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How to Understand Cat Tail Language

Updated on October 23, 2012

Cat Communication

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.


This cat is either feeling silly, or chilly.
This cat is either feeling silly, or chilly. | Source
Guard hairs on this cat's entire body have reacted to adrenaline as this cat is faced with an aggressor.
Guard hairs on this cat's entire body have reacted to adrenaline as this cat is faced with an aggressor. | Source

Stressed Cats

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?

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Happy Cats

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.


This is one happy cat who is also delighted to share "tail news" with you.
This is one happy cat who is also delighted to share "tail news" with you. | Source

Relaxed Cats

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.


This cat is feeling somewhat fearful.
This cat is feeling somewhat fearful. | Source

Scared Cats

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?)


Classic defensive aggression posture in a cat: tail and hindquarters low, staring at the aggressor. I can only suppose he did not appreciate the pink cape.
Classic defensive aggression posture in a cat: tail and hindquarters low, staring at the aggressor. I can only suppose he did not appreciate the pink cape. | Source

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.


After sniffing each other's faces, they will present their tails to each other to inform each other of recent intimate details.
After sniffing each other's faces, they will present their tails to each other to inform each other of recent intimate details. | Source

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.


This Manx cat is relaxing, as demonstrated by its tail laying slightly away from its body.
This Manx cat is relaxing, as demonstrated by its tail laying slightly away from its body. | Source

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:

  1. They love each other and are ok with the close contact; and/or
  2. 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"!


Two cats' tails accepting each other without complaint.
Two cats' tails accepting each other without complaint. | Source

Sources

  • 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!


SeasonsTrading Long Black Plush Cat Tail Costume Accessory ~ Halloween Party
SeasonsTrading Long Black Plush Cat Tail Costume Accessory ~ Halloween Party

Pose your own expressive tail with this costume completer.

 
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Secrets On How To Teach Your Cat At You House

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    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      This was a great hub on cat tail language to understand them better. This makes a lot of sense to me. Voted up for useful!

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      North Wind, it's true! When a cat "adopts" you, you get to feed it and care for it... but never make the mistake of being the boss. Ha! ;) Thanks for commenting.

    • North Wind profile image

      North Wind 4 years ago from The World (for now)

      Just acquired my first cat. He was a kitten who decided to adopt me. He follows me constantly and likes to take walks. His tail is always up and I wondered if that meant he was happy. Since he never hisses, I guessed he was alright with me being around.

      Very interesting and insightful hub. I never thought I would ever own a cat or have one near me. It turns out I was right about one of those things. I do have a cat near me but I don't own him, he owns me!

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks, Alicia! I was especially pleased to find so many hubs about desert and other unusual cats in your repertoire. Great stuff! -R

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for all the interesting and useful information about cat behavior, theclevercat! I love the photos, especially the ones that you took yourself. Some of the poses remind me of my cats!

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Joanveronica, wonderful! I love that cats seek you out as their problem-solver... quite an honor! And thank you so much for the votes and share. :^)

    • joanveronica profile image

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi, I'm a cat lover but I don't have a cat right now! Had loads of them in another lifetime, though. I must say I never got down to all the details of the tail movements and positions, but I can certainly interpret the all over body language. I find it easy to communicate with cats, and they seem to consider that I can be told about their problems, because they usually search me out when they need something specific, like removing a splinter or washing their eyes or some such minor first aid. Great article, voted Up, also ABI.

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Aww, I'm sorry you're allergic! But schnauzers are soo adorable... and what sweet, friendly faces they have! Thanks so much for the votes and shares. :^) -R

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 4 years ago from Florida

      Cats are such interesting animals. I am very allergic to cats, but I had them when I was growing up and loved them. Now, I have a hypoallergenic Schnauzer.

      I voted this Hub UP, and will share.

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi, teaches! I guess if the cat couldn't see you, then you couldn't see him, either. ;^) Adorable!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I love this! My cat didn't have his mom to raise him and we had to teach him to tuck his tail in when hiding behind furniture. Great hub topic and so very well covered. Voted up.

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks, greeneryday! I'm glad my hub attracted your attention... cat tail language is good to know, especially if you decide to become more friendly with cats. ;^)

      Thanks so much for the votes as well. I truly appreciate them!

    • greeneryday profile image

      greeneryday 4 years ago from Some tropical country

      I am not really a cat fan, but this hub caught my attention, I did not know that we can tell how cat reacts and communicates through its tail. I am going to tell my friends who are cats lovers. Well done, voted up and more

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Brainy Bunny, either that or they want to be around you!

      Great story. :^)

    • Brainy Bunny profile image

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Wow! I'm going to have to take this guide with me the next time I go to get some kitty love at my friend's house. Thankfully, at least one of their cats usually meets me at the front door like a happy cat. The other escorts me around the house like he's trying to make sure I don't make trouble!

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      GREAT point, DzyMsLizzy! Thanks for including that. I'm so glad you enjoyed the hub, and thanks so much for the votes as well. :^)

      p.s. Poor sweet Patches!

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Well done! As "Mom" to 6 cats and a foster kitten, I can vouch for what you say.

      There is one other instance in which a cat will carry its tail low to the ground, and that is either if they are not feeling well, or, as in the case of our epileptic "senior catizen," they are on such strong medications that they are barely awake while walking. Poor "Patches" barely manages to keep her tail from dragging the floor behind her, regardless of mood. However, she has not lost the 'art' of an irritated tail-flick (and a few cuss words) if one of the others gets in her way... ;-)

      Voted up, awesome, interesting, beautiful and shared.

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