Cats are mysterious creatures—affectionate one moment, aloof the next. Pam Johnson-Bennett, author of Think Like a Cat (Penguin), says studying feline body language can help you understand your pet better and develop a deeper connection.

By Lisa Evans

Affectionate: Your cat's being loving when she rubs her head against you. "Cats have scent glands in their forehead," Johnson-Bennett says. "By head butting, they're depositing that scent onto you, making you part of their family." Offer her your lap.

Angry: Pinned-back ears or a lashing tail often signal that your feline is agitated, as do hissing, spitting and growling. Unless he's in danger, let him calm down.

Content: You may notice your pet kneading her front paws—sometimes on a soft blanket. An adult cat may also knead her paws on the carpet, a sweater or your leg when she's pleased. This behavior harks back to when she was nursing as a newborn, so it's the ultimate sign of security and satisfaction.

Happy: An upright tail is a call for attention and shows your kitty is in a good mood. "When he wants to be acknowledged, he'll raise it to indicate his presence," says Johnson-Bennett. Rub his head or play with him.

Nervous: If she's apprehensive—say, at the vet's—your cat will tuck her limbs under her body, in the meatloaf position. "She's appearing as small as possible and protecting her stomach, the most vulnerable body part," says Johnson-Bennett. She may also simply want to be left alone—so act like she's not even there.

Online Cat Resources

  • Get the inside scoop on your kitty's behavior, chat with other feline fans and watch videos from the resident "Cat Lady."
  • International Cat Care is a charity devoted to keeping your pet—as well as cats across the globe—healthy and happy.
  • Everything you do—and don't—need to know about your frisky friend. We're talking kitty fashion, celebrity feline crafts and the latest news.

Also Read: Decoding Your Dog's Behavior

Originally published in the August 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.