Assuming you are a cat owner, you may have been the victim of a scratch, bite or even a hiss. Cats often give a range of warning signs to let you know they are about to strike and might become aggressive. It’s important people who haven’t spent much time with cats or is a new cat owner is aware of their body language (because obviously cats can’t politely tell you to leave them alone).
Understanding these signals is especially important to children who may be a new cat owner or who might be loud and excitable. Obviously, children have the best of intentions with their pets, but cats are a predatory animal that prefers to feel in control. By understanding them, they can provide the cat with a method of communication which doesn’t require a scratch, nip or bite.
HEAVY PURRING: purring is not always a sign of contentment. Purring can also be a sign of anxiety and frustration. Notice that a purring and relaxed cat will be half sleepy and will happily nuzzle and stay in your company. Aggressive or anxious purring will be followed with tense muscles, trying to flee or with their ears pinned back to their heads. If you notice an aggressive purr, give your cat space and time for him/her to settle down.
HISSING: this is an obvious sign of stress and anger known by most of us. Now hissing is an evolutionary sign your cat wants to show their teeth. Showing teeth is like a miniature lions roar, it lets your competitor know your strength and know that you’re angry.
DEEP MEOWING: We have often heard a high pitched “I’m hungry” meow. Then there is also a deep “guttural” meow. This is made by the back of the cat’s mouth and is an infamous signal the cat wants to fight. This is almost like a challenge, enabling the other cat/ person to be warned and get away before they become aggressive. The lower and deeper the meow is often a sign of masculinity in tom cats (males).
EARS PULLED BACK: Cats have spectacular hearing and they often pull their ears back when distressed to protect their ears. If you notice a cat is giving you this signal, they are scared and may become aggressive if further provoked.
WHISKERS OUT OR BACK: Same as the ears pulled back signal, this is alerting the person/ other cat that your cat needs space. It’s also a warning they might become aggressive if further provoked.
SQUATTING THEIR LEGS DOWN: This is a “pounce” position. This can be a playful sign when playing with another cat or with a toy. If they are positioning themselves like this in front of someone, this can be a sign they might pounce and have a little scratch or a bite.
FUR STANDING UP: This is a universal “fight or flight” signal across cats and dogs. By having their fur standing up on end, it makes them appear bigger (a brilliant optical illusion). If this signal is directed towards a person, avoid the cat and give them a big space while you do so. This is a fight signal, not a play signal. Warn children of this body language because this is a big sign they might bite or scratch or even latch on.
Obviously us as adults are well aware of these signals. However, people who may not have much interaction with cats or kids often don’t know or even recognize these signs. Cats don’t have a huge number of communication methods and a cat bite or scratch can become very nasty so it’s important you understand what they are saying before it’s too late.