A Guide to Your British Shorthair’s Body Language

british shorthair body language

The British shorthair may be affectionate, easygoing, and fiercely loyal towards their loved ones  – but they’re not a very vocal breed. However, that doesn’t mean these cats don’t communicate in other ways. British shorthairs often use their body language to let you know if they’re happy, mad, playful, or content, but you’ve got to know how to read these physical indicators. 

Although we’ll go into more detail below, your British shorthair will most commonly try to communicate with you through:

  • Ears
  • Eyes
  • Tail
  • Body 
  • Voice

Understanding the basics of cat posture and behaviour

From the way they flatten their ears to the swish of their tail, almost every movement your British shorthair makes can be a form of communication. 

How to tell if your cat is happy?

British shorthair cats show their happiness in a variety of different ways, such as: 

  • They’re purring: If your cat purrs while they cuddle up next to you or even just as you’re petting them, this is a good sign that they’re currently feeling content. 
  • They’re playing: Your British shorthair might not seem happy when they’re tearing through your home and knocking over valuables, but playful behaviour can be a sign of happiness. Playing is a “luxury behaviour” for cats, and they usually only play once they’ve taken care of their other high-priority needs. 
  • They enthusiastically greet you: If your British shorthair bolts for the door every time you come home from work, this indicates they’re happy to be in your presence. 
  • They’re kneading: If you’ve ever seen your cat push their paws into an object (or a person), this can indicate that they’re feeling happy and relaxed. This behaviour is known as kneading or “making biscuits” since it looks a lot like your cat is trying to knead dough. Many cats also purr while they knead. 
  • They’ve got good hygiene: When a British shorthair is feeling stressed out or unhappy, they tend to forego their normal grooming habits. A shiny, healthy coat can be a sign that your cat is content. 
  • Their eyes are half-open: If you’ve ever seen your cat stare at you while they sleep with half-open eyes, this indicates that they’re feeling relaxed and unthreatened.

Although it might not always be easy to tell if your British shorthair is happy, if you regularly see some of the above behaviours, you can rest assured your cat is content. 

How to tell if your cat is angry?

When your cat is angry, there’s a good chance you’re going to know about it. As easygoing as British shorthairs may be, they can sometimes get upset  – and they don’t hide it very well. 

  • They’re making “unhappy” noises: Angry cats tend to be vocal. If your cat begins growling, hissing, spitting, or making guttural noises, they’re essentially telling you to back off and get away. 
  • A flicking tail: Your cat’s tail can portray their emotions, and a tail that’s flicking back and forth (especially when it’s low to the ground) can indicate an upset British shorthair. 
  • They’re swatting at you: If you’re petting your cat and they suddenly begin swatting at you, your British shorthair is likely upset, and they want you to stop. 
  • Flat ears: When they’re upset, cats will often flatten their ears on the side or the top of their heads.
  • Arched back: A cat that feels threatened may arch their back (with fur that stands on end) to intimidate the threat. 

If you see an arched back, a flicking tail, and hear your cat growling, you may want to get out of the way  – there’s a good chance they’re getting ready to swat at you or bite you. 

How to tell if your cat is worried?

Unlike happiness or anger, spotting a worried cat can be a little harder  – the signs can be subtle, and they may happen over time rather than just in the moment. 

  • Trembling or shaking: When they’re extremely anxious, your cat’s body may actually shake or tremble. This could happen if they encounter a new cat or person, or if they’re afraid of something in their environment. 
  • Excessive drooling: If you’ve ever taken your cat to the vet and wondered why they wouldn’t stop drooling in their crate, it’s because they’re worried and anxious.
  • Crouching in place or hiding: Some worried cats may hide or crouch under furniture when they encounter something that scares them. Skittish cats may do this when company comes over, or if you bring home a new kitten. 
  • Excessive vocalisation: A worried cat may try to communicate that they’re anxious, and they’ll do this by excessively meowing or making noise. 

Depending on what’s making them anxious, the best way to handle a worried British shorthair is by comforting or soothing them. If they’re crouched under your bed, you may want to crouch down to their level and try to gently pet them. 

It’s important to never punish your cat when they’re reacting out of anxiety or fear  – this will only make them more afraid. Like humans, cats can’t control if they’re scared, and squirting them with a water bottle or yelling can actually lead to aggression. 

How to tell if your cat is stressed?

Like anxiety or worry, a stressed cat will probably show signs over time, so you’ll need to watch and see if these behaviours happen regularly. Some owners may mistake signs of stress as your cat acting “bad” or “naughty”  – but when your British shorthair is acting out more than usual, there’s typically a reason for it. 

