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Healthy Cats

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What Your Cat's Body Language Is Saying

6 clues to help you interpret your cat's posture.
By Adriane Bishko
WebMD Pet Health Feature
Reviewed by Audrey Cook, BVM&S

What is your cat thinking? His body language may give it away.

Cats use a variety of signals (body postures, facial expressions, and vocalizations) to convey their message and avoid unwelcome confrontations.

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By learning how to decipher these feline postures, you can deepen the bonds of affection with your cats as well as prevent misunderstandings and potential aggression.

But for many of us, cat lingo feels like a foreign language, difficult to understand and still harder to decipher. Here, animal behaviorists help us interpret kitty’s cues and vocalizations.

1. Tummy Display

Feline body language is more nuanced than that of dogs, says Karen Sueda, DVM, Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. "Part of the problem arises when people take their knowledge of dogs and apply it to cats," says Sueda.

Have you ever wondered, for example, why your cat’s seemingly flirtatious behavior of rolling over to expose its belly may be met with overt aggression when you try to stroke it?

When your cat is content and relaxed, she may stretch out and roll over. But in other situations, when a cat feels cornered and cannot escape, this pose -- followed by fully extended claws and sharp teeth -- may be highly defensive, indicating that she is prepared to fight, says Pam Johnson-Bennett, a Certified Animal Behavior Consultant in Nashville, Tenn.

As with other feline-human interactions, it is important to learn what your cat prefers.

2. The Fluttering Blink

When a cat greets another cat or a person with slow, languid blinks, it's communicating affection.

Why? Because in the feline world, closing one’s eyes in the presence of another is the ultimate sign of trust.

By blinking slowly at your cat, you are communicating that you are aware of its presence and pose no threat. So the next time your cat blinks at you, try returning the gesture.

3. Classic Halloween Pose

One of the most accurate barometers of a cat’s mood is its tail.

When held high, it communicates confidence. Curled around another cat’s tail or human legs, it signals friendliness. And tucked below or between the legs, it signals insecurity or anxiousness.

The upright bottle-brush tail is an unequivocal sign that your cat is feeling threatened. And when combined with the arched back, upright hair along the spine, and unsheathed claws, the stance is a dead giveaway that you should back off, Sueda says.

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