How to read your pet’s body language

  • Animals
  • Monday, 18 Mar 2019

When you lift a guinea pig out of its cage and pat it, the animal will remain motionless – not because its enjoying itself, but because it is paralysed by fear.

Pets are particularly popular with children. After all, they get cuddles and friendship from them. But constant patting and lifting is not good for most animals. Owners should look carefully and try to interpret their four-legged friends’ body language.

Guinea pigs and rabbits

Guinea pigs and rabbits are not suitable for patting. When owners lift them out of their cage and touch them, they remain motionless. “That is because they are paralysed by fear – it’s a reflex,” says Moira Gerlach, pets expert at the German Animal Welfare Association.

Rabbits also flatten down their ears and duck away, explains animal welfare activist Ursula Bauer. “They don’t enjoy being patted. They panic.”

For animals that are prey, making themselves small and still is a way of hiding from attackers. That’s why you shouldn’t grab rabbits or guinea pigs from above, because they think that they are being caught by predators. It’s better to sit on the ground with the animals and observe them at eye level.

Guinea pigs make different sounds. When they’re scared, they make a whistling or squeaking sound, which shouldn’t be interpreted as an expression of joy.

Hamsters are nocturnal creatures that sleep during the day and are active at night. They should never be given to small children as playmates.


Hamsters should never be given to small children as playmates. “During the day, they don’t like being lifted out of their cage because that’s when they actually sleep,” explains Astrid Behr, a spokeswoman for a veterinarians association.

That’s why they sometimes bite to defend themselves. On the other hand, they are at their most active and noisy at night, right when their human owners are asleep.

Dogs and cats

When a dog wags its tail, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s happy. A crouched posture, slightly flattened ears and growling or barking are clear signs of aggression. In a relaxed posture, on the other hand, tail wagging is positive.

If cats are swishing their tails back and forth, it means: “Watch out and leave me alone,” Gerlach explains. The flattening of the ears and narrowed pupils are also unmistakable signs of an animal getting ready to fight. – dpa/Bernadette Winter

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