What Your Cat’s Tail Is Telling You

If you think that cats are hard to read, then you just need to look a little closer. Cats are always telling you what they want and what kind of mood they’re in.

They communicate with their ears, eyes and even the way they move their body has meaning.

And one of the easiest ways to interpret the wants and needs of your cat is by simply looking at their tail. That’s right if you want to know what your cat is thinking, just “listen” to their tail.

According to Kelly C. Ballantyne, D.V.M., D.A.C.V.B, clinical assistant professor at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana-Champaign;

“It is important that all cat owners take the time to learn because understanding how cats communicate helps us to understand them better. Once we know their body language, we can read their emotions, identify situations that cause them distress or pleasure and even identify an illness sooner.”

Simply taking the time to learn and better understand how your cat communicates, you’ll soon forge a much better bond.

You’ll better understand what they’re feeling and more importantly what they’re trying to tell you.

Let’s take a look at how their tails talk.

What is your cat’s tail trying to tell you?

The good news here is that we don’t have to start from scratch. That’s because experts like Dr. Ballantyne have been researching this for a LONG time. All in efforts to help us better understand our little furry ones.

She says, “tails can move quickly or slowly. A flicking or lashing tail signals that the cat is agitated, while a slowly waving tail indicates the cat is focused on something (i.e., about to pounce on a toy). “The tail-up posture — tail straight up with a slight curve at the end — is a signal that the cat is approaching amicably,” She continues. “This posture, witnessed among feline friends, is a common way cats greet their humans. Cats may curve their tail around people they are bonded to and may intertwine their tails with other cats they’re bonded to. This is called an affiliative behavior.”

“Cats tuck their tails under or next to their body when they are feeling frightened. They often are crouching with their heads tucked in at the same time. We also can see these behaviors when they’re feeling pain”, Dr. Ballantyne continued.

But just like any foreign language, there can be a bit of a learning curve. And much like learning a new language, it takes time and effort. If you’re just now trying to figure all this out it can be a bit confusing. There are a variety of tail movements and positions that your cat can exhibit, and each can mean a very different thing

What about petting your cat around the tail area?

 The act of trying to learn what different cat tail movements mean is one thing but petting your cat around the tail area is something most cats don’t like. According to Dr. Ballantyne. Instead, she recommends that you focus on petting and scratching them around the chin and ears.

Ballantyne further explains, when you’re petting your cat, if your cat’s tail starts twitching or lashing, her ears start to turn back or he begins to lean away, those are all potential signs that your cat is beginning to get irritated and is close to ending the petting session.

Truth is, it’s actually pretty easy to tell what your cat is feeling at any given time if you learn what their tail is trying to tell you.  By simply taking the time to learn your cats tail language, you’ll find that it becomes a lot easier to anticipate what your cat is going to do, what they don’t like and more importantly what they need.  

Here’s how to respond to your cat’s tail language.

  1. 1. Tail position: Upright, held high
  • This position means that your cat is confident and happy.
  • You should respond to your cat by offering them a little play time or even a treat.
  1. 2. Tail position: Curled at the top like a question mark
  • This position means your cat is in a friendly mood.
  • When their tail is in this position offer your hand for a sniff or a quick chin rub.
  1. 3. Tail position: Straight down
  • This position means your cat is agitated and may become aggressive
  • In this situation you should NOT approach your cat, however, if you know what’s upsetting them you should try to stop it.
  1. 4. Tail position: Curved beneath the body
  • This position means your cat is feeling either nervous or is having a feeling of submission
  • When your cat’s tail is in this position, you’ll want to act calm and give your cat a chance to come to you.
  1. 5. Tail position: Puffed
  • If your cats’ tail is puffy, then it means they’re feeling scared, agitated or angry.
  • In this situation, you’ll simply want to leave your cat alone, again if you know what’s scaring or irritating them again, try to put a stop to it.
  1. 6. Tail position: Whipping back and forth
  • If your cat is whipping their tailback and forth it means they’re angry and feeling aggressive.
  • Try to calm them down by removing the cause of their aggression.
  1. 7. Tail position: Swaying slowly from side to side/twitching
  • You’ll see this tail movement when your cat is focused on something.
  • It’s best to leave them alone and let them continue to focus on whatever has gotten their attention.

Your cat may even have their own pattern, that isn’t on this list. If that’s the case put on your detective hat and try to figure out what they’re trying to tell you.