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Understanding Your Cat’s Emotions: The Basics

February 24, 2013

We’ve all heard the stereotypes about cat personalities.

Many people are content with writing off cats as cold, aloof, selfish, unfriendly, and too independent, leaving cat pet parents rattling off anecdotes about how their cats are anything but.

As if to address all of cats’ critics, in 2002, author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson published his book, The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats, in which he claimed that “cats are almost pure emotion” – and more than the negative qualities mentioned above. From observing his own five cats, Masson says he identified nine primary emotions: narcissism, love, contentment, attachment, jealousy, fear, anger, curiosity, and playfulness.

While the book didn’t receive the greatest of reviews from readers (it has a 3 out of 5-star rating), it does beg the questions: What emotions are our cats feeling? How can we know? Consequently, how can we improve our relationships with them and better understand them?

While our cats certainly can’t speak to us and tell us how their feeling (OK, many meow to us, but I meant in English), they’re constantly communicating – we just need to pick up on it.

If you haven’t caught on already, cats constantly communicate with their body language. It’s an intricate way for them to communicate with other cats, and yes, even us.

By learning how to interpret a cat’s body language, we can better understand our feline friends’ thoughts, reactions and feelings without over-analyzing. And if you’re the pet parent to a special needs cat, learning how to interpret body language can be exceedingly helpful since our cats may not always be able to act on their emotions, such as running away when frightened. This way we can pick up on more subtle clues, and act accordingly.

Photo courtesy Swamibu

While most of us have a general idea of how our cats are feeling – it’s hard to misinterpret purring or hissing – there really is more to it than that.

For example, a cat can express his emotions via many channels: his stance, eyes, ears, tail, posture, and more. In the next few weeks I’ll expand on all of those areas, explaining what each intricate movement means, so you can better understand your cat.

Does your cat ever confuse you with his or her body language? Please tell me about it in the comments; hopefully we’ll find an answer!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Nancy Connelly permalink
    April 27, 2015 9:22 pm

    My cat headbutt my hand until I pet him but when I pet him he all of a sudden gets mad and bites and scratches. So I leave him alone and he comes back and headbutt for attention. What’s with the jeckel and Hyde personality??

    • Emma permalink
      July 14, 2017 2:16 pm

      He’s getting over-stimulated, from the sounds of it.

    • beautydylan permalink
      July 14, 2017 2:17 pm

      He’s getting over-stimulated, from the sounds of it.

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