The short answer is, it’s not happy. But your cat is an emotionally complex creature, so when a cat’s ears go back they could be experiencing a range of negative feelings: from slightly annoyed to afraid or aggressive.

Cute cat enjoying his life


Grumpy cat

When your cat’s ears start moving backwards, it’s probably irritated or frightened. Maybe it doesn’t like where you’re scratching, or has seen another feline in the garden. Taking the hint and giving your cat some space is good pet care. This is a volatile time, not cuddle time.

Cat fight

By the time your cat’s ears are flat against its head, it’s ready to fight. Whether it’s the aggressor or defender, your cat will instinctively pin it’s ears back to protect them from clawing or biting in a fight. If you want to avoid a nasty scratch, don’t pick up, or even touch, your pet at this stage.

Ear the difference

Cats have 32 muscles in their ears, allowing them to convey a broad range of emotions.

  • Slightly forward and to the side: your cat is happy and relaxed. It’s most open to cuddles or pats at this time
  • Upright: your cat is alert or interested – maybe it’s heard its food bowl rattle or noticed a new toy. It’s probably not in the mood for cuddles.
  • Swivelling or twitching: your cat is nervous, agitated or listening out for something. You might want to offer some reassurance.
  • Uneven: Cat’s ears can move independently and if they come to rest in different positions your cat may be confused. It’s likely to go some place quiet to decide how to respond.
  • Pushed back: If a cat’s ears flatten back it’s probably angry, defensive or irritated.
  • Unmoving: If your cat’s ears are frequently horizontal or don’t move, your local Greencross Vets can check for an infection or mites.

Cat's ears back

Of course, there is a chance you can read far too much into the position of your cat’s ears. Your cat could simply be swivelling its ears to listen to something behind it. After all, ears are for hearing.

Recommended cat food bowls