  • Becoming withdrawn or hiding: Some cats deal with stress by isolating themselves more than usual. If your British shorthair is usually friendly and cuddly but suddenly spends all their time under the bed, that could be a sign of stress.
  • Decreased or increased appetite: A change in appetite can be a big indicator of stress, but it can manifest in different ways. Some cats may lose their appetite and eat very little, while others will “eat their feelings” and gain weight. It’s impossible to tell if stress will decrease or increase your cat’s appetite, so you should just lookout for any change in their regular eating habits. 
  • Over-grooming: For cats, grooming actually releases endorphins, which can make them happy and relaxed. So, when they’re stressed, some cats tend to over-groom as a way to relax  – but it can have bad side effects. Some cats may over-groom to the point of pulling out hair or causing skin lesions that can lead to infections. 
  • Matted or scruffy coat: While it’s less common than over-grooming, some British shorthair cats may head in the opposite direction and stop grooming themselves completely. Grooming is a pleasurable activity for cats, but if they feel like they’re in danger, grooming may no longer feel like a priority. If your cat suddenly has a matted or scruffy coat, it could be a sign that they’re stressed. 
  • Not using the litter box: Cats can’t communicate with us directly, but they’ll do their best to let you know when something is up. A British shorthair who suddenly begins urinating outside of the litter box is probably trying to let you know that something is wrong. 
  • Being less tolerant of people or other animals: Stressed cats are not friendly cats. If they’re freaked out about something, your cat may show signs of aggression toward other people or animals. 
  • Excessive scratching: Like overgrooming, excessive scratching can be a compulsive behaviour for cats who are extremely stressed out and anxious. 
  • Increased sleeping: On average, cats sleep around fifteen hours a day, with some even sleeping up to twenty. Still, healthy cats find a way to fit in eating, bathroom breaks, playtime, and even cuddles. But if your feline seems to be sleeping more than usual, it could be the result of a stressor. 

If you’ve got a stressed-out cat, there’s usually a reason for it. British shorthairs can become stressed for a variety of reasons, especially when there’s been a change in their environment. If you recently moved, brought a new animal home, or even a new person, these changes can cause stress in your cat while they struggle to adapt. 

More seriously, some cats can get stressed out due to a physical ailment. They might not know exactly what’s wrong, but they’ll know something’s off, which can stress them out. 

If you suspect that your cat is stressed out, you might want to book a vet appointment. Even if you think you know what the stressor is, it’s still a good idea to get them checked out. In some cases, behaviours that look like stress could be symptoms related to a physical problem  – and a vet can help rule that out. 

Depending on the symptoms, your vet will likely also have some tips for helping your stressed-out cat adapt or handle their anxiety. 

How to tell if your cat is frustrated?

Like people, cats can become frustrated if they feel like they’re not in control, or they’re not getting what they want. 

  • They’re hyper-focused: A frustrated cat may become hyper-focused on the object of their frustration. For instance, if your cat wants you to turn on the faucet so they can drink out of it, they may not leave the bathroom until you do it. 
  • They have the “zoomies”: Frustrated cats need some way to release the tension they’re feeling, and they may do that by running around your home or launching into playtime. 
  • They become destructive: In some cases, a frustrated cat full of energy can become destructive as they knock things over or try to scratch up your valuables. 
  • Their meow sounds frantic: When your frustrated cat meows, the sound may be higher or sound more “frantic.” This is because your cat is trying to catch your attention. 
  • Their tail is thumping on the ground: Just like a human that shakes their leg or taps their foot on the ground, your frustrated cat may thump their tail against the floor or furniture. 

Helping a frustrated cat often depends on what they want from you. For instance, if they’re upset because they can’t reach their favourite toy, getting rid of their frustration might be as simple as grabbing the toy for them. 

However, there may be instances where you can’t give your cat what they want. Maybe they’re frustrated because they want to run unsupervised outside, or they’re trying to beg for food when it’s not dinner time yet. 

In these cases, you can try distracting your cat and steering their attention away from the source of frustration. Maybe invite them to sit on your lap or initiate playtime. 

What does my cat’s body language mean? 

Your British shorthair is constantly communicating with you  – even if they’re not making a sound. Here’s what some cat common body language gestures mean: 

Why do cats rub against you? 

There’s a reason why your cat rubs their entire body against you when you walk through the door or nuzzles against your hand when they cuddle with you. These gestures may seem loving, and while they are, they’re mostly a mark of ownership. 

Cats are territorial, and when they rub against you, they’re transferring their scent to you. It’s common for cats to head-butt or nuzzle against you because they have scent glands in their cheeks, but they’ll also rub their entire body against your legs too.

Cats like the objects (and the people) in their environment to smell like them, which is why they’ll often reinforce this behaviour when you come back from running errands or a long day at work. They’re getting rid of unfamiliar scents and adding their own. 

Although this behaviour is possessive, some people choose to see it as affectionate too  – cats can be picky about who or what they see as their own, so marking you can be a sign of approval from your cat. 

What does it mean when a cat stares at you? 

