Cat Speak: Interpreting The Tail

The tail is certainly more than just the end bit of the cat, an extension of the spine or a leftover from evolutionary days…the tail is in fact a critical communicator and tells much of the story going on for your cat and how it is feeling. 

The tail is almost never at rest or just a forgotten trailing appendage, and the more you become aware of the communications of the tail, the more you can decipher your cat’s mood. The tail on its own may not tell the whole story as it forms part of the ‘whole cat’ communication and body language, however the subtle twitch or the posture of the tail can tell you when your cat is up for play, getting angry, scared or frightened and even indicate love and affection with you or it’s housemates. 

To help translate, here are some interesting observations and interpretations of your cat’s tail…

The Happy to See You Tail: Erect and curled at the tip, may also vibrate (shiver) will indicate they are happy to see you or whoever they are interacting with.

Defensive or Threatened Tail: Curved downward and hair is bristled. Other body language will become involved the more threatened the cat feels. Sometimes cats will mock this behaviour in play but is generally accompanied by more upright ears, however, once the ears flatten – look out! Aggression may be the next action

Look out !! Angry Tail: Bristled and held straight up or outwards from the body. Back off buddy – this means business!  

‘I’m Getting Annoyed’ Tail: Signaled by a slight twitch or movement in the tip of the tail. Often your first warning to back off and give some space.  Depending on your cat’s level of patience, this may be subtle or a full on obvious swish or swat. Often accompanied with an intense and irritated stare, this may be the only warning sign before progressing to the next level which can be a bite, claws or to simply up and move away, with more tail swishing and twitching as it retreats to safe space.

Loving Tails: Almost like a reassuring arm or cuddle, cats use their tails to wrap their loved ones up in a caressing embrace.  Either directed towards their humans or own kind and sometimes their housemates of other species, this is a definite sign of acceptance and bonding.

Curly Tails: Perhaps this is the moment we catch the tail between moods.  A leisurely stretch, tucked in out of harm’s way, this is surely accompanied with a relaxed mood and indicates a cat at ease in their surroundings.

Sexual Display:

Males: (black cat in picture) territory marking by urine spraying is usually done by the male cat, and is signaled by an upright, slightly bristled tail which vibrates or shakes as they squirt urine on surfaces around their territory.  It can often be accompanied with a pedaling of the back feet.  The objective is to mark their territory at face height with their urine and scent.  Don’t get this confused with the ‘happy to see you’ greeting tail shake or you may find a rather unpleasant outcome! 

Females: (ginger and white cat in picture) un-desexed females will curve their tail over and assume this unusual posture, raising their haunches when they are on heat (ready for mating).  They will often swirl their tails around quite provocatively as well as other body language that heralds it’s ‘that time’.  Females will also mew and call for a mate which is all part of this body language. 

Alert & Curious Tail posture: Signaled by the upturned tip of the tail.  Can be carried high or low, but this signals a curious and interested cat, quite comfortable in its surroundings.

Tails for Display: Cat tails have long been the fascination of breeders for centuries to engineer the breeding of cats for their luscious tails.  The seductive sway and swoosh of the tail captivates and enthralls all those that behold – and don’t these little felines know it?! These swirling masterpieces are used to manipulate their humans into fulfilling their every desire and these cats make the best use of their asset in all situations.

Cats with No Tails: Or cats with hardly a tail, and cats with no hair and no tails. After studying the highly involved communication used by cats through their tail, you have to wonder if these guys are somewhat disadvantaged by their absence of a tail. However, this is only a human observation, and certainly cats without tails do not seem to share this notion. With or without tail, their communication is every bit as loud and clear as their tailed counterparts. One cannot miss the glaring stare of an annoyed cat, or the arched back and bristling fur of an upset feline…nor can the contented purr and placid squint of a happy cat be mistaken.  Which leaves you to again marvel at the ultimate communicator that is the cat.

Cat interaction: You can tell much about the intentions of feline encounters by their tails.  Tail tips up – inquisitive and an invitation to be friends. Tails down, straight out and bristled is NOT an invitation of friendship.

Submissive Tails: A tail tucked under the belly is a submissive display. This may be in play, resting, in comfortable interaction with a housemate or human. While there might be some biting and clawing to accompany, it’s all playful at this point. 

Humorous Tails: We may never know the meaning of these postures, however if they exist for no other reason than to make us chuckle, endear them further in our hearts or become famous on YouTube, then it’s certainly a worthwhile cause. 

So now you’re well armed to interpret your cat’s tail, it might be interesting to see what they’re saying! Good luck and as always, enjoy your feline friend!