Anyone who has a cat knows they are very expressive creatures. They use verbal and nonverbal language to communicate their feelings to us all day long — and it’s kind of amazing.
My late cat, Bailey, had different tones to his meow that let me know exactly what kind of mood he was in at any given time. There was his “hello stranger. I don’t know how I feel about you yet, but you may pet me now so I can decide whether or not you should be allowed to live” meow. It was a sweet sound that put people instantly at ease. But I could hear the edge behind it.
He also had his “Why isn’t it dinner time? I think it’s dinner time. Why do I not see food in my bowl? The service really sucks in this place” meow. It was kind of a long, whiney sound that sounded annoyed, disgruntled, and impatient. Like he was dining at Olive Garden and trying to flag down a server to bring more breadsticks.
Then there was his “I think I might be dying from hunger. This is animal abuse. I haven’t eaten in days. I’m literally wasting away. Someone please help me!!!!” meow. He’d escalate to this meow about 30 minutes before his scheduled feeding time.
His various meows weren’t the only way he communicated with me though. Did you know a cat’s ears is one of the most expressive parts of their body?
Just as cat tail language reveals what a cat is thinking and feeling, cat ears move with emotion, too. Animal Planet describes cat ears as “a sophisticated satellite dish turning to pick up a signal.”
A cat’s external ear, or pinna, rotates up to 180 degrees to locate and identify even the faintest of squeaks, peeps or rustling noises.
With close observation, you’ll notice a pattern of various cat ear emotions revealed by even the subtlest gesture. Want to know what kind of mood your cat is in? Check out the position of their ears:
When a cat’s just being a cat, their ears are facing forward in what’s called the neutral position. In this position, they reflect a lighthearted “I’m feeling cute today” vibe.
Neutral ears indicate that a cat is feeling happy and relaxed and wants to chill out. When your cat’s ears are in neutral, it’s a great time to take advantage of their friendly mood with some pets or snuggling.
Straight Up and Forward
A cat will move its ears into this alert position when they want to pay closer attention to what’s going on around them. Your cat wants to know, “What’s that noise? Who’s there? What’s going on?” Sometimes, their ears may even face different directions!
Cats who are inclined to patrol their home exhibit this ear position and make great guard cats. It’s a stance of a confident and curious cat — you’ll often see this ear position when a cat is hunting or playing so they can collect as much auditory information as possible to execute a successful pounce.
Are your cat’s ears pointed up? Be ready for a fun-loving pounce!
A cat whose ears rotate with quick, sudden movements is a cat who is on a mission. As an extension to the “straight up and forward” move, a cat will move their ears back and forth (and shake their backside) when they’re ready to execute the attack.
This is another great opportunity to indulge your cat’s hunting instincts — just be sure to direct their attention to toys and not your feet.
Though, If your cat twitches frequently and paws at their ears, you may want to contact your veterinarian to rule out ear mites or other underlying health problems.
Low and Sideways
If your cat’s ears are flattened against their head in “airplane mode” — as if they’re about to take off in flight — it means that they’re frightened or nervous, and it could lead to aggressive behavior. When a cat’s ears are in this position, the cat is telling you that they’re uncomfortable and need some space. Your cat may hide in their favorite spot until they’re feeling more secure, so it’s important to respect their bubble and their privacy.
Incidentally, my ears do the same thing when I encounter people in public places not wearing masks. I’m just saying.
Low and Facing Out
In this position, a cat may be signaling that they’re not feeling well. Cats are experts at hiding an illness, but this ear position helps to identify if they’re under the weather. If you suspect that your cat isn’t feeling so hot, pay close attention to other possible signs of illness, including observation of their eyes and tail, and talk to your veterinarian.
Low and Flat
If you see your cat doing this, you’ll want to step away cuz she is ticked off! Basically, it translates to “step off” and “I will cut you where you stand.” So when you see this, your cat is giving you a warning that they will likely bite or scratch soon.
In multiple cat households, you may see this when cats are tussling. If it happens, keep an eye on the cats and discourage aggressive play. It’s in the best interest of humans to walk away from a cat when their ears are in this position, or you could risk getting injured.
When it comes to understanding a cat’s body language, the ears have it. Cat ears move with emotion and purpose, opening up the lines of communication between you and your furry friend — so it’s up to you to listen. They have so many great stories to tell!