Common Cat Behaviors Explained To Help You Understand Your Cat

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As pet owners we tend to think that our cat is uniquely different from other cats, but the truth of the matter is there are certain cat behaviors that most cats share.

Cat behavior hasn’t been studied to the same extent as dog behavior however there are increasingly more studies being undertaken that help to explain cat behavior.

We have outlined some cat behaviors and characteristics as well as explaining the possible reasons or causes behind this behavior. This all adds up to a better understanding of why your cat behaves like he does or what he is trying to tell you.

I’m sure we have all wished we could speak cat at times, as our cat gazes at us.

Just what is he thinking?

what is the cat thinking

Cat’s Behavior Shown Through Body Language

The Cat’s Ear Positions

Most people are aware that a cat’s ears are an important part of their communication. The way a cat holds its ears can reveal what they are feeling. Different ear positions mean different things.

Ears Forward

When a cat’s ears are perked up and alert, it usually means they are interested in what they are hearing. However, when a cat’s ears are relaxed and pointing forward, it usually indicates they are happy and content.

This is because the position of a cat’s ears is controlled by muscles, and when those muscles are relaxed, the ears naturally fall into this more relaxed position.

So, if you see your cat with its ears forward and relaxed, it’s a good sign that they’re happy and enjoying the sounds around them.

ears back on a cat

Ears Erect

When a cat’s ears are erect, it usually means that the cat is feeling alert and attentive. Cats have excellent hearing. When a cat’s ears are upright, they are in the best position to pick up sound waves.

If a cat’s ears are perked up and alert, this usually means that the cat is on high alert and is ready to defend itself or run away if necessary. Cats use their ears to communicate with other cats.

In general, our feline friends are very expressive creatures, and their ears are an important part of their nonverbal communication.

Flattened Ears

There are a number of reasons why a cat may flatten its ears.

One possibility is that the cat is feeling threatened and is trying to make itself appear smaller and less threatening.

Another possibility is that the cat is feeling playful or curious and is trying to make itself look more alert and attentive. If the ears are flattened along with a low tail or wide eyes, then it is likely that the cat is feeling scared or threatened.

Ears Turned Back

When a cat’s ears are turned back, it generally means that the cat is feeling threatened or alarmed. The ears are rotated backwards in order to make the cat appear larger and more intimidating.

This behavior is often seen during fights or when a cat is encountering a potential predator.

Ears Completely Flat

When a cat’s ears are completely flat, it means that the cat is feeling scared or threatened. The ears are flattened against the head in order to make the cat appear smaller and less noticeable. This is a natural defense mechanism that helps the cat to avoid being attacked by predators.

Cats also sometimes flatten their ears when they are playing rough with other cats. In this case, the flattened ears are not a sign of fear, but rather aggression. The cat is trying to intimidate its playmate and assert its dominance in the situation.

Regardless of the reasons for flattened ears, it is always best to give a scared or aggressive cat some space until it has had time to calm down.

The Cat’s Tail Positions

A cat’s tail is its most important communication tool. By understanding the different positions and movements of a cat’s tail, you can gain valuable insights into its mood and intentions.

This is tail to rival all tails!

Straight Up

A tail that is held straight up is a sign of confidence and relaxation. The cat feels comfortable in its surroundings and is not feeling threatened.

Horizontally Behind

Horizontal tails are often a sign that a cat is feeling confident and relaxed. When a cat’s tail is held horizontally, it indicates that they are comfortable in their surroundings and feel safe enough to let their guard down.

Straight and Quivering

A quivering, straight tail on a cat usually indicates excitement or happiness. The cat may be anticipating something it enjoys, such as being petted or played with.

Alternatively, the quivering tail may simply be a sign that the cat is feeling relaxed and content.

If the cat’s tail is accompanied by other happy cat behavior cues, such as purring or rubbing against you, there’s no need to worry.

However, if the tail is quivering and the cat also appears to be tense or anxious, this may be a sign of stress. The cat may be feeling frightened or defensive. This is usually accompanied by flattened ears and widened eyes.

If you see a cat in this stance, it is best to give them some space as they may be feeling threatened.

This type of tail behavior can also be a sign of pain so if you notice your cat exhibiting this behavior frequently, it is best to take them to the vet for a check-up.

In this case, it’s best to give the cat some space and avoid any sudden movements that could startle it.

Straight with a Hook at the end

When a cat’s tail is straight up with the tip slightly curved, it indicates that the cat is friendly and approachable. This is often seen when a cat greets a human or another animal that it knows.

Straight and fluffy

A straight, fluffy tail is a sign that your cat is feeling happy and relaxed.

straight and stiff

It may be a sign that they are feeling threatened or frightened. This is often followed by the famous ‘puffed up’ look, where the fur on their back and tail stands up to make them look bigger. In this case, it’s best to give your cat some space and let them calm down in their own time.

Swishing Tail

When a cat’s tail is swishing, it typically means that the cat is feeling agitated or frustrated. The movement of the tail releases built-up energy and allows the cat to release some of its feelings without resorting to aggression.

