Tuesday, September 2, 2014

What Is Your Cat's Tail Trying to Tell You?

Since cats can't speak human, they use their body to send us cues as to how they are feeling. One particular body part on a cat that communicates how they are feeling is their tail. Some of the body language they display with their tails is not always so obvious.

Photo via S. Carter

As an individual working in the field of Veterinary medicine, learning a cat's body language was important in order to know if they were happy, angry, scared, nervous, etc. It can help you come up with the best way to approach them. Here is a helpful list of different tail positions to help you better understand your cat's mood:


  • Swishing tip back and forth - A rapidly "wagging" tail in a cat does not mean that they are happy like it does for dogs. This means they are probably annoyed and should be left alone. 
  • Puffed out fur, straight up position - This is the look you might see with the stereotypical Halloween cat image. Back arched and tail sticking straight in the air with it's hair sticking out. This cat is on high alert and scared. 
  • Tail tucked close to body - This cat may be scared, shy, or insecure. Approach with caution.
  • Tail upright, curved, or relaxed - This tail position means your cat is probably in a good mood. 
  • Slow swishing back and forth - Cats like to do this when they are focusing on something. For example, when they are on the hunt or about to pounce on something. 

Of course, when trying to decipher what your cat's tail is trying to say you should also look at the rest of your cat's body language. Be sure to pay close attention to their eyes, ears, voices, and body position too. With a little practice, learning to read a cat's body language is easy. This article by Petfinder explains the body language displayed by a cat's ears, eyes, and tails.

Also, not all cats have tails. Breeds like the Manx or Japanese Bobtail don't have tails. In these cases, you'd have to rely on the rest of the cat's body language to decipher how they are feeling.


The video above shows an example of an annoyed cat tail. This cat is probably only slightly annoyed at this point, because the swishing is not too intense.

One mistake I made early on as a Veterinary Technician was assuming that the wagging cat tail meant they were happy or excited. Even though I had cats all of my life, I was young and just never paid much attention to this before. The cats I worked with were more than willing to teach me the language of their people though.

Have you ever paid close attention to your cat's tail? What do you think it's trying to tell you? 

23 comments:

  1. Kitty tails really can give you a lot of information about what they're thinking :) I always use my kitties' tails as barometers for their mood. I love when they go prancing around with their tail held high! It's just too cute.

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  2. That is interesting and we like Robin's comment about the tail barometer. Have a terrific Tuesday.
    Best wishes Molly

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  3. I've never paid too much attention to details unless it's the angry swish- that's usually when I'm cleaning ears or clipping nails. My boys also twitch when the squirrels come to eat in the morning. I'll have to watch now and see. Very fun and informative post!

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  4. Most of the time we spend trying to move their tails as they like to lay them on the keyboard or in the food. Sometimes they thump them when they are getting pissed. The tails to "talk" for the cats.

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  5. That's great info! Thanks for sharing!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

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  6. We're always watching tails here! ...how can you not with one that's a whopping 15"!!! ; )

    Another thing that Waffles does is wiggle just the tip of his tail. He usually does this when he's happy and purring on our laps. Especially when we're petting him or talking to him.

    : ) GG

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    1. MOL! That's interesting about Waffle's tail wiggling when you pet him. I think it shows that not every cat is the same. Usually, that's a sign that they are annoyed but obviously not in this case!

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  7. My tail does sometimes what it wants : suddenly, I stare at it because it begins to break me, and then I have to catch it, but it escapes me! The saraband begins until my tail returns to the reason ! I swear you, Ann, sometimes I wonder if that tail really belongs to me ! Purrs, Pixie (5 months old)
    The word "barometer" is entirely appropriate about our tails ; your post is a good information as many people believe that cats use their tails as dogs do. Purrs, Zorro

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    1. Oh Pixie, I bet they are fun to play with. Too bad I don't have one too! I used to be one of those people. I would be petting away on a kitty with a wagging tail while the vet talked to his mom or dad and he turned straight around after a while and tried to get me. I learned pretty quickly.

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  8. The tail usually gives us away!!!

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  9. So, it's a Tail's Tale! Ma has never had a cat so she has no idea what they are trying to say so, if they are not happily approaching her she just leaves them be.
    Oz

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  10. I do not have a cat but still good to know! :)

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  11. Okay, so here's a question Ann, what does a still tail mean? I would have gotten these all wrong if it was a multiple choice test :)

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    1. A still relaxed tail probably means the cat is resting, happy, or relaxed.

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  12. hay...dont forget de.... wee knead food like rite now bee fore we eat de sofa..... tail swish !!! ;)

    ♥♥

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  13. I thought this was going to be like one of those BuzzFeed quizzes. There's an idea...

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    1. Haha! That would be cool, except I'm not sure how to do those...

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  14. We like how us cats communicate without saying a word!

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  15. Great advice!! My cat Sassy poofs her tail when we are cuddling. When she is really happy, she purrs super loud, drools, and poofs her tail. MOL! My other cats are normal though - they only poof their tails when they are upset.

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  16. I've seen all these things with cats over the years, and they definitely fit the mood from my experience. Samantha sometimes "vibrates" her tail too...it's different than these descriptions, and I think she does it when she wants attention....she kind of struts back and forth with her tail vibrating!

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    1. I've seen that actually with KKMM! I know exactly what you're talking about.

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  17. Mom's a cat tail expert from way back, always watch the tail to know what kind of mood the cats in! Love Dolly

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Thank you for your comments!

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