3 min. read

Reading a cat's body language: the tail and whiskers

Bo Vanbeselaere (Veterinarian)

Cats have a reputation for being mysterious animals. But, perhaps without you realising, your cat is actually sending out lots of important signals with her body. These signals spread a message to her surroundings and can show how your furry friend is feeling. Once you’ve learned to interpret the body language of your cat, you can respond to it correctly! Let's start with the tail and whiskers…


Happy tails

If your cat walks around with her tail vertically up, that means all is well. She's seen something she likes and she's on a trip to investigate. Is your cat holding her tail up in the shape of a question mark? That means she’s happy to see you and wants to say hello.

Is your cat very excited? Then her tail will go straight up and shake. If her tail is just hanging behind your cat's body, it’s considered a neutral signal - it doesn’t mean anything either way.

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Unhappy tails

One of the most overlooked stress signals from cats is a tail hanging low to the ground. This means that your cat prefers not to be seen because she feels threatened. At such times, it's generally better to follow her cue and pay absolutely no attention to her.

If a cat is waving their tail from side to side (both the tip and the full tail), it shows they are irritated. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If your cat has spotted some tasty prey, for example, she will usually wave her tail. So let her do her thing. She finds it exciting! But if your cat waves her tail while you pet her, it’s best that you stop.

When your cat feels really threatened, she'll puff up her tail to make it look bigger. By making it bigger, she wants to keep her opponent at bay.


Most cat owners never pay attention to their cat's whiskers, but this is one of the best ways to find out how your cat is feeling.

If your cat points her whiskers forward, it usually means she’s feeling happy… but not always! For example, if your cat spots some prey, her whiskers will be facing forward. She's excited! But if your cat comes face to face with another threatening cat, those forward-pointing whiskers tell a different story.

If your cat's whiskers are straight to the side, perpendicular to the nose, it means your cat is fine - they’re not experiencing any strong feelings, either good or bad.

When your cat walks around or sleeps with her whiskers pressed back against her cheeks, that normally means she’s feeling unhappy. In this situation, it’s usually best to leave her alone. 

However, don’t worry if your cat retracts her whiskers while performing an interesting activity. Most cats will pull their whiskers back to stop them getting in the way when they are, for example, sniffing around, eating or drinking. Pay attention to what’s going on, and you’ll know whether those flattened whiskers are a good or bad thing!

Keep these tips in mind to learn more about how your cat is feeling. This way, you can both avoid inadvertently making things worse and create extra fun moments with your furry friend.

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* The content & illustrations in this blog are based on the book 'I love Happy Cats: Guide for a Happy Cat' by Anneleen Bru.

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