Cat language goes beyond the vocalizations that include hisses, growls, chattering and meows. Nonverbal language such as tail talk offers many advantages over vocalizations. Sounds give away a cat’s location to adversaries, while posturing can’t be overheard.
Nonverbal communication lasts longer—sign language can be sustained nearly indefinitely with no need to stop and take a breath. The silent semaphore language of cats is done via facial expressions and body positions. You can read a cat’s mood by the way she holds her ears.
Curious Cat Ears
Forward facing ears express interest. This also serves to point the funnel-shaped pinna (external ear flap) toward interesting sounds, to gather as much information about the situation as possible. Notice that even during cat naps, your kitty keeps those ears pointed toward even subtle noises.
Uneasy Cat Ears
As the cat feels threatened or uneasy, ears turn toward the side. They look a bit like airplane wings jutting from each side of kitty’s head. This also helps buffer any upsetting sound that comes from that direction. Sideways-facing ears also are more protected. Consider the “airplane ears” to be early ear-warnings to back off and STOP whatever has prompted the cat to feel threatened.
Agitated Cat Ears
Flickering ears indicate rising agitation. The sideways-facing ears flutter or vibrate very quickly, in an involuntary reaction to high arousal. If the dog, person, other cat causing the arousal does not go away, the cat may progress to threat or attack.
Angry/Scared Cat Ears
Fearful or angry cats flatten ears tight to the head. This keeps the ears out of range of claws and teeth, in preparation of either fight or flight. Cats with slicked-back ears will attack, if you ignore the warning.
Ears are a kitty barometer that can help owners anticipate and avoid potential problems. If your cat acts out with petting aggression, watch for the ears turning sideways or the tail thumping to tell you when to stop.