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Home > Cats > What Is My Cat Thinking About All Day? Feline Language Explained

What Is My Cat Thinking About All Day? Feline Language Explained

curious cat on a couch

Cats are often considered mysterious and perplexing because it’s hard to know exactly what they’re thinking or the reasoning behind some of their strange actions. Any cat owner can tell you how confusing the post-poop zoomies can be or how weird it is when their pet uses them as a scratching post when they have perfectly good posts around the home.

While we may never know what’s driving these strange cat behaviors or what thoughts hide behind those beautiful yellow eyes, we can take an educated guess. Using your cat’s behavior, facial expressions, and body language, feline behaviorists suggest that pet owners can deduce their pet’s thought processes.

Keep reading to learn more about how cats think, how to tell what yours is thinking, and what musings may be running around your cat’s noggin at any given time.

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Can Cats Think Like Humans?

When we look at the structure of the feline and human brain, we can see that they’re actually quite similar. Both species have four lobes in the cerebral cortex, and both brains have grey and white matter. Each region of the brain is connected in the same way. Cats and humans both use the same neurotransmitters to send data. Cats also receive input from the same five senses as humans.

While cats do think about various things, their level of thinking is not on par with humans. They have no concept of things like the future or past and can’t contemplate the meaning of things, so they tend to think about things circumstantially.

scowling white and gray cat in cardboard box
Image Credit: Tran Mau Tri Tam, Unsplash

What Does My Cat Think of Me?

Cat cognition is a still-emerging field of science, so we’ll all need to wait for more answers to get a full grasp of how the feline brain works. Until more research comes out, we must rely on information shared by professionals in the pet industry.

Many vets believe that cats look at their humans as bigger cats. They may not know that humans are a different species or, more likely, don’t care. Cats treat their caregivers in much the same manner as other felines. For example, think of the last time your cat snuggled up to you, purring and kneading. We all know this is a sign of contentment, but it’s also one of the first behaviors cats engage in with their mothers.

Research finds that cats respond differently to humans depending on the mood of the human. They are capable of reading the human gaze and do so to gauge situations at hand. For example, your kitty might look to you to determine if a current situation is concerning or not.

What’s more, cats don’t only see you as the feeder and poop scooper of the household. Studies suggest that cats display the same distinct attachment styles toward their humans that babies show their parents.

So, despite all the rumors about cats being standoffish and aloof, they’re quite the opposite deep down. Though your kitty may not meet you at the door with their tails wagging like a dog, they do care for you and consider you a part of their family.

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Using Your Cat’s Body Language to Determine Thoughts

While you can’t know for certain what your kitty is thinking, you can use its body language and facial expressions to try and figure out what it may be thinking. Unfortunately, studies suggest that many humans find it difficult to read a cat’s facial expressions. Try taking this interactive quiz to see how you fare.

Let’s look at some subtle ways your cat may try communicating with you.

Tail

Your cat’s tail says a lot about its mood, so pay attention to what it’s doing throughout the day to get an idea of what mood your cat is in.

Upright & held high: Confident, happy
Curled top: Friendly
Straight down: Agitated, aggressive
Curved below body: Nervous, submissive
Puffy: Scared, angry
Whipping back and forth: Angry, afraid
Swaying slowly/twitching: Focused
brown tabby playing with cat toy
Image Credit: Arina Krasnikova, Pexels

Eyes

The eyes are one of the most expressive parts of your cat’s body and can tell you much about what your cat may be thinking. It’s not only the action the eye is performing that cues you into your kitty’s mood, but its pupils are also expressive.

Sudden pupil dilation: strong emotional arousal (e.g., fear, pleasure, excitement)
Wide open eyes: alert, trusting
Unblinking stare: dominance, warning
Slit eyes: fear, aggression
Droopy, sleepy eyes: relaxed, trusting
tricolored cat playing with cat toy
Image Credit: Christian Bodhi, Pixabay

Ears

It’s strange to think of ears as an expressive body part, but they certainly are, at least for cats and dogs. So watch your cat’s ears closely for hints at its current mood.

Neutral: happy, relaxed, chill
Straight up and forward: alert, on control, playing
Low and sideways: frightened, nervous
Low and facing out: under the weather
Low and flat: aggressive
silver spotted bengal cat lying
mage Credit By: Valeri Pavljuk, Shutterstock

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Using Your Cats Behavior to Determine Mood

It’s not just your cat’s body parts that can cue you into their emotions. Their behaviors may be the easiest way to determine your kitty’s mood.

Happy
  • Kneading
  • Purring
  • Slow blinking eyes
  • Drooling
  • Whiskers forward
  • Playful
  • Curious attitude
  • Happy meowing
  • Snuggling
Mad
  • Hissing
  • Swatting
  • Hiding
  • Growling
  • Biting
  • Intense eye contact
  • Erect fur
  • Hard and focused eyes
  • Watching from afar
Nervous/Anxious
  • Crouching
  • Stiff body posture
  • Open mouth breathing
  • Panting
  • Tucked tail
  • Pacing
  • Hiding
  • Hypervigilance
  • Excessive grooming

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Things Your Cat Thinks About

While your cat’s body language and behavior provide great clues into the mood and thoughts of your kitty, you still don’t know exactly what it might be thinking. Below you’ll find some things your cat might be thinking about during its day.

1. Its Next Meal

Cats love food and can be demanding and purposeful when hungry. Your kitty might spend a good portion of its day wondering when you’ll feed it next, especially if you don’t have a predictable mealtime routine. It might also be scheming how to break into the food cabinet or steal treats.


2. Its Next Nap

Cats sleep an average of 15 hours a day, so it stands to reason that your kitty probably spends a fair bit of its time thinking about its next nap. Cats can be particular about their napping spot, so your pet might consider where the most comfortable and secure place for its next nap will be.

black cat on white cat tree
Image By: Madalyn Cox, Unsplash

3. Its Territory

Cats are territorial creatures, so your kitty is likely spending some time thinking about its territory. Cats have three types of territories to protect:

  • Core: where it feels safe and secure (e.g., sleeping and toileting areas)
  • Hunting: where it hunts (e.g., eating and drinking areas)
  • Shared/Common: the space it shares with other cats, people, and animals (e.g., hanging out and socializing areas)

Your cat has probably put a lot of thought into the areas it claims as its own, so you may notice it exhibiting natural marking behaviors like scratching or scent rubbing to mark its territory.


4. Its Next Hunt

Your cat’s ancestors were hunters, and though your kitty probably doesn’t have to fight to kill its food, it still carries these instincts in its genes. You may notice your kitty at the window “chirping” at the birds when its prey drive is on high alert or stalking its favorite wand toy before pouncing.

Chinese Dragon Li Cat
Image Credit: Robert Way, Shutterstock

5. You

Your kitty has feelings towards you and probably spends a good chunk of its day thinking about you. It might wonder where you’ve gone when you leave the house for work or when you’ll lay down so it can snuggle up next to you. If your cat brings you “gifts” like dead animals, it’s probably thinking you’re a pretty lousy hunter or it’s gifting you as a way to show you love.

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Final Words

Though we may never know exactly what thoughts race through the minds of our pets, we can use their body language, facial expressions, and behavior to get a good idea of their thoughts and moods. Of course, our cats are probably capable of much more complex thoughts than we give them credit for, but we’ll have to wait for further research to confirm or deny.


Featured Image Credit: Erik-Jan Leusink, Unsplash

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