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How To Interpret Your Cat’s Mysterious Body Language

on June 23, 2017
Posted in Cats

Whether you’re a dog person or cat person, you have to admit that cats are the more mysterious of the two creatures. They don’t communicate as clearly as dogs, making their emotional state very difficult to read.

For example, while a dog might show affection with an easily-decipherable smile or lick, cats communicate these feelings with a fluttering blink. Cats close their eyes in the presence of humans or fellow cats to show trust, or that they simply mean no harm.

But sometimes your cat’s actions aren’t as easy to decode. Subtle differences in certain movements involving the same body part can mean entirely different things, especially in regards to the feet or tail. A tail held high is typically a sign of confidence but it can also be a sign of confidence for cats with aggressive tendencies. When combined with an arched bank, a straight-up tail is a sign of fear or a warning to mind your own business.

Carlo Siracusa of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine told National Geographic earlier this month that the entire body must be taken into account when interpreting a cat’s tail signals.

You might notice your cat tapping his or her tail during a nap, as if the cat was listening to a song and tapping along to the beat.

According to Siracusa, this shows that your cat is “relaxed overall but paying attention to something happening around him, a sound or movement.” In other words, your cat is physically at peace but not completely asleep, likely because of something peculiar about the current environment.

If your cat is completely asleep, on the other hand, the tail might move but not to a beat. This could mean the cat is dreaming, with an emphasis on the “could” because it’s very hard to differentiate the two movements. A moving tail that isn’t accompanied by sleep or relaxation, however, is a nearly universal sign of discontent. Your cat is either nervous or ready to become aggressive if disturbed, Siracusa says.

Another fairly confusing feline gesture is the sudden, unprovoked bolt out of the room, as if the cat just remembered it was time for a doctor’s appointment. Some cat owners refer to such tendencies as “the zoomies,” but once again, their meaning isn’t exactly clear.

Siracusa believes “the zoomies” are “probably outlets for accumulated arousal.” Much like a human being, feelings of frustration, fear or even joy can accumulate in cats to the point where they just can’t sit still any longer. Explosive movement is also natural for cats, which would be climbing trees and hunting if they weren’t domesticated. “The zoomies” could very well be a display of the same energy that would otherwise be used to catch prey.

In fact, the desire to hunt is so deeply embedded in cats that some of them steal things solely because they feel like they should.

Nick Dodman, author of “The Cat Who Cried for Help” told National Geographic that cats who steal socks or trinkets, often when they believe their owners have left the home, are following their instinct to hunt. They need to quickly steal something and bring it somewhere safe, like their food bowls. The stolen item is what Dodman calls a “prey facsimile” and the selection process could very well be as broad as anything the cat can carry, since the “carrying” part of the act is apparently what cats crave most.

It appears that cats perform these actions largely to stimulate themselves in an environment that is, unfortunately, lacking in this department. Your home and the people inside it are not as stimulating as the wild and there is likely little you can do to change that. The experts’ advice suggests you should just be thankful your cat isn’t going crazy and by no means try to provide substitutes for its natural environment. This situation, Siracusa says, will only make your cat even more uncomfortable.

Read also: The Power of a Cat’s Purr

Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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