In some cases, a swishing tail may also be a sign that the cat is on the hunt. If you see your cat’s tail swishing back and forth, it’s important to take note of the cat’s behavior in an overall context. If the cat also appears tense or hissing, it’s best to give it some space.

However, if the cat seems relatively relaxed, then there’s no need to worry. Swishing tails are just one of the many ways that cats communicate their emotions.

Other Cat Behaviors

Being Vocal

Your cat’s communication with you can mean a number of things and over time you will begin to discern them from each other.

Common Meow

When a cat meows, it is communicating with you. The pitch, volume, and cadence of the meow can all convey different messages. A common meow is typically used to get your attention and usually means “I’m hungry” or “Let me inside.”

The Call meow

When a cat wants its owner to pay attention to it, it will often give a specific call, known as a “call meow.” This type of meow is usually shorter and louder than the cat’s usual vocalizations, and it may be accompanied by pawing or rubbing against the person.

While the exact meaning of this behavior is not known for sure, it is thought that the cat is trying to get its owner’s attention in order to obtain food, water, or affection.

In some cases, the call meow may also be a sign of distress, such as when the cat is locked in a room or cannot reach its litter box.

The Chirr meow

The chirr is when a female is calling her kittens or your cat may do it when they are being lovey with their owners, kind of a rolling sound. This particular meow is often used by kittens to get their mother’s attention.

This cute meow is delightfully shown in the video below.

If you have more than one cat or multiple cats you will know that they also like to sometimes have their own kitty conversation which can sound like a series of chirps.


When a cat is hissing, it is trying to communicate that it feels scared, threatened, or angry. This is a natural instinct for cats, who are both predators and prey in the wild.

Hissing can be accompanied by other aggressive behaviors, such as growling or baring teeth. However, it is important to remember that these are all natural reactions and should not be interpreted as a sign of hostility.

Instead, they should be seen as an indication that the cat is feeling uncomfortable and is trying to defuse the situation. By hissing, they are trying to make themselves appear larger and more intimidating in order to scare off potential threats.

In some cases, hissing may also be a warning sign that a cat is about to attack.

If your cat is hissing because it feels threatened, try to remove whatever is causing the stress (e.g., a new pet or baby in the home).


When a cat kneads, they are usually showing affection or seeking attention.

Cats have scent glands in their paws, and they will often use them to mark their territory. Kneading helps to spread their scent and makes them feel more comfortable in their environment.

This behavior is often seen when a cat is being petted, as they will often knead their paws against their owner’s hand.

It is thought that this behavior dates back to kittenhood when kittens would knead their mother’s breast to stimulate milk flow. Cats also sometimes knead when they are feeling anxious or stressed, as it can be a way of self-soothing.

However, not all cats knead, some seem to outgrow the behavior, while others never display it at all. Regardless of the reason behind it, kneading is usually a sign that your cat is happy and content.


Cats love to scratch. They have a natural instinct to scratch.

Scratching provides a way for them to mark their territory, stretch their muscles, and remove the dead outer layer of their nails.

However, when cats scratch furniture or carpeting, it can often be seen as destructive behavior. This is a behavior that can cause us, the cat owners, some grief. Fortunately we do have some ways to help combat scratching of furniture whilst maintaining the cats need to scratch.

As a cat owner, I definitely don’t want furniture scratched and as a parent, I don’t want my family being scratched by the cat.

common cat behaviors explained
Kitty, this is not good!

In order to prevent your cat from damaging your home, it is important to provide them with an appropriate scratching surface.

Cats typically prefer surfaces that are textured and sturdy, so cardboard scratchers or sisal rope are good options.

You can also encourage your cat to scratch certain areas by placing a small amount of catnip on the surface. With a little patience and positive reinforcement, you can train your cat to scratch in an appropriate manner.

Litter Box Avoidance

Litter box avoidance is a minefield of possibilities and a common cat behavior.

Most cats are fastidious creatures and will use their litter pan without issue. However, there are a number of reasons why a cat may start to avoid the litter box. One common reason is that it is not clean enough.

Cats like their litter boxes to be clean, so if it hasn’t been scooped recently, your cat may start to look for another place to relieve themselves.

Another possibility is that the litter itself is not to your cat’s liking. If you’ve recently switched brands or types of litter, it may take your cat a little time to get used to it. Try going back to the old brand to see if that makes a difference.

Some medical conditions can cause a change in bathroom habits, so if your feline friend suddenly starts avoiding the litter box, it’s worth a trip to the vet to rule out any underlying health issues.

It may mean that there is something wrong with the box itself. It could be that the box is too small.

Cats are also very sensitive to smells, so if there is anything strong nearby, such as a cleaning product, this could be putting them off.

Some cats simply prefer to relieve themselves outside. If your cat has access to a garden, they may prefer to use that instead.

If you’re not sure what the problem is, it’s best to consult a vet or cat behavioral expert.

two cats
I like to think we are pretty easy going dear! Don’t you agree!

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