Cat communication: how do I know if my cat is happy?

Our cats might not be the most talkative pets, but we can tell a lot about how they’re feeling through their body language. Our helpful guide will help you learn the basics of what your feline friend is telling you.

Because cats haven’t evolved to be as social as some other pets, their facial expressions are a bit more limited and they tend to communicate using things like scent which us humans don’t really understand. This means it can be hard to know how our cats are feeling. They’re independent characters and may not seem very expressive if you’re not sure what to look for. It’s easy to tell when your cat is happy and purring on your lap, but being able to recognise when they’re sad or anxious can really help you understand them and know when something is wrong.

When looking at your cat’s body language, try to think about what is happening around them and whether they are likely to be in a good or a bad mood. Then look for the signs they are showing in these situations, looking for as many signals as possible, to help you recognise how they’re feeling. This can be tricky, as lots of body language and facial expressions can happen when cats are both happy and unhappy (for example crouching down can be a sign your cat is anxious but could also be them being playful). It’s definitely worth taking the time to learn what your cat is telling you though, especially if you realise they’re letting you know how much they like spending time with you!

Take a look at our guide to cat body language below to help you work out how your cat is feeling.


Signs your cat is happy and content

Happy looking cat lying in the sun

Some cats will make it quite obvious when they’re happy. A loud purring in your ear can be hard to ignore! They might also come and find us for a fuss, or just happily curl up next to us.

Other signs of a happy or content cat are:

  • Body: your cat will look completely relaxed. They might greet you by rolling on their back (but remember, this doesn’t usually mean that they want belly rubs!).
  • Tail: when your cat feels happy and safe, when they’re standing their tail might be upright with a little curl at the end. It won’t be stiff or look puffy. If your cat walks towards you with their tail lifted up, this is often their way of greeting you. The top of their tail may also be twitching.
  • Eyes: your cat’s eyes can look more almond shaped than round when they’re happy. If they’re lying down they might even have them half closed. If your cat looks at you and is blinking or winking slowly it usually means they’re content.
  • Ears: their ears will usually be pointing upwards and facing forward if your cat is happy.

If your cat is happy to see you, you might even notice them doing a little jump to meet your hand for a stroke!


Signs your cat is worried or anxious

Worried looking cat hiding

Lots of things can make our cats feel stressed or anxious. They tend to let us know how they’re feeling through their body language.

Some signs your cat is feeling anxious include:

  • Body: a worried cat might crouch and look tense as they try to make themselves as small as possible. If they move around you might notice they’re keeping themselves close to the ground. Sometimes they might hide away.
  • Tail: if your cat is feeling scared or worried, they might tuck their tail in close to them, but they may also flick their tail if they are feeling threatened or annoyed.
  • Eyes: you might notice your cat’s eyes look wider if they’re feeling anxious. Their pupils will look really big too, but remember this can also happen in low light conditions or if they are really excited.
  • Ears: a worried cat will be on high alert, so their ears will be pointing up but facing outward so they can hear everything going on around them.
  • Whiskers: when cats are frightened they will often have their whiskers flat against their face or bunched together.

If you’re worried your cat might be stressed, take a look at our top tips for reducing stress in cats.


Signs your cat is angry or very unhappy

Cat with back arched looking unhappy

An angry cat is always a worry. If your cat is angry about something, it’s important to try and figure out what’s upsetting them. It could be something in the home, something that has spooked them outside, or even because they’re feeling unwell.

Some of the signs your cat is unhappy include:

  • Body: your cat will be very tense if they are unhappy. They may flatten themselves to the ground, or arch their back and make themselves look bigger (all their fur will stand on end).
  • Tail: if your cat is flattened to the ground when they’re unhappy, their tail will likely be tucked close to their body. If they’re arching their back, their tail will look tense too and they might hold it upright with the fur standing on end. If your cat twitches their tail rapidly backwards and forwards, this is often a sign they’re getting upset or angry.
  • Eyes: an angry cat’s eyes can look big and their pupils often look dilated.
  • Ears: if your cat is unhappy, you’ll find their ears are a lot lower than normal or even flat against their head.
  • Whiskers: if your cat is angry or focused, they will often have their whiskers held outwards and forwards usually pointing at the thing they’re looking at.

Unhappy cats may also hiss at whatever is making them unhappy, or even swipe. It’s important to give your cat space to avoid being on the receiving end of their claws and try to find the cause so you can deal with it to help calm them down.


My cat is purring – does this mean they’re happy?

Cat curled up asleep

We often think a purring cat is always a happy one. For the most part, our cats do purr when they’re happy or content. As long as their body language looks relaxed, too, then it is likely that your cat is purring because they’re happy.

This said, our cats don’t always purr to show they are happy. Sometimes our cats can purr if they’re anxious, worried or in pain (for example, your cat may purr at the vets even though you know they aren’t happy to be there!).

If your cat is purring at a time when it would be unusual for them to be happy, make sure you pay attention to their body language because this will be a clearer sign of how your cat is feeling.

Want to know more about cats?

Helping nervous cats

If your cat is worried by something or they find it frightening, read our vets advice on how to help them and let them know the world isn't so scary.

How to help your cat

Stress in cats

Stress can have a big effect on our cats and make them unhappy. Find out how to give your cat the perfect, stress-free life!

Stopping cat stress

Cat-friendly homes

Creating a cat haven at home can be the ideal way to make sure you see lots of their happy body language. Read our free guide on a cat-friendly home.

Ideal environment for cats