blink, you can approach them with a gentle touch to the cheek or head. Now you’ve communicated with your cat!

Find more blogs and videos about your pets behaviors, training, and play styles on our website at KONG Classroom and KONG Library. Explore different kinds of toys for your cat in the KONG Catalogue.

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