Understanding Cat Tail Language
Whether you know it or not, cat tails serve a greater purpose than simply looking cute and fluffy. Cats use their tails to communicate and to express their emotions. The only problem is that you won’t know what they’re saying if you don’t know how to speak cat. If you’ve always wondered what your cat’s tail is trying to tell you, and you want to learn what different cat tail positions mean, here are a few helpful tips to help you master cat tail language.
Why Do Cats Move Their Tails?
Like all sentient beings, cats use both verbal and nonverbal communication to express their emotions and moods. One of the biggest nonverbal communication tools for cats is their tail. Russell Hartstein, certified dog/cat behaviorist and trainer and CEO (Canine Executive Officer) of Fun Paw Care in Los Angeles, notes that “Cat tails are incredibly expressive, and when taken in context to their immediate environment and the rest of their body language, reveal a lot about what is going on emotionally and internally with your cat.”
According to Hartstein, aside from trying to communicate, cats also move their tails to stay balanced.
“Part of the reason why cats usually land on their feet after falling or jumping is due to the counterbalancing function of their tail, which helps stabilize quick moves and turns,” he says.
What Do Different Cat Tail Signs Mean?
By looking at cat tail signs, we can deduce a lot about a cat’s mood. Michael Rueb, operations manager for the National Cat Protection Society in Spring Valley, California, notes that “even though there are certain basics that pet parents can bet on when interpreting cat tail language, being mindful of the cat’s whole body will give you the clearer picture about what emotions your cat is experiencing.”
Pet experts point out a few specific cat tail signs for pet parents to take note of:
When your kitty wraps her tail around you or others, she is showing affection, relaxation and love. This usually means she is open to being petted and receiving human contact. However, there are other times when your feline may wrap her tail and but is not interested in interacting with others.
“Sometimes your kitty will wrap her tail when she is solo, asleep or sitting,” Hartstein says. “Although typically relaxed in this position, this cat tail language may indicate your cat is not interested in interaction or wants to be left alone.”
Hence, it is important that pet parents consider the environment and overall cat body language before making assumptions about their kitty’s emotional state.
Loose Tail vs. Tucked Tail
A loose, horizontal tail implies a relaxed cat and neutral state of emotion, but as soon as the tail appears to be lower or tucked, this may paint a completely different picture, explains Hartstein. If your cat’s tail is held low, this typically means that she is feeling fearful or nervous, “especially if her tail is tucked underneath her body,” explains Rueb.
Both Hartstein and Rueb urge pet parents to be cautious of lowered cat tails, as these usually mean that the cat is in a state of fear, retreat, aggression or hostility.
When a cat stands tall and holds her tail high, “it usually means she is confident and happy,” explains Rueb. Walking with an upright tail is an indication that your cat is comfortable, sociable and looking to engage with others around her.
Hartstein adds that an upright cat tail position is a sign of an affable cat looking to connect or commune.
“If she gives you a little flick in the upright portion of the tail, consider it an invitation to share some love,” he says.
If your cat is arching or puffing out her tail, steer clear of her path! Pet experts Hartstein and Rueb note that these cat tail signs indicate your cat is not happy, perhaps because she is feeling threatened, which may result in aggressive behavior.
“In some cases, when a cat becomes nervous, she will puff her tail out, theoretically to look bigger to the perceived threat,” Rueb says.
If you notice this behavior in your feline, avoid triggering her. “A cat will attack if she feels she has no other choice to alleviate the fear or perceived danger in the present environment,” warns Hartstein.
We often associate a dog’s wagging tail with happy emotions and excitement, but what does it mean in cat language?
“A lashing or wagging tail for cats never means happiness—rather, it is a very clear warning sign that something is making the cat upset, stressed, nervous, and that she could become aggressive if whatever is bothering her does not stop,” Hartstein says.
Rueb adds, “At The National Cat Protection Society, we often have to tell people that when they are petting a cat and their tail starts slapping the ground back and forth, that it may be time to stop, as the cat has probably had enough and may be feeling overstimulated.”
Pet parents will usually be able to tell something is bothering their feline by paying attention to the other cat body language accompanying her wagging tail.
Get to Know Your Kitty’s Personality
Building a good relationship with your feline friend can be tricky, as we are different species and have different preferences when it comes to socialization, contact and communication. Rueb emphasizes that every kitty has a unique personality, so while “Many cats will find it ok to be picked up, petted, cuddled and even kissed, for some cats, it can cause confusion and annoyance.” Therefore, Rueb recommends not petting your cat too much and letting her come to you first, so she feels comfortable with your presence and touch.
Cat tail signs and other nonverbal signs are good indicators of how your feline is feeling. Rueb suggests always looking for these cues when interacting with your kitty.
“In my experience, too often people only stop petting when the cat becomes annoyed and swats at them,” Rueb says. “In most cases, the cat was giving them a ton of other body signals indicating that she was getting annoyed, which they did not look for or did not notice.”
If you need expert cat advice on how to build a strong relationship with your kitty, check out Jackson Galaxy’s “Total Cat Mojo: Everything You Need to Know to Care for Your Favorite Feline Friend” or get some pointers from “97 Ways to Make a Cat Like You.”
Hartstein encourages pet parents to meet their cat’s needs and understand their behavior by learning about their feline’s body language and becoming acquainted with cat tail language. Doing this “will strengthen your bond with your cat and allow you to better understand what your cat’s tail and body language is telling you,” he says.
If you’ve just recently welcomed your kitty into your home, and you are seeing frequent signs that she is stressed or fearful, you may want to consider trying the Sentry Calming Diffuser, which helps put kitties at ease.
Watch this video to see if you recognize any of these (not totally accurate) cat moods:
Having recently moved from rainy Oregon to the sunshine state, Anastasiya Chevtchenko spends her time catching rays by the beach, playing soccer with the locals, and embracing pet heaven – Chewy. A recent Penn graduate, Anastasiya works in Marketing where she hopes to bring in her expertise in international relations to expand the business. When she’s not facetiming her international friends or reading the news in five languages, Anastasiya spends her time working on PR projects, social media brand posts, and writing for Chewy’s Pet Central blog.