Your pet uses their eyes, ears, mouth, tail, and body posture to relay their mood and emotions. Reading these cues accurately can help you understand your pet, and strengthen your bond. Our team at Cherry Knolls Veterinary Clinic would like to assist you by teaching you to interpret your pet’s body language.

Relaxed pet cues

You want your pet to relax, and feel comfortable and happy. A relaxed pet is more likely to remain healthy and live a long life. Dogs will be loose and languid, while cats exude contentment. If your cat gives you a slow blink or winks at you, they are signalling their affection. However, beware of the exposed belly, which is a signal that your dog wants a belly rub, but not necessarily an invitation from your cat. You may leave with a few scratch marks if you misinterpret this signal.

  • Calm dog — The head is raised and their posture is straight, the ears are up and straight, eyes are squinting, the tongue is out and moved to one side of mouth, the nose and forehead are smooth, and the tail may move slightly.
  • Chill cat — Their ears are upright and forward, eyes are blinking softly or half closed, and their whiskers are away from the side of their face. They will lie stretched out or on their front, with paws tucked underneath, and their tail extended or loosely curled around them.

Alert pet cues

Your pet may go on alert if they hear the treat bag open or if you bring out their favorite toy. They are interested, but not upset or afraid. As natural hunters, cats and dogs hear much better than humans, and may suddenly go on alert in response to something you did not hear. Dogs may curiously tilt their head to one side, and cats may begin to revolve their ears to catch every little noise. 

  • Attentive dog — Their eyes are wide open, the ears erect and forward, the nose and forehead smooth, and the mouth is closed.
  • Watchful cat — The eyes are wide open, ears are erect and forward, whiskers are moved forward, and the tail is up and possibly twitching.

Playful pet cues

Playtime is an excellent way to keep your pet mentally and physically engaged. All pets need vigorous play time to improve their overall well-being, and to strengthen your bond. Dogs tend to become happy and excited, while cats go into stalker mode. 

  • Exuberant dog — They will use the ”play bow” pose (i.e., the hind end up and front end down), the tail will be up and wagging, the eyes open, pupils dilated, ears up and straight, and the mouth open and tongue lolling. They may bark excitedly.
  • Frisky cat — Their eyes are open and pupils dilated, and they are focused on the source of interest, with the ears erect and forward. They will be crouched down, and their tail will be twitching.

Anxious pet cues

Your pet is worried about something happening in their environment. Their respiration and heart rates may increase slightly. Dogs may start to yawn, but unlike humans, they are stressed and not sleepy. Cats will be wary of movement and will likely not want to be approached. If possible, determine the source of your pet’s stress, and dispel the issue before their anxiety escalates to fear or aggression.

  • Tense dog — They will be dry panting, licking their lips, yawning, and showing indirect eye contact. They may turn their head away from the source of stress, with low head and body position, and their tail held low, or tucked under the body.
  • Stressed cat — Their eyes are open wide, pupils are dilated, ears are pricked forward or slightly flattened against their head, and the whiskers are forward. Their tail is close to their body, and may move from side to side.

Fearful pet cues

Anxiety can quickly escalate to fear, and your pet will not be comforted until the source of their fear is removed and they feel safe. Do not chastise your dog if they growl when they are afraid. This is their way of communicating that they are upset, and if they cannot express this emotion, they will feel frustrated, and may resort to aggression to get their point across. If your pet is exhibiting fearful behavior, determine the source of their fear, and remove them from the situation, or eliminate the cause.

  • Terrified dog — They will use indirect eye contact, a crouching body position with the head lowered, ears low and back, and the tail fully tucked under their body. They may tremble, whine, or growl softly.
  • Petrified cat — The cat will stay motionless, crouched over their paws, the eyes open and pupils dilated, ears flattened against their head, and whiskers back. They may tremble and growl or meow plaintively.

Aggressive pet cues

Your pet may usually be mild mannered and friendly, but if they feel provoked or threatened, they can respond with aggression. Pets who exhibit fearful signs and see no relief may resort to aggression to escape the situation. Recognizing aggression signs is important to prevent animal fights, and injury to yourself or others.

  • Hostile dog — They will stand upright with their weight over the front limbs, be intense, stare directly, with their hair raised over the neck and back, and the lips pulled back, revealing their teeth. They will snarl and growl.
  • Combative cat — They will use the typical “Halloween cat” stance, with the back arched and the hair on the back and tail bristling, the eyes open, pupils dilated, ears flattened on their head, and the whiskers back. They will hiss, growl, or yowl.

Interpreting your pet’s body language will improve communication between you and your pet, and enhance your relationship. If your pet communicates that they need to visit their veterinarian, or you would like to discuss your pet’s behavior, do not hesitate to contact the team at Cherry Knolls Veterinary Clinic to schedule an appointment.