Body Language: The Difference Between Cats and Dogs

Lying belly up: A dog is likely to lie on his back as a submissive greeting behavior or as a way to get his belly rubbed by someone he's close to. A cat, on the other hand, will lie on her back in self-defense; this position allows her to have all four paws, with claws drawn, ready to react to any threat. A cat will sometimes lie on her back for people she's close to, but very few cats actually enjoy having their belly rubbed and may respond aggressively.

Sometimes Your Cat and Dog Are Speaking the Same Language

Your cat and dog may not always be on the same page, but they do share some behaviors. Here are a few that they have in common.

Ears upright: Cats and dogs both communicate through their ears. When they are relaxed, their ears usually point forward. When they are really excited or interested in something, their ears are likely to move all the way forward and upright. When the ears move backward and are flattened against the head, there’s often underlying fear or submission.

Raised hackles: When cats and dogs are feeling frightened or overstimulated, the hair on their back and tails fluffs out and stands on end. In both dogs and cats, hair standing on end indicates an animal ready to react.

Pupil dilation and blinking: A cat's pupils dilate when she is afraid or is getting ready to attack. Similarly, a dog's pupils will dilate when he is fearful or aggressive. Dilated pupils can also indicate high arousal in both species. Eye blinks in dogs and cats indicate the desire for a peaceful greeting, while direct eye contact, without blinking or looking away, can signal a challenge in both dogs and cats.

Compacted body: When a dog or cat is afraid of something, he will make his body appear as small as possible, usually with the head held low. Similarly, both dogs and cats curl their tails underneath their bodies to indicate extreme fear.

Whiskers stiffened: Dogs and cats both have a normal height and structure to their whiskers. When they are stimulated by something and are about to react, their whiskers are more likely to stiffen and extend outward.

Panting: Panting can indicate various things in dogs, but in both species it can mean that the animal is highly stressed or frightened. Panting in a cat that is not interacting with another animal or in a fearful situation may indicate a serious health condition, and a veterinarian should be contacted immediately.

Yawning: While yawning in dogs can indicate stress, both dogs and cats may yawn as a calming behavior in conflict situations.

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