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How Animal Professionals Read Pet Body Language

As animal health professionals one important lesson we all learn by experience is how to read the visual clues a pet gives us and using this to assist us in determining likely behaviour and in some cases, appropriate treatment.


Most people who come in contact with dogs and cats with any sort of frequency will now when he or she is showing fear or aggression. Obvious signs include ears pinned to their head, bared teeth, a rumbling growl, a lowered tail, the fur on the shoulders and base of the back raised, body arched skyward and often she will position herself sideways in a defensive position, ready for fight or flight.

As well as fear and aggression, there are other behaviours exhibited when the animals are happy, anxious, or alert. For example, just like humans, many dogs and cats lick their lips when they are nervous or apprehensive. A tail pointing straight up, perpendicular to their back is a sign of happiness and reassurance for both dogs and cats, while a tail running parallel to the back can be a sign of confidence or disinterest.

A cat's tail is a good indicator of its mood. A fast, slapping tail, usually smacked against an object or the floor means a cat is in attack mode. You will see this type of tail movement for example, when your cat is watching a bird through a window. A tail perpendicular to the floor is usually a sign of a relaxed, friendly cat.

A cat or dog's ears also often indicate what they are feeling. Ears perked straight up and pushed forward means they are curious and paying attention. While cat ears can be easier to read than spaniels and other floppy eared dog breeds, with experience even subtle dog ear movements can be translated.

Both dogs and cats have relaxed postures in their faces and bodies when they are comfortable. When they feel confident they will stand tall with an alert face, but a calm demeanor.

Nervous or unsure cats and dogs will generally turn their ears back slightly and slouch to make themselves seem smaller. They will also lower their tail. Dogs will often place their tail between their legs, and cats may wrap their tail tightly around themselves.

Remember, no one method of telling a pet's demeanour is perfect and all body gestures need to be considered in their context. Keep an eye on the other signals the dog or cat is conveying. For example a wagging tail on a dog might mean fear, rather than happiness, but there will be other cues, like bared teeth. By learning to read some of these visual markers, you can learn to better anticipate your pet's needs, and offer comfort when she is nervous or anxious or avoid situations where he is likely to be fearful or aggressive.

CanadaVet Photo Contest!!
We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our customers who entered our recent Pet Photo Contest, the response was overwhelming. It was very challenging to choose our winners!

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