A cat that is resting is inactive and therefore not moving. They may be sitting or lying down and their posture may vary.
However a resting posture does not imply any specific underlying emotional state. The same resting position (for example, lying ventrally) can be exhibited by a cat who is in a low arousal, relaxed state or equally, by a cat who is potentially tense.
The differentiation of such resting postures (relaxed versus tense) requires attention to the following:
A relaxed resting posture will exhibit evidence of muscle relaxation and lack of arousal
A tense resting posture will exhibit evidence of muscle tension and possibly evidence of sympathetic activation such as pupil dilation (mydriasis).
The following characteristics of a cat in a relaxed resting posture can be seen in the video clips and photographs.
Ear position – in a neutral forward orientation, a relaxed sideways orientation, or one of each. In some cases may move to monitor ambient sounds.
Eyes – frequently narrowed with drooping upper lids, or at least almond shaped, not tensely rounded. Pupils are usually narrow, although this will depend on ambient light.
Head posture – the head may be resting on a surface, giving the impression that the chin is tucked into the neck, or held in a neutral position orientated towards something the cat is observing. There is no evidence of muscular tension. If the neck is twisted such that the side of the head is in contact with the surface, the chin may be pointing upwards.
Body and limb position – numerous positions can be adopted during relaxed rest and almost any combination of postures can be described. The pictures and videos show
Rest on back (in dorsal recumbency) with ventral abdomen exposed
Rest in lateral recumbency where the cat lies stretched out on its side or curled into a circle-like shape
Rest in ventral recumbency where the stomach is in contact with the surface and where the limbs are in one of the following positions:
All four are tucked under the body, either with the bottom of the feet in contact with the surface (less relaxed) or with the bottom of the feet tucked on their sides as if folded towards one another (more relaxed).
Forelimbs tucked under or extended forwards and hindlimbs extended to one side
All four limbs extended, hind limbs to one side
Dorsal recumbency where the cat lies on its back, usually with all 4 limbs extended
Tail position – the base of the tail shows relaxed muscle tone with the tail lying loosely not clamped tightly to the thighs. The tail may hang over the edge if a cat is lying on a raised item (and in this case may have a slight curl at the end) or it may be draped over the back legs, loosely curled around the body or even lie loosely between the back legs. It is usually motionless when the cat is fully relaxed but may move gently.
Note: paw pad position in this relaxed resting cat, two of which are not in contact with the bench; head resting on bench surface; ventral abdomen exposed
Two cats resting in a ventral position. Note the paw curl of one of the forelimbs of the grey cat
Note the forepaws curled in towards the body in this relaxed cat
Note the extension of the forelimb, the head resting on the surface and the slight narrowing of the eyes
Note the head resting upon forelimb and narrowing of eyes
The following video illustrates a cat stretching in a relaxed position with the ventral abdomen completely exposed and all four feet off the ground.
The following video shows a cat resting in the ventral position. Note the slow blinking.
The following photographs illustrate cats in semi-relaxed/semi-aroused positions. Several parts of their body illustrate they are not fully relaxed as anotated on the individual photographs.
While the cat is in a ventral position with one forepaw curled inwards to the body, the ear position is that of a tense or aroused cat. The ears are slightly rotated so that part of the outer surface of the pinnae can be seen.
The kitten in the following video initially appears alert although in a resting position. As the video plays, note the change from alert to more relaxed.
For comparison note how these aspects alter in a cat that is exhibiting a tense resting posture. The arousal giving rise to a tense resting posture can be positive or negative, but for more information see “Negative Emotional States”.
Cat in aroused resting position as highlighted by wide open eyes, focused gaze and while paw pads in contact with the floor can be seen in a relaxed cat, in this case they are positioned under the body ready for movement.
Although parts of this cats posture (e.g. paw) appear relaxed, the dilation of the pupils indicates a level of arousal
While in a ventral resting position, features such as tail tucked tightly against the body and lowered head with neck tucked alongside a focused stare indicate a level of arousal
Assessment of ear position can often assist in judging the degree of tension in a cat. In general, the flatter the cat holds its ears, the greater the degree of tension. The photographs below illustrate this with the aid of a red line delineating the ear position. This makes an open U shape in the semi-tense cat and is a horizontal line in the tense cat.