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How to Understand Cat Tail Language
A cat's body language will tell you everything he needs you to know at that moment -- whether he is feeling happy, playful, confident, frightened, or relaxed. And a cat's tail can be the most expressive body part of all.
When a cat is stressed or excited, the guard hairs on a cat's tail react to the rush of adrenaline in its system, resulting in an extremely fluffed-up tail (like an enormous bottle brush), taking up more space in an attempt to appear larger.
Macho tomcats will even cock their tails to the side in order for it to be seen by animals directly in front of them, and hopefully make the toms look even more tough.
Have you ever been the recipient of an "I'm-happy-to-see-you" stance from a cat?
A cat who is feeling confident will raise their tail; when feeling doubtful about a situation, they will lower it.
Ever notice that a cat will stand up tall when greeting you, with their tail proudly at attention, perhaps with a slight curl to its end? They are happy to see you, and are expecting lots of affection, so don't disappoint them.
When a cat is feeling relaxed, they will carry their tails in a curling arc while walking, or wrap it around themselves loosely when laying down. If they are chilly, they will wrap it around themselves, covering their paws and sometimes their faces.
A fearful cat will cower will hold its tail low and held closely between their legs, or wrap it tightly around its body if sitting.
Cat Wagging Tail?
A cat who is flicking her tail back and forth is either aggravated or ready to do some damage to their unlucky prey. (Perhaps the tail-flicking is meant as a distraction to their target?)
If a cat twitches their tail as they lower themselves to the ground, they are getting ready to pounce, or make some kind of quick movement. Try not to get in their way, because they will be using their tail for balance!
Petting a Cat
If while petting a cat, they stand up and force their hind legs back with their tail straight up, congratulations! You've found their sweet spot and they will expect a great deal more of scratching since you obviously know the best way to do it.
When a Sitting Cat Swishes Their Tail
If a cat gently swishes their tail behind them as they sit calmly, they may either be checking for something behind them, teasing their nearby kitty friend, using their tail as an outlet for tension, draining off excess energy, or simply testing the air.
Sniffing the Tail End
If you've ever noticed a cat rubbing their face close to or sniffing the base of another cat's tail, don't become alarmed. They are simply sharing "news" with each other. It's the cat version of this type of human encounter:
Fluffy: Hey buddy, where ya been? The litter box?
Scruffy: Uh huh. (Turns around to present tail, flicks it a few times)
Fluffy: (sniffs) Yup. That's what I thought.
Thankfully, humans don't do that kind of thing when they greet each other. But cats will usually present their tails to another cat after sniffing noses when they first meet, or haven't seen each other in a while.
Tailless Cat Language
A "Rumpy" Manx-- that is, a Manx cat without a tail, may seem like challenging pet to get to know. But Manx cats are intelligent and good-natured, and will figure out a way for you to understand how they are feeling despite their lack of a tail.
A "Stumpy" Manx -- a Manx with a short tail -- will also act in the ways listed above, but take care to understand the timing of their tail movements by observing the actions that follow them. For example, you may think you saw a tail swish, but it was really a flick.
Unusual Cat Tail Complexities
- Egyptian Maus have unusually expressive tails that they wiggle at great speed when they are pleased and want to show their delight
- Exotic Shorthairs tend to carry their tails low, due to their short legs and stature
- Despite being famous for no tails, Many Manx cats still have vestiges of them.
Cat Tails, All Wrapped Up
Finally, if two cats allow you to intertwingle their tails together and then take a photograph, there are two explanations:
- They love each other and are ok with the close contact; and/or
- They love you and are patient enough to allow their body parts to be manipulated.
If you have been able to accomplish this, nice job! You are a true "Cat Tail Whisperer"!
- Frazier, Anitra. The New Natural Cat: A Complete Guide for Finicky Owners. New York: Penguin Books, 1990.
- Madsen, Chris. Natural Cats. London: Gaia Books Limited, 1997.
- Page, Susie. The Complete Cat Owner's Manual: How to Raise a Happy, Healthy Cat. San Francisco: Fog City Press, 2004
- Experience, experience, and more experience!
Pose your own expressive tail with this costume completer.