Just now the cat is purring, but suddenly it makes a leap and gives its patron a scratch. Whether a cat wants the affection of a human or feels uncomfortable or even threatened, is not always easy to interpret – and often changes in seconds. We have examined the most important signals of the multi-faceted body language of cats and give tips for handling.
Gestures, facial expressions, but also noises can give information about the state of mind of a cat. These partly also small and inconspicuous signals should know humans to recognize and not ignore under any circumstances. The combination of several signals is often decisive.
If the cat is relaxed and in a friendly mood, .
their tail usually hangs down loosely and their ears are pointed forward – and remain so even when the human approaches.
The eyes are also a gateway to the cat’s soul: Half-closed eyes indicate a friendly attitude. If the animal wants to signal that it is just open for petting or cuddling, it may lend its willingness to make contact through pleasant purring sounds additional expression.
A sign of special well-being is the so-called "treading": If the cat sits on your lap and begins to knead with the front paws on you, you can assume that the animal feels good all around.
Possibly the cat is even in play mood?
In this case she will tail erect and thus invite her counterpart to come closer. The tail could also tremble easily and indicate a happy excitement of the cat.
Additional Rolling on its back or on its side Underlines the readiness to play. Perhaps the cat even stretches out its paw in the direction of the human being and tries to touch it to invite it to interact.
But be careful: A cat lying on its back can express playfulness – but it does not have to. The animals are not always willing to play in this position. When cats aIf the animal rolls onto its back, this can also serve as a defensive measure: instinctively they protect their neck in this way, for example, from a killing bite of another animal. At the same time, cats are anything but defenseless in this situation: They can attack particularly well from this position, by using all four paws with their claws. It may therefore be important to exercise caution with cats lying on their backs and not to make any ill-considered attempts to pet or play with them.
How does the cat signal discomfort or fear?
Fear can be read – among other things – by the position of the ears. Basically, it can be said: The more the ears are attached to the head, the greater is the fear of the cat. If the ears are turned all the way back so that the back is visible, this signals that the cat feels threatened. If the cat presses itself deeply against the ground and makes the back look round, it underlines its uneasiness by this ducking.
Another indicator of an anxious state of mind is the tail. A fearful cat first wags its tail and then pulls it in or flaps it completely under its body. In addition, the tail hairs can be fluffed up, so that the tail looks bushy.
Likewise yawning can be used with fear or stress. Probably not many people would interpret yawning as a sign of an anxious state of mind, but it can be: it serves in this case, the self-soothing.
Stress and nervousness can be seen not only by yawning but also by twitching and rapid changes of ear position as well as by a "wagging" tail. Especially with dog owners the tail posture of cats can cause confusion and wrong interpretations: Because while " dogs often wag their tails to signal their playfulness, the wagging tail of a cat rather indicates that the animal is insecure, nervous or excited and tries to touch it to protect itself from the humans. Also an internal conflict can express itself by strong tail wagging. So it can be that the cat is still undecided whether it should flee or rather attack.
So, it is important to correctly read the totality of a cat’s signals, if possible: If the animal purrs and yawns when you try to pet it, while turning its ears and twitching its tail, this should not be understood as a sign of well-being, but rather as a situation of discomfort from which the cat probably wants to escape.
Defensive and aggressive behavior ..
… the cat usually signals at first by turning both ears to the side. In addition, the following other signals are usually present: The cat makes the so-called "cat hump" and bristles its back fur. It tries to appear larger and in this way intimidate its opponent. It may also make a hunchback to prepare its quick escape, as it can change from this posture into a leap. Besides the hump, ducking can also be a warning to the opposite person: This is the case when the ducking cat pushes its legs through and at the same time ruffles its back fur.
Furthermore Eyes slit, the pupils shrink and the cat fixates its counterpart. These signals are often accompanied by hissing, screaming or yowling, whereby the cat expresses its anger or displeasure that something is happening against its will. By the way: Humans should also avoid direct staring, as this is perceived by the cat as a threatening gesture.
Besides the already described defensive growling out of fear or insecurity, the cat may Growling also as a deterrent or warning signal be used. For example, mother cats in the wild tell their young that a predator is nearby. But growling can also be a warning signal for owner animals, for example, when the doorbell rings and the intruder, according to the cat, is possibly an enemy. If the cat wants to threaten with hissing, it also lays its ears flat against its head, narrows its eyes to slits and possibly shows its teeth to do so.
Purring, meowing, growling, yowling, hissing: In combination with other body signals, cats can also express their mood through a variety of soundsn.
Fear, stress, or fright are expressed by instinctive growling, which is a defensive gesture. Further sound expression with fear or if the cat feels unsettled or cornered, can be yowling and hissing. Cats sometimes make screaming sounds when they are frightened by a loud noise or another animal.
Or they hiss. Already a few days old puppies hiss softly when they feel insecure. But not all hissing is the same. Again, it is important to pay attention to other body signals: In combination with ears laid back and ruffled neck, back and tail hairs, for example, it is used for defense.
Sometimes cats scream or howl when they have a painful injury. It is important to pay attention to when exactly the cat makes these sounds: If it does it while running, perhaps its paws are injured. In addition, cats cry especially when they are in heat. Through this instinctive behavior, cats signal their readiness to mate to nearby males. Also male cats give scream-like sounds from itself for exactly the same reason.
The classical meowing uses the cat above all, if it would like something certain from a human being.
The WTG asks to consider the body language of cats
No matter whether it is your own cat or a foreign cat: Pay attention to the body language of the animal and pet it only when it approaches you of its own accord and seeks your proximity.
Especially when cats do not seek contact with humans, the animals should not be harassed under any circumstances. Rather, even if the human would like to pet the cat as much as possible, he should respect the cat’s need for distance and keep his distance – not least for his own safety, so as not to risk an attack by the animal.
Even stray cats that do not clearly need human help are often better off if they are left alone. The situation would be different if a stray animal is injured, sick or apathetic and visibly suffering. Then it is necessary to contact a local animal welfare organization and provide the staff with the most accurate information possible about the animal and location, ideally with photos.
Similarly, well-intentioned feeding has more negative effects than positive ones, as additional feeding can cause uncontrolled proliferation of strays. If contact between humans and animals is encouraged, for example, by an animal-loving vacationer regularly providing a cat with petting or food, this may satisfy the animal’s needs at the moment in question. But remember: not everyone is an animal lover, and a "pushy" stray cat that has become attached to a place through regular feeding can annoy other vacationers, hotel or restaurant owners. So in the long run, this won’t help the animals.
You can read more about how to behave properly towards strays and how best to help them in our blog: "The right way to deal with strays on vacation.