Why do cats tilt their heads when you talk to them?

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Have you always wondered why your cat does some of the things it does?

I believe that cats have a unique style of communication and once you spend enough time with a cat, you will become familiar in figuring out what it wants to tell you. Understanding a cat’s body language is the key!

In my experience, communication with cats or any other animal for that matter, happens at an intuitive level.

Generally speaking, when your cat tilts its head, it’s usually trying to understand you better. Tilting the head makes it really tune into the sound of your voice as you say it. In the absence of non-verbal communication, cats try to derive meaning from your intonation along with any verbal cues.

In certain situations, Cats tilt their heads sideways when they look at you when you’re saying something that interests them.

Why do cats tilt their head when playing?

Whether it is a laser pointer, ball or a shoe string, Cats’ instinctive behaviour kicks in when they’re playing. This natural hunting instinct makes them really size up the object (like prey), looking at it from all angles.

Another explanation is that cats have far fewer cones in their eyes than humans. Which means they see fewer colours thereby needing to focus more on the size of the object.

Whilst its really funny and heart warming to see cats tilt their heads, if your cat is acting drunk and stumbling, it could also be a symptom of an underlying medical condition called Feline Vestibular Disease.

What is Vestibular disease in cats?

According to Cornell University of Veterinary medicine, Feline Vestibular Syndrome  is a serious disease that causes sudden loss of balance in cats. The cat is dizzy and disoriented, eyes rapidly flicking back and forth, yowling, often circling & rolling over to one side accompanied with nausea/vomiting.

The vestibular system is located in the inner ear and is responsible for the balance and co-ordination in cats. If the vestibular system is damaged, cats often struggle with balancing themselves. Many people suspect inner ear infection in cats as the cause but the truth is medical experts still don’t know why vestibular disease occurs in most cases.

It can occur in cats of all ages.

Can vestibular disease kill a cat?

Short answer – Not unless there’s a life threatening tumor in the ear or brain.

In cats that are showing signs of having this disease, tests such as MRI, X-ray & neurological examination are done to rule out a deep ear infection or tumors. In cases where the underlying conditions are not caused due to tumors, cats recover within a couple of weeks.

While the recovery can differ from one cat to another, one general rule is that cats retrain themselves spatial orientation. So, it’s best to not lift the cat off the ground as in most cases they will not be able to differentiate up from down.

In some of the cats, even after the initial recovery, there is a permanent head tilt but they do survive and go on to lead a good quality of life. However, cat owners would do better by making this recovery smoother for the cat by keeping them in a well-padded area. This would prevent them from falling off the stairs or get hurt in other ways. Also depending on the mobility of the cat, your vet may recommend some mobility exercises and play sessions to retrain complex movements like diving and jumping.


Unless your cat’s behavior is a bit off or it’s showing signs of a health problem, more often than not, by tilting its head, your cat is simply trying to understand you better.  

Thanks for sharing. You're pawsome!

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