7 cat facial expressions and what they mean

Cats are well known to be mysterious and enigmatic animals. As a cat owner, you may find it hard telling how your cat is feeling just from looking into their eyes. Their faces may look so expressionless, but the truth is that cats do show their feelings in their faces.

7 cat facial expressions and what they mean

The problem is that we humans are not that good in decoding the signs our feline friends are showing us via their expressions.

Most people know that a hissing cat is not so pleased and a purring cat is often content, but what if the sound is taken out?

A study showed that most of us are terrible at reading cats expressions. More than 6,000 participants from 85 different countries were involved in the study, and vast majority of them are cat owners. These participants were allowed to watch brief cat videos to judge the animals’ moods. The result shows an average score of less than 60% - which is an F, if cat videos were a school subject.

Although most people from this study were poor face readers, about 13% of these participants were quite skilled, and they scored 15 points or more out of a possible 20 points. Most of the people in this category are more likely to be women because research has shown that women are better at interpreting non-verbal cues than men, and this has been shown in studies with human babies.

Cat whisperers may also have had a prior experience working with a veterinarian technician. These people encounter a large number of cats every day and must learn to understand cats’ behavior to recognize illness and avoid injury.

What are the implications of learning facial expressions of cats?

Cats actually display different facial expressions, and these expressions vary, depending on how these cats are feeling, both negative and positive.

Being above to learn and interpret the different facial expressions of cats can help to ensure that they receive appropriate care.

For example, facial expression can show when a cat is in pain and needs urgent treatment. Being able to read their faces not only help you learn how to calm your cat, but it also helps to improve the bond between you and your cats. This happens through improved understanding of how they may be feeling.

We most times do not feel that immediate warmth towards our cats mainly because they’re so tough to pin down feelings.

Unfortunately, most people aren’t cat whisperers and it is often hard to decipher cat facial expressions.

Nevertheless, there are signs you can look out for to read your cat’s emotions. With a little practice, you may find it easier to understand cat idioms.

Below are some cats’ facial expressions and what they mean:


You often attribute purring with a good mood or contentment, right? Well, most times, this sign shows a cat is happy, but there are some situations where purring may be associated with a negative emotional state.

Your cat may sometimes purr when it’s in severe pain. You can search for clues of your cat’s feelings whenever you’re in doubts.

When a cat is happy and confident, their ears often stand upright, pupils may dilate a little or stay normal-sized. Your cat may also gaze to the right, tilting their head. This may show that they are relaxed.

A relaxed and contented cat may also give you a slow blink. Although this behavior is not seen in humans, a slow blink may be a sign that your cat trusts you.

Offering friendship

Apart from contentment, cats may show signs such as slow blinking when they are open for friendship. The slow-blinking can be for a pro-social purpose.

Generally, when cats approach a person in a friendly manner, they tend to blink slowly. This slow blinks seems to promote social interaction, which is an important tool for maintaining bonds and building relationships.


When your cat is at alert, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are unhappy, but there are some simple ways to tell the difference. Your cat may react fearfully to some unfamiliar stimuli, like loud noises or sudden movements.

Most time, a scared cat may run to the nearest hiding spot, but when they stay put, it doesn’t mean they are not afraid at all.

If your cat is half-blinking or blinking a lot, it may mean that something has them spooked. A scared cat may gaze towards the left, tilting their head (as opposed to gaze to the right when they’re happy).

Your cat may also flatten their ears back and won against their head when they are scared.

Ready to pounce

Cats are always at alert and they are very much aware of their surroundings. Little wonder you see them always in a state of alertness – but that doesn’t mean they’re in a bad mood.

When a cat is alert but relaxed, you will see their ears pricked up and pointed forward. Their pupils will probably be smaller, too. But whenever your cat has dilated pupils, it may be a sign that they are not in the best of moods.


Cats also get stressed and they often express this feeling by slumping their ears, tucking their legs in and laying down. They typically would avoid anything but still remain alert.

A stressed cat many also exhibit constant meowing, aggressive behavior or even show lack of interest in you.

Some common signs of a stressed cat include:
  • Mouth closed, but may still hiss
  • Eyes open with dilated pupils
  • Flattened ears
  • Whiskers pointed forward


It is important that you learn how to detect when your cat is angry to avoid being hurt. If your cat is angry about something, there are some facial expressions they give.

A frustrated cat always part their lips and drop their jaws. Sometimes, they may also wrinkle their nose.


Pain can cause frustration in your feline friend. You already know cats are good at hiding pains, so it is important that you look out for some signs. For example, flattened ears are generally a good sign that shows that something is not right with your cat.

More so, pain in cats is shown by squinty eyes, muzzle tension, ears flat and rotated outward, and whiskers staring and pushed forward.


Cats are not verbal but they sure give non-verbal facial cues that you can learn and understand. Reading your cat’s facial expression help build a stronger bond with your cat. You’ll be able to help when you find out they are frightened or disturbed.

It is highly worthless trying to make your cat understand human language and communicate as humans do. The simple truth is that they have their own way to communicate; so take your time to understand your cat’s facial expression in different situations. It’s really worth investing your time on your cat and the expressions above are a good starting point to learn about your cat.

However, if you notice constant changes in your cat’s behavior, it is best to consult your veterinary doctor as soon as possible. And if their health check out, maybe you should visit a cat behaviorist for better advice.



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