As anyone who has been around a feline or two knows, cat behaviour is often confusing – sometimes even contradictory. A purring cat usually means a happy cat, but cats can also sometimes purr when they are scared or in need of self-soothing. Head scratches and even chest scratches are good – try to venture further down towards the tummy and you may end up bleeding. With that said, there are a few cat behaviour signals that are easier to read.

A Guide to Cat Behaviour

Wondering how to read cat behaviour? Here are some of the ways that you can tell what your cat is feeling.


A look at your cat’s pupils will tell you whether your cat is feeling playful (large), content (small) or scared (fully dilated). Of course, being cats, you may have to look at other behaviour to be sure that you are not reading playful eyes as scared eyes or vice versa.


Ears are usually a good signal. Flattened, backward or sideways ears typically mean that your cat is in defensive or aggressive mode. Forward ears mean that your cat is alert, happy or interested in something they are watching, like a bird. Swivelling or twitching ears mean that your cat is listening to something.


The tail is almost always a good indicator of your cat’s current state. A fluffed out tail can often signal defensiveness or aggression (or a playful mood). A strongly twitching tail signals irritation or anger. An erect tail signals happiness or curiosity. An erect quivering tail shows excitement, or, in the case of unfixed cats, it could mean that they are about to spray.


An arched back usually signals aggression or defensiveness if the fur is standing on end. If the fur is flat, an arched back means your cat is welcoming your touch. Cats lying on their back, grooming and purring are safe and happy. Cats lying on their back and growling are preparing to strike.


As we mentioned above, purring typically signals happiness but could also mean pain or distress in some cases. Chirps are often made at food time to call humans. Growls, hisses and other warning sounds signal anger. Chattering or tittering is usually done around birds.

Reading cat behaviour is a great way to learn more about your cat, so that you are better equipped to meet their demands in a way that is acceptable to your feline ruler.