It’s more difficult to figure out what our cats are thinking than what our dogs are. Our dogs are outwardly open about their emotions, but our cats leave a bit of mystery. Understanding which emotions your cats have, or perhaps does not have, can help pet parents build stronger, more empathetic relationships with their furry felines. 

The Basic Cat Emotions 

Researchers have discovered that cats definitely experience basic emotions such as fear, anxiety, happiness, depression, frustration, and relief. When it comes to other emotions, though, like guilt, embarrassment, or jealousy, scientists are not quite sure yet. 

They're still studying these aspects, and as they do more research, we'll get to understand more about the range of emotions cats might feel. But for now, let's focus on what we know about their basic emotions.

The Clues That Cat Body Language Provides 

Cats do have emotions that they can show you regularly if you keep an eye on body language. Our cats let us know how they’re feeling using their tails, ears, eyes, and even their voices. Each part of a cat's body can provide valuable clues about how they are feeling at any given moment.

Tail Movements: 

Your cat’s tail says a lot. When they’re scared, their tail may puff up and stand on end – a phenomenon known as piloerection, which makes them look bigger and more intimidating to threats. 

On the other hand, when cats are happy or content, they might hold their tail high with a gentle curl at the tip. These tail positions, among others, share the details you’re looking for.

Ears and Eyes: 

Your cat's ears and eyes are just as informative. Ears that are perked up and facing forward may be telling you they’re alert, curious, or even happy.

If a cat's ears are flattened against their head, they may be feeling scared or threatened. The eyes also play a role in communication; for example, dilated pupils show intense emotion, which could be either excitement or fear, depending on the situation.


Beyond body movements, cats also use various vocalizations to express themselves. A purr usually means they are relaxed or pleased, while a hiss or growl could be saying “hey, I’m angry!” or “stay away from my territory!” 

Changes Based on Environmental Conditions

How your cat expresses themselves is influenced based on their breed, how they were raised, and what their living environment is like. A cat who is raised in a loving home will likely have an entirely different set of emotions to display how they’re feeling than one raised in isolation. 

Consistent, positive interactions from pet parents have a massive impact on a cat’s emotional well-being and how willing they are to share their emotions.

Recognizing Emotional Distress in Our Cats

Cats often hide their feelings, particularly when they're upset or uncomfortable. They clearly aren’t going to walk up and tell you. And keep in mind–they aren’t dogs–so they probably aren’t sticking by your side as much as your pup is. That’s why it’s super important to pay attention to your cat’s behavior as much as possible.

You might notice signs of their emotional distress through changes in how much they eat, how they groom themselves, how they use the litter box, and their overall energy levels. 

Other warning signs include avoiding people, acting aggressively, or meowing a lot more than usual. If you see these behaviors, it's important to act quickly. Cat owners should consider talking to a vet to figure out if these are signs of emotional problems or health issues, to help ensure their cat stays healthy and happy.

Do Our Cats Understand Our Emotions?

Research has found that cats, like our dogs, are able to determine how we (and other family members) are feeling. They’re able to tell the difference between happiness and anger, for example, based on our facial expressions and emotional cues.

Understanding these signals are partly responsible for helping our cats develop life-long bonds with us. Scientists believe this ability may have developed during domestication so our kitties were able to respond appropriately to our cues. 

How Our Cats Show Trust and Comfort

Cats use behaviors like kneading, head-butting, and grooming not just to show affection, but to build emotional bonds with their human families, other cats, and other pets–like their best dog buddy. These actions are part of their instincts and help strengthen social connections. 

For example, when your cat kneads or head-butts you, they’re doing more than seeking attention—they’re marking you with their scent to include you in their social group and show trust and comfort.

Inviting You Into their Personal Space

When our cats engage in playful activities with us, like chasing those yarn strings or pouncing on their favorite toys, they’re not only playing for exercise or fun. They are also showing trust and a readiness to share their space with you, reflecting their happy emotional state. 

This type of play is vital for developing a strong emotional bond. The back-and-forth nature of these interactions solidifies the relationship between a cat and their pet parents. 

Understanding How Cats Show Empathy

Empathy, or the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, plays a crucial role in the deep bond between humans and cats. This goes beyond just recognizing emotions; it includes a sensitive response that shows understanding and support. This empathetic connection isn't a one-way road; cats also have a notable ability to sense and react to their human companions' emotional cues. 

Cats can tell when their owners are happy or sad and often respond by cuddling up to them or purring more during tough times to provide comfort. This behavior shows how cats use empathy to form a close and supportive relationship with humans, strengthening the ties of friendship and mutual understanding.

Keeping an Eye on Your Cat’s Emotions

Cats communicate their feelings in various ways, such as meowing, purring, or changes in body language. Paying attention to these cues and responding appropriately can help relieve their anxiety and enhance the connection between you and your pet. 

By consistently addressing your cat's emotional and physical needs, you ensure they feel secure and loved, which is fundamental for a strong, loving relationship with your cat.

→Here’s an easy way to support your cat’s needs on a daily basis. Our veterinarian-formulated probiotics for cats are the #1 highest quality gut health supplement. A healthy gut is the foundation for a healthy mind and behavior.←

Read More:

Emotion Recognition in Cats

Relationship Between Asymmetric Nostril Use and Human Emotional Odours in Cats

Effects of the Characteristic Temperament of Cats on the Emotions and Hemodynamic Responses of Humans

Cat Owners’ Anthropomorphic Perceptions of Feline Emotions

Understanding Feline Emotions and Their Role in Problem Behaviours

Photo by Oleg Ivanov on Unsplash

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