ExcitedCats is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more.

Cat Ear Language: What Your Cat’s Ears Can Tell You

If you’ve ever spent any time observing your cat’s ears, you’ll already know that you can detect your cat’s feelings by how their ears are positioned. Cats can express many emotions through their ears, and when taken in combination with their eyes, body, and tail language, these can tell you about what your cat might be thinking.

Paying careful attention to your cat’s ear language can help you work out how they’re feeling at any given point. This can give you a clue that your cat’s fun play session might be about to turn rough or that they’re not feeling 100% healthy.

Your cat’s ears can move independently and rotate through 180 degrees as they try to identify and zone into a particular sound. As you become more tuned in to your cat’s ear language, remember to consider the context of whatever situation they’re in. They may use the same ear language when they’re feeling alert and ready to play that they use just before they decide that something is scary and they go into flight mode.

Sometimes be tricky to work out exactly what our cats thinking. Start paying attention to your cat’s subtle ear language, and you’ll soon find that you can gain a deeper understanding of your furry friend.

cat face divider 2


This is the “default” ear position, when your cat is just going along with their everyday life. If you see your cat with a neutral ear position, then you can be confident that they’re feeling relaxed and content. Cats will often have this ear position when they’re relaxing on the couch with their owners, wandering around the house looking for a comfortable place to sleep, or simply staring into space.

thematic break

Straight up facing forward

This ear position is a definite indicator that your cat is alert and focused on something that’s caught their interest. Their ears will be facing the direction of the sound that they’re trying to zone in on. While your cat’s ears will usually be facing forward, your cat can move their ears independently, so you may see their ears facing different directions!

If your cat has their ears up and forward, you can assume that they’re alert and paying attention to their surroundings. This is a great time to initiate playtime with your cats, so go and grab their toys and test out their hunting instincts. Alert cats that love to pay attention to their surroundings will be seen demonstrating this ear language more often than a laidback cat that prefers to spend more time sleeping than patrolling!

thematic break


If you see your cat’s ears twitching, they may be getting ready to pounce on something. This ear language will often follow the straight up and facing forward position if your cat decides that whatever they’ve been watching is worth chasing. While they’re twitching their ears, you may also see your cat wiggling their bottom and lowering their bodies as they prepare to pounce on whatever has caught their attention.

When a cat is demonstrating this ear language, it usually means they’re ready to play and engage in fun games. Just make sure you direct them to pounce on a toy rather than your toes! One exception is ear twitching when it’s not accompanied by playful or stalking behavior. This may indicate that something is irritating their ears, such as mites or an ear infection.

Your cat’s ears might also twitch while they’re sleeping. It can sometimes be tempting to make your cat’s ears twitch by tickling them, but this is actually annoying for your cat to put up with!

thematic break

Low and facing outward

This ear position can indicate that your cat may not be feeling in the very best of health. Cats are incredibly skilled at hiding illnesses or pain, so a subtle sign like this ear language is something to pay attention to. If this ear position is accompanied by any other signs that your cat isn’t feeling themselves, such as not eating as much as usual, sleeping less or more than usual, or just not seeming quite right, it may be worth speaking to your vet for more advice.

thematic break

Low and facing sideways

This ear position is sometimes called “airplane ears.” A cat with their ears low and sideways may be nervous, frightened, or preparing to flee from something that’s alarmed them. While a cat with their ears in this position may need reassurance, they may not appreciate being picked up or fussed over. They may have heard a noise that’s spooked them or seen a strange cat approaching the house.

Don’t be surprised if your cat runs off to hide under the bed or in a space where they feel safe. As long as they’re not otherwise unwell, it’s best to leave them to their own devices until they decide to come out from their hiding spot — probably around the time that you get their next meal ready!

thematic break

Low and laid flat

This ear language gives a clear signal to “back off.” A cat may use this ear language to warn another cat away from their favorite toy, and it can often be seen displayed between two cats that are engaging in play fighting that turns aggressive. Ears low and back will be used as warning signals that claws and teeth may soon be deployed!

Cats will also use this ear language to let a human family member know that playtime is over and it’s time to step away. So, if your cat uses this ear position while you’re playing, gently step away and give your cat some space.

cat paw divider

thematic break

Featured Image: Laralou Photography, Shutterstock