When determining a cat's posture, take into consideration the environment he's in. Your cat may show only some of the characteristics of a certain posture. Observe your cat in various situations (such as during play, at rest and at the vet) to become familiar with his postures.
Friendly: Ears pointed slightly forward, whiskers pointed sideways (relaxed), whiskers fanned out, pointed forward (alert), smooth hair coat, vertical tail, head bunting, vocal murmur of acknowledgment, nose-to-nose touching
Playful: Ears pricked forward, dilated pupils, various tail positions, fanned-out and forward-facing whiskers, stalking movements, occasional chattering
Fearful: Dilated pupils, hair coat may be raised along back and tail, tail may lash or be tucked close to the body, whiskers pulled back along face, flattened ears pointing down and back, crouched body, often facing sideways to opponent, hissing, growling, or spitting, offensive aggression, direct stare with constricted pupils, fanned-out and forward-facing whiskers, lips curled into a snarl, hair along shoulders and tail standing up, forward-facing body with hindquarters raised (ready to pounce), tail down
Defensively Aggressive: Dilated pupils, ears flattened, facing down and back, whiskers pulled back along face, arched back, hair coat standing up, tail held either up and over the back or low to the ground or in inverted U position, facing opponent sideways, mouth held open, hissing, growling, or spitting, slapping the ground in front of him with front paw, rolling onto his back to fight if there's no means of escape
Submissive: Dilated pupils, avoiding direct eye contact, ears held flat, smooth hair coat, tail down and close to the body, crouched position with head held down, may issue a "silent meow"
Now that you have more insight into your cat's methods of communication, are there times you can remember when you may have misread a signal? I have met hundreds of clients who for years thought that their cats' wagging tails meant they were happy. It would always be a shock when they got bitten or scratched because they hadn't understood the warning signs.
Whenever I do behavior seminars and people come up to greet me, as I'm shaking hands I always look down at theirs. Every time I see a hand with several scratches, I think, there's an owner who isn't listening to what the cat is trying to tell him.
About the author:
Pam Johnson-Bennett began her career when her own problem cat was labeled hopeless by the vet. After successfully treating her own cat, as well as hundreds of other "hopeless" pets, she became a veterinary technician and the award-winning author of four books on cats. She's now a popular guest on national TV and radio, writes regularly for three major cat magazines and runs a private vet-referred counseling practice in Tennessee.
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