They flick their tail
Unlike dogs, in fact almost the exact opposite of dogs, cats do not wag their tail when their happy or excited. A cat’s tail is incredibly expressive, and you’ll learn more about it as you read on, but a high and upright tail can be a show of confidence or aggression, while its flicking back and forth can signal unhappiness or even pain.
Their pupils dilate
We recognize this behavior to signify a few things in humans. It can mean someone is looking at something they desire, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or even in pain. Cats have incredible control over their eyes and expand their pupils to take in more light, usually as a sign they are stressed or angry and might need to get physical.
They bite you when you stroke them
Cats use small nibbles as an affectionate way of saying ‘pack that in’. Every cat owner will have noticed these, often when stroking them. They might even approach to be stroked, and then use a little bite to warn you which can be confusing, or interpreted as playfighting. They’re likely trying to tell you to stroke somewhere less stimulating.
They raise their butt
Now, this can be a good thing. A cat’s backside area is packed with nerve endings, it’s one of their erogenous zones, which some will raise it when stroked. However, they also do this while hunting or are afraid. They like to make themselves as big as possible, so a raised posterior without stimulation is a bad sign.
They walk on tiny legs around you
While this often does look humorous and adorable, it’s not a very positive sign. Cats with high anxiety are often rescues, and will make themselves as small as possible while walking around as they adjust to their new space. It’s a sign the cat is engaged and wants to explore, but that they lack confidence and fear aspects of its surroundings.
You confuse stretches for something else
Most animals seem to love a big stretch, it’s something that unites all vertebrates, but some other cat behavior can look very similar to a stretch but have different meanings. You’ve likely noticed your little baby stretching after a nap as we do, that will be relaxed with closed eyes. If the eyes are open and the ears are back, it’s likely a retreat.
They stare at you constantly
While they’re not as intelligent as humans, they don’t know when they’re crossing the line from a glance to staring like a creep, they are looking for a reason. If the cat was truly comfortable around you, it would drop its guard and relax, not feeling the need to keep an eye on anything lumbering and fleshy. The stare sadly doesn’t mean they love you.
They reveal their stomach to you
Most cat owners are used to telling this one to their visitors. Cats expose their stomachs for a few reasons, some good and some bad, but one is particularly painful to misinterpret. Known as the “Venus Fly Trap”, cats will invite in a combatant for some close-quarters brawling, where they can use both sets of claws and teeth in a flurry of fluffy fury.
They flatten their ears
Many call this “going airplane mode” because of the way the flattened shapes look like little wings. Because it doesn’t seem especially uncomfortable and the cat can look relaxed otherwise, this can sometimes be confusing. It’s most commonly an indicator of fear, so keep an eye on them and see if they exhibit any other signs.
Their ears go really high
A feline pricking up its ears means roughly the same thing it does for us, we’re paying attention. A person might be listening to what you’re saying though, whereas Mittens could be feeling playful and see your general approval as a go sign to rumble. It’s a behavior you might see combined with tail wagging if you use a toy to play with them.
They never slowly blink at you
One of the reasons a blank stare from your cat is a negative sign is that they use blinks to communicate. Slow blinking means a cat is relaxed and trusting, a bond that you can nurture by slowly blinking back at them. A cat that doesn’t do this to you doesn’t necessarily hate you but doesn’t feel entirely safe around you either.
They stay silent
Some would call this a well behaved cat, and though everyone will have a different personality, sometimes complete silence can be an indicator that something is wrong. Adult cats don’t meow at each other to communicate, it’s something they reserve for humans. They do get quieter with age, but sudden muteness could be worth investigating.
They wrap their tails around themselves
Again this can sometimes just be a personality thing, but generally the lower down a cat’s tail is, the more worried or stressed they feel. If you’re stroking them and they seem happy, then their tail falling around them could just be how they feel comfortable, but when paired with flat ears and wide eyes, there’s something bothering them.
They always walk away from you
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Every single pet owner justifies their preferred creature walking away from them after calling them by thinking; “Well, they’re just animals. They don’t understand how hurtful what they just did was to me was, how deeply it has wounded me personally.” If your pet is a spider of some kind, well God knows, but for cats, that is a bad sign if it happens constantly.
Don’t panic, the vast majority of the time this means exactly what you think it means, your cat is comfortable and excited for whatever is going down. Sometimes though, purrs can be an indication of pain. Many vets report cats purring while sick or injured with no additional stimuli, so your cat purring somewhere it doesn’t normally while nothing is happening could be a concern.
They hide from you
As a predator animal, granted one that needs you to open the door to the food but still, cats are natural hiders. Stealth is one of their main survival tools, something they learn at an early age through play. So sometimes they hide from you if they want to let out some energy, but staying hidden too often is a sign they fear their environment.
They bite you hard
Even when playing with other cats, they tend not to fight with too much effort. They have a lot of control over their bite and temperament, so anything that pierces the skin should be taken seriously. Male cats who haven’t been neutered can be more aggressive and hormonal, which doesn’t mean they’re scared, but you should still back off a little.
They get compact
On the opposite end of going big to scare predators, they can also bunch themselves up very tight and tense. This can look much more natural than an exaggerated posture, so you might not notice depending on where they are. This tends to mean the cat is anxious or in pain like they’re defeated and feeling similar to prey.
They poop outside the litter tray
Unless the mess shows clear signs of having come from a distressed stomach, it’s unlikely your little bestie left it there by accident. They’re very intelligent creatures, and as a result quite habitual and intentional in their behavior. They could be telling you their bathroom needs cleaning, or that its location isn’t convenient enough.
They hiss at you
Responsible people immediately understand that a hiss is a last warning to stop whatever you’re doing and go away. No healthy cat will just hiss as part of its personality, it shows extreme agitation, and that much stress is going to cause problems for its heart, kidneys, and longevity.
