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PetPALS Cat Behaviors

Cat Behaviors

Below are some examples of different behaviors cats display when they communicate with people, other cats and animals. A cat does not express all of these behaviors in each situation. Remember to create a complete picture within the cat’s environment when interpreting these behaviors. Variations within individual cats, as well as breeds, must be considered when interpreting behaviors. Aggressive and fearful cats can remain irritable for as long as two hours after being provoked. A frightened cat is just as liable to attack as an aggressive one.

Relaxed Posture (walking)
  • walking catWhiskers held straight out to the sides
  • May purr
  • Eyes open, pupils not dilated
  • Ears straight up and relaxed
  • Tail high and quivering
  • Body has soft muscle tone
  • Pushes object with head
Relaxed Posture (lying down)
  • Whiskers held straight out to the sides
  • Purring sound (Note: purring may also signal pain)
  • Eyes closed, or long, slow blinks
  • Ears up and slightly forward
  • Mouth closed, lips curled up slightly
  • Tail at rest or tip slowly twitches
  • Lies down
  • Body has soft muscle tone
Playful Posture
  • playful catMakes eye contact
  • Ears up or forward
  • Whiskers forward
  • Alert facial expression
  • Extends and swats with front paws
  • Claws may be exposed
  • Lies on back
  • Hind legs extended
  • Tail twitches or wags
Friendly Posture
  • friendly catHead raised
  • Eyes open, looking up & pleased
  • Pupils not dilated
  • Whiskers relaxed
  • Ears forward
  • Tail pointing away, fairly still
  • Even weight on all fours
  • May purr
Submissive Posture
  • submissive catAvoids eye contact
  • Ears back
  • Crouched passively
  • Belly low to ground
  • Tail tucked between legs
  • May lie on back with belly up
Fearful Posture
  • fearful catWhiskers flattened back against face
  • Eyes wide open, pupils completely dilated
  • Ears flattened back against head
  • Head pulled back
  • Often hisses or spits
  • Back arched
  • Tail vertical
  • Hair stands on end on body and tail (Halloween-cat appearance)
Defensive Threat Posture
  • defensive catVery similar to fearful cat posture
  • Whiskers flattened back against face
  • Eyes wide open, pupils dilated
  • Ears flat back
  • Often growls or hisses
  • Faces enemy sideways
  • Crouched down so body is parallel to floor
  • Tail vertical and stiff
  • Hair on body and tail stands on end
  • If cornered, may roll over to prepare counter-attack with teeth and all four feet
Offensive Threat or Aggressive Posture
  • offensive catWhiskers spread out and thrust forward
  • Eyes narrow and pupils constricted 
  • May stare at potential victim
  • Ears up and turned straight back
  • Head forward
  • Mouth may open, baring teeth
  • May growl or hiss
  • Faces enemy head on
  • Hair on back may stand up
  • Tail straight out away from body with tip turned down
  • Tail may be vertical with rear end raised
  • Will twitch or lash tail back and forth