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How to Understand Your Pet’s Body Language

Have you ever looked at your pet and wondered just exactly what is going through their head?

Many pet parents would love the opportunity to speak to their pets, even for a moment, to get a fuller understanding of how they think and what they would say.

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that your pets are going to learn to speak any time soon unless you own a parrot, and even then, it’s only mimicking sounds and not actually talking to you.

Don’t despair, however – this doesn’t mean your pets aren’t communicating with you every single day.

Your animal companion’s body language is the key to understanding how they feel, what they might be thinking, and how best to meet their needs.

Keep reading to find out a bit more about the different kinds of body language for different types of pets.

How to Understand Your Pet's Body Language


Dogs are well-loved for their abundance of expression, both physically and facially.

Everyone has seen those videos of dogs furrowing their brows in shame when being scolded or opening their eyes wide in surprise.

This might be why it’s so easy for people to bond with dogs.

However, there are a few aspects of a dog’s body language that differ and can mean vastly different things despite appearing quite similar.

For example, tail wagging is not always positive. It can indicate stress or anger too.

A good rule of thumb is to take in the rest of the dog’s body – are its ears pressed flat to its head or perked up?

Are its teeth bared? Are its shoulders raised?

Context also matters greatly.

If you know that visitors make your dog nervous, chances are their wagging tail is a sign of unease.

Pay attention to every detail before assuming you know how your dog is feeling.

Beautiful green-eyed cat


Some people dislike the idea of keeping a cat as a pet because they appear aloof and disinterested.

This might seem true at first, but cats are incredibly expressive, and any cat owner would say the same.

The stiffness of a cat’s fur, the position of its ears, and whether or not its claws are exposed all tell a story.

The combination of these adds up to show how your cat is feeling.

A relaxed cat is more likely to blink slowly, whereas a stressed cat keeps its eyes wide to watch out for threats.

An arched back and spiked fur are a sure sign of fear or anger.

When in doubt, take a step back and let your cat come to you when it’s ready.

Closeup of a guinea pig

Small Rodents

Rabbits, guinea pigs, and hamsters are much harder to read than cats and dogs, but their body language can still be interpreted.

Playfulness is a sign of relaxation while staying in one corner, and moving in short, fast bursts could mean stress.

Since the body language of these animals is more difficult to interpret, arrange a check-up at your local vet if you’re concerned about their health.

Pet iguana laying by a window in the sunlight

Reptiles and Fish

This group of pets might be the most difficult to understand.

It takes time and careful observation to get to know your own pet iguana or goldfish, so learn their personality and remember that, even though they can’t speak, they have individual personalities and needs.

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