They’re friendly with others but not you
Unless a cat has developed some kind of unhealthy dependence, they tend to treat humans equally unless they are given a reason not to. They will be more comfortable with some rather than others, but a cat that is cold to you while they’re nuzzling up to the plumber’s knees as they work, probably has an issue with you.
They don’t settle down near you
Proximity can tell you a lot about how the cat feels for you. If they fall asleep curled up in your lap, that’s a good sign they’re comfortable and that now you can’t move for three hours. They tend to have a few preferred rest spots scattered around, so their choosing one closer to you or the ground is also a positive, showing their comfort.
They seem bored and distracted
As certified nap lovers, you do often see your pet groggy and confused just like we are after a good one. Being bored looks a little different, they won’t react to their environments very much, they will ignore any noises stimulation, and sleep much more frequently. This is usually because their surroundings have become too familiar, and they seek enrichment.
Their ears flick
Some people think of this as another form of communication similar to blinking, but while they have plenty of control over their radio dishes, they don’t do this to signal you. It’s more likely there is a lot of dust or debris in the air that irritates their sensitive ears, or they have fleas. It’s a sign there’s something they’re trying to shake out.
They rub against you a lot
This is used as a way of showing affection or leaving their scent, but it can also be a way of signaling attention. If the rubs are unusually forceful or frantic, it’s probably a sign there is something quite urgent the cat believes needs your attention. That may or may not be true, again they have personalities, maybe they’re just being annoying.
They’re scratching your furniture
Cats will do this to anything that looks scratchable. It could be furniture like the couch, any wicker you have laying around, really any textured and solid surface. This is mainly territorial behavior, but it also helps keep their claws in check. It’s a good idea to have a scratching post to save your living room and to trim your cat’s claws every few months.
They scratch and meow at closed doors
This is unlikely to mean that your friend just can’t stand being without you for two minutes while you use the bathroom. As mentioned, cats in captivity exhibit a lot of territorial behaviors, and closed doors are not something they enjoy very much under their roof. Of course, if you live alone this is easy to remedy at the cost of your pride.
They don’t respond to their name
A study out of Tokyo in 2019 found that cats do recognize when their name is called, even by voices they don’t recognize. That means that your cat does understand when you shout their name but doesn’t feel too bad about being ignored. Only 10% of cats would reliably come when called, so it’s not just your child that has bad manners.
They never sleep next to you
Cats enjoy sleeping next to each other and other humans. As highly evolved predators they understand how vulnerable they are while asleep and extend that sense towards us. It shows they’re about as comfortable as they can be around you, so if they never cuddle up in bed they might have an axe to grind with you.
They don’t accept food from your hands
If you’ve ever tried to feed a stray cat, you’ll know it can be difficult to coax them with treats from your hand without first establishing some level of comfort. Domesticated cats are similar, they won’t accept any treats from the hands of people they don’t trust, so this is a great tool to add in while getting them accustomed to their home and owner.
They don’t lick or nibble you
Small nibbles as pointed out you’ll know if it’s friendly or not, are used alongside little to show affection both to other cats and humans. Don’t be afraid of letting them press their teeth into you a little bit, and certainly don’t chastise the behavior. This will only make them think they can’t be friendly towards you.
You get them de-clawed
While cats do have a limited memory, hence why the seething rage after a trip to the vet only lasts a few hours, getting them de-clawed is still a bad idea. Whatever issue you try to solve with it won’t go away, and it’s incredibly distressing to your pet. The claws are key for cat communication, they can’t live happily without them.
They’re afraid of punishment
Negative reinforcement is as ineffective at raising an animal as it is a child. You will never get your cat to adopt behaviours by shooting them with a squirt bottle. If by some miracle you do, it will be at the cost of your bond with your animal, which is the reason you got them in the first place.
You shout at them
In a similar vein, raising your voice at your cat is only going to frighten it. It can possibly harm them and their extra sensitive audio peepers, but beyond that, they simply don’t understand what you’re saying or why they’re suddenly frightened. You need to interact with them at their level to get anywhere.
They act out
It can be disheartening when your pet keeps acting out or develops a bad habit, but if you don’t put the work in to develop a bond and guide them, they won’t initiate it for you. It’s clear to a cat when you have no interest in spending time with them, which will only exacerbate their issues.
They don’t spend much time with you
A house cat requires a lot of attention and work to both feel comfortable in their space and develop a relationship with their owner. Although they are incredibly independent animals, they should want to and enjoy spending time with you. If you hardly ever see your pet, it might be a sign you need to be more proactive in your relationship.
They hate being picked up
Some species are much more energetic and playful, Siamese cats for example are known to climb their humans, and aren’t averse to being carried like a baby. If you’re frequently picking them up while they’re trying to do other things and otherwise forcing them onto you, their going to start getting annoyed. This is when behaviors like aggressive biting start.
They don’t get used to certain noises
Cats and hoovers are natural enemies, at first. Owners do have to hoover up, in large part because of the cats, and they quickly become accustomed to the noise. They won’t ever find it pleasant, but they won’t dart with fear, they’ll move somewhere else or ignore it. If a cat remains agitated at common noises, it could mean they aren’t at ease in general.
They’re hard to train
Even much older cats are capable of learning and recognizing patterns. Re-homed adults manage to learn new routines and connections all the time, keeping their agile minds as they grow. If your animal won’t learn simple commands like sit or spin, it might be because they don’t trust you enough to engage in that kind of bonding.
They stop grooming themselves
One of the most wonderful things about owning a cat is that, unless you get a particularly lazy one, they’re incredibly independent and hygienic pets. Certain fluffier breeds struggle with cleaning their rear and do require supervision, but your cat should be grooming themselves regularly if nothing is wrong.