Maryland Pet

Cat Body Language: How to Tell When Your Cat is Afraid

It’s easy for humans get scared, even if there isn’t a real reason to be afraid. Animals are the same way. This is why it’s important to learn all about cat body language, and what most cats tend to do when they’re afraid so that you can help to alleviate the situation.


Here are the biggest signs that your cat may be afraid.

1.  Ears Down

One of the most obvious signs of fear in a cat is seeing their ears back, close against their head. Cats lay their ears down in fear, anxiety, or nervousness, and if you see your furry friend in this position, it’s best to keep your distance. After all, you don’t want to add yet another scratch to your collection of playful kitty scratches on your arms!

The reason for this move is actually to help protect a cat in a potential catfight. Pinning their ears down against their head is a self-defense from possible slashing claws coming their way.

2. Dilated Pupils

A calm cat’s eyes have vertical slit-like pupils. However, if your cat becomes startled or afraid, their eyes start to dilate into full circles, with only a sliver of color surrounding them. Dilated pupils occur when your cat is surprised, scared, or stimulated, and it helps to maximize their vision.

This is why you’ll also see their pupils dilate (and why your own pupils dilate) when in a dark room — so you and your cat can still see around the room, even with limited light.

On the other hand, a cat with constricted pupils–meaning pupils that are slittier than normal–can be a sign of anger or aggression. You want your kitty’s eyes to be a happy medium: vertical pupils, but more than a tiny slit.

3. Wet Paw Prints

One little known fact about felines is that they only have sweat glands on the pads of their feet, rather than all over their bodies like humans do. When scared and in a tense situation, your cat may start to sweat, leaving a trail of wet paw prints behind them.

This is nothing to scold about–instead, simply wipe the paw prints (after all, we all sweat) and see if you can figure out what has given your cat a case of the heebie-jeebies.

4. Tail Down

Pay close attention to your cat’s tail: it can tell you a lot about how your pet is feeling. While tail up may mean a happy and cheerful cat, tail down can mean quite the opposite.

A cat who has their tail down close to their body, or even tucked between their back legs, is in a submissive position and is probably feeling scared. Do your best to avoid any sudden movements or loud noises if you see your cat’s tail in this position. You don’t want to frighten them further!

5. Increased Heart Rate

Although most frightened cats don’t particularly want you near them, there may be instances where you’re holding your frightened cat, like during a visit to the vet or during a road trip. If you’re unsure how your pet may be feeling, try to feel for an increased heart rate.

A cat’s normal heart rates ranges from 120 to 140 beats per minute, while a frightened cat’s heart rate can get up to 180 beats per minute. The purpose of this is to supply your cat’s muscles with more blood in preparation for an attack (i.e., potential catfight again), but hopefully a brawl between your cat and their vet won’t be necessary.


Identifying fear in your cat is one step to becoming a caring cat owner. The next step is actually alleviating the fear, comforting your cat, and ensuring they’re comfortable in their surroundings. Cats are like introverts, desperately needing some alone time, so it’s a good idea to give your pet plenty of places to hide. A enclosed cat house or teepee can be a safe haven for your cat when they’re scared.

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