Variety of cats' facial expressions

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Cats, contrary to popular belief, are not aloof creatures. They have a rich repertoire of facial expressions, with a recent study identifying as many as 276 distinct expressions134. These expressions are a combination of various movements of the eyes, ears, and lips34. The study found that about 46% of these expressions were friendly, nearly 37% were aggressive, and roughly 17% were ambiguous13. Friendly expressions were typically seen when cats were grooming each other, resting next to one another, sniffing each other, and playing together. In these situations, cats usually moved their ears and whiskers forward and outward, and sometimes closed their eyes1. On the other hand, when cats felt threatened or unhappy with another cat, they typically moved their ears backward and flattened them, licked their lips, and constricted their pupils1. These expressions were usually displayed during aggressive behaviors such as biting, fleeing, growling, hissing, scratching, spitting, staring, and swatting at each other1. However, it's important to note that some behaviors, such as opening their mouths, dropping their jaws, wrinkling their noses, and blinking, were seen in both friendly and aggressive faces1. This highlights the complexity of cat communication and the importance of context in interpreting their facial expressions2. For instance, a cat's posture, tail, and ears can provide valuable clues about its mood, but their meaning can vary depending on the context2. A tail lifted vertically high in the air usually indicates that the cat feels comfortable and open to interaction, but in certain contexts, it can also indicate a willingness to attack2. Moreover, a cat's eyes can also provide insights into its mood. When a cat trusts you and feels comfortable around you, they might blink at you slowly2. However, narrowed pupils combined with certain other cues like flattened ears and lip licking can be an unfriendly signal3. In conclusion, understanding a cat's facial expressions requires careful observation and an understanding of the context. Future research may further decode the meanings of these expressions, potentially leading to tools like apps that can help pet owners better understand their feline companions14.
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