If another human were to stare at you unblinking, you might see this behaviour as unsettling or odd  – but when your British shorthair does it, it’s actually a sign of affection. Your cat stares to see what you’re up to, to make sure you’re safe, or even just to make sure they don’t miss dinnertime.

If your cat’s stare is accompanied by half-closed lids and a couple of slow blinks, this is a sign that they trust you, and they love you. 

Why does my cat reach his paw out to me? 

Does your British shorthair ever reach their paw out to you while they’re cuddling with you or perched in your arms? If they’re relaxed, cats may stretch their paw out for a couple of reasons: due to the scent glands on the bottom of their feet, this could be another way for them to mark you as property. 

Or, if you’re no longer petting them, your cat could be letting you know that they want more affection. 

If you’re sitting extremely close to your cat, grouchy felines may also use a stretched-out paw to push you further away and let you know they need some space. 

It can be tricky to tell which message your cat is trying to send, but you can use other body language indicators to figure it out. If they’re purring and nuzzling against you, they’re most likely asking for affection. But if they’re hissing and growling, they probably just want some space. 

Why do cats put their butt in your face?

Picture it: you’re sitting on the couch, and your British shorthair hops up on your lap, spends plenty of time finding a comfortable position, and then sticks their butt right in your face. 

Cats may try this behaviour with you because it’s a common way for them to communicate with other felines. Cats have a scent gland at the base of their tail, and other cats may sniff them to confirm who they are or just as a way to say “hello.” 

So, when your cat sticks their butt in your face, it’s their way of greeting you. 

However, you can also view this behaviour as another sign of trust. Cats never turn their back on anyone they perceive as a threat. So, when they turn around and present their butt to you, they’re also letting you know that they trust you enough not to attack them while their back is turned.

Why does my cat slap me with his tail?

When your British shorthair smacks you with their tail, there could be multiple reasons for it, and it often depends on the context of the situation. 

It could be that your feline is just curious about the task you’re doing, and when they hit you with their tail, they’re letting you know that they’re not leaving. 

Tail smacking can also be a form of affection  – if your cat is resting on your lap or at your feet, they may gently smack you to show they love you and that they want your full attention. 

In some cases, hitting you with their tail can be a way for your cat to let you know they’re angry with you. If you’ve done something to upset them  – like not give them your full attention  – they might slap you with their tail to show their dissatisfaction. 

Why do cats put their ears back when you pet them?

When they’re angry or threatened, cats pull their ears back as a way to protect themselves. However, some cats may also do this when you pet them, too  – and it’s for the same reason. 

If a stranger tries to pet your cat, they may put their ears back as a precaution. They don’t know this person or what their intentions are. But once a cat has gotten to know you, they should stop flattening their ears. 

Why does my cat just sit and stare at me?

Your cat could be staring at you for a couple of different reasons. If their eyes are half-closed and they’re blinking at you, that stare is a sign of love. They’re telling you they trust you. 

If your cat is alert and staring at you, they could be interested in the task you’re completing. Some cats may also stare at you when they know dinnertime is getting close, and they don’t want to miss the moment you put out food. 

Why does my cat grab my hand and bite me?

When a cat grabs your hand and bites you, this behaviour may seem malicious or mean, but your feline rarely intends for it to be. Cats are natural predators, and when they grab your hand and bite into it, they’re simulating hunting behaviour. 

They’re most likely just trying to play, and your hand seems like a toy. If you want to prevent this behaviour, you can try initiating playtime with real toys, and your cat will probably stop trying to chomp on your hand. 

Why do cats stretch when they see you? 

When you come home or walk into the same room, your cat may get up and stretch out before they greet you. Stretching stimulates their secretory glands and lets them rub their scent on you once you get close enough. 

Why does my cat follow me to the bathroom? 

Cats may like their own privacy, but your British shorthair is not going to respect yours. Cats may follow you into the bathroom for a variety of reasons. They may understand that you can’t go anywhere while you’re sitting on the toilet, and they could see this as an opportunity to get pets. 

Your British shorthair may also follow you into the bathroom simply because they follow you everywhere, and the bathroom is no exception. Other cats may join you because they like to drink water from the faucet or bathtub. 

Why does my cat try to hold my hand? 

If you’re petting your British shorthair and they suddenly reach out and snatch your hand, it could be that they no longer want pets, but they still want to maintain physical contact with you  – and holding your hand is the best way to do this. 

Why do cats walk on you while you sleep? 

If you’ve ever been woken up by a ten-pound British shorthair walking on your stomach or back, there is a reason for this. When they want your attention, or they decide it’s time to cuddle, your cat may walk on you until they find a comfortable position. Unfortunately, your feline doesn’t care if it’s in the middle of the night and you’re already asleep. 

Final thoughts

British shorthair cats may not always be the most vocal, but there are plenty of ways for them to nonverbally communicate. Now that we’ve gone through the behaviours above, you should be a pro at interpreting your British shorthair’s body language!

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