Canine and Feline Body Language: Common Misconceptions

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Our Pet’s Body Language

Most pet owners devote their lives to do whatever they can to provide excellent welfare for their beloved furbabies. As fellow pet owners, we know that any bit of reliable information to help us improve our pet’s lives is appreciated. We have discovered the truth about the misconceptions of canine and feline body language and can attest that this knowledge has strengthened the bond with our own pets. They will hopefully do the same for you and your pet(s)!  


Happy Dog
Photo by Kuma Kum on Unsplash

Common Misconceptions in Our Pet’s Body Language

Building awareness of the subtle differences between the body language pets may present, will help yours feel as comfortable as possible. It may also incline you to advocate for your pet when they are in situations that make them feel stressed, fearful or anxious.

Misconception #1: A wagging tail means a happy pet

This may be true in some instances, but it also does not always translate that a dog is happy. A high wagging tail can be a sign of stress. This is important to note as dog’s use their tails as one of their main communication sources. Interpreting the message incorrectly can decrease their welfare.

Cats also use their tails to communicate how they are feeling. They may gently move their tail back and forth when they are feeling relaxed. However, if they are feeling stressed or fearful, cats may forcefully ‘wag’ their tails.


Scared cat
Photo by Ioana Cristiana on Unsplash

It is useful to make note of these subtle differences between tail movements to ensure you are reading their message loud and clear!

Misconception #2 – Panting means my pet is thirsty

Panting does not always mean a dog is hot or thirsty. It can occur in other situations such as stress or pain. If you notice your dog panting during times that they haven’t been exercising or outside in the heat, they may be “stress-panting.” They may even be experiencing pain.

In cats, panting is not commonly seen and therefore in most cases, it means that the cat is distressed.

Consult your veterinarian if your pet has chronic and/or severe panting.

Misconception #3 – My pet won’t take food because he isn’t hungry

Denying food or treats in healthy cats and dogs may happen if they are feeling above their stress threshold. This can occur in new environments, during procedures they may be uncomfortable with (ie. nail trims, brushing, bathing) and many other situations. Tip: Using high-value treats can help manage or overcome some stress on your pet (such as our Chicken Crunchies and Mackerel Munchies).


High-value treats: Golden Fish Bites

On the contrary, some pets that are feeling stressed or anxious may take food/treats very rapidly or roughly when they usually have a gentle mouth. Try to notice this when you are in a new place or situation with your pet; it can help you gauge how comfortable they are in certain situations.



Make your Pet Feel Comfortable

Understanding the misconceptions of canine and feline body language can strengthen the bond with your pet. It can also help them feel more comfortable, allowing you to be an advocate in situations they feel stressed, fearful and anxious. Remember to keep these behaviours/body languages in mind when you interact with your pet or even someone else’s!

*The described body language is mentioned in general situations. They may be signs of other behaviours, feelings or health conditions. Please consult a pet professional if you have any concerns with your pet’s behaviour or quality of life.



About the Author
Lorena S. is a Veterinarian Student from The University of Queensland.

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