What Your Cat’s Tail Says About Their Behavior

by | Nov 12, 2021

Cats have a reputation for being aloof and hard-to-read, but their behavior and body language give us clues. Your cat’s ear movements, posture, and eyes provide insight into their thoughts, but it’s their tails that are the key to understanding their emotions.

Just like dogs, cats use their tails to express their feelings–whether that’s excitement, concentration, confidence, or fear. As cat owners, we need to decipher this language to better care for our furry friends.

7 Cat Tail Movements and What They Mean

Cats have evolved as both predator and prey over time.

Because of this, there are times when a cat will make themselves as small as possible through their body movements like crouching, cowering, or wrapping their tail around themselves. Other times, a cat will make themselves as large as possible by arching their back and puffing out their fur as a means of intimidation.

The position of their tail is a key indication of whether they’re taking the prey or predator role— or if they’re just looking for a good scratch!

These are 7 common cat tail positions and what they say about your cat’s mood:

1. Tail Pointed High in the Air

, What Your Cat’s Tail Says About Their Behavior, The Comforted Kitty

If a cat’s tail is pointed straight up, they’re feeling confident and happy. This is often the way your cat will greet you when you get home, and it’s their way of extending friendship.

When you see your cat with this tail position, they’re likely looking for attention, pets, or a treat! A cat with this tail shape will react well to an extended hand to sniff or a few scratches in their favorite spots.

However, context is key, and there are times that a high tail can indicate a potentially aggressive scenario. Always remember to keep your cat’s situation and environment in mind.

2. Tail Low to the Ground

This behavior is usually a sign of anxiety, fear, or pain in a cat, especially if the tail is tucked underneath them. Your cat is attempting to make themselves as small as possible, and in addition to a low or tucked tail, you’ll see them crouch or flatten their ears.

However, in some breeds like Persians, a tail low to the ground is normal, and it can be a sign of a relaxed kitty.

3. Question Mark Tail

The question mark tail, or one that’s curved on the end, is a playful tail. It’s still held high in the air, indicating that your cat is confident and generally happy, but the curve means they’re curious.

A cat with this tail is usually looking to play, whether that means they’ve found a dangling string or they’re ready for you to pick up their favorite cat wand. Try out some cat enrichment ideas to keep your playful cat happy and satisfied in his home.

4. Tail Puffed Up (The “Halloween” Cat)

If you’ve ever seen an image of a cat on Halloween decorations, you’ll be familiar with this position. Their back is typically arched, their mouth is open to show their teeth, and their tail is straight up with the fur puffed in every direction.

Cats do this to appear larger, a defense mechanism for times they feel scared, anxious, or threatened in some way.

When you see this behavior, do not approach the cat or try to engage it in physical touch. The cat needs space to feel safe, preferably a high place that they can jump to. Diffuse the stressful situation as quickly as possible by giving them an easy exit to a safe location.

5. Tail Swishing Slowly Back-and-Forth

If your cat swishes their tail slowly from side to side, they’re focused on a particular spot in the room. Maybe they’re watching a bird from the window or they’ve just discovered a fly in the kitchen. Whatever it is, your cat is preparing to pounce.

You’ll often see this tail movement paired with a crouching posture and ears pointed straight up or backward, listening for sounds of movement.

A slow swaying tail can also indicate boredom or a desire to play. A sleeping kitty with a swishing tail may also be dreaming!

6. Tail Curled Around Themselves

, What Your Cat’s Tail Says About Their Behavior, The Comforted Kitty

In some cases, this tail movement is an indication that your cat is nervous or doesn’t feel confident in the environment they’re in. This could be because you’ve brought a new animal into the home or even a simple change in furniture.

In other cases, it’s an indication that your cat would just prefer to be left alone at the moment. This doesn’t mean your cat is distressed — it just means they need a little “me time.”

Russell Hartstein, a certified dog/cat behaviorist, trainor, and Canine Executive Officer of Fun Paw Care in Los Angeles, CA notes that, “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.’

7. Tail Curled Around Someone Else or Another Cat

If your cat curls their tail around you or another family pet, this is a sign of affection. Your cat is relaxed and extending a hand (or, in this case, tail) of friendship. Think of it as the cat “I love you.”

, What Your Cat’s Tail Says About Their Behavior, The Comforted Kitty

Context is Key To Speaking Your Cat’s Language

Most negative experiences with a cat (like an unexpected scratch or bite) happen because of a miscommunication between a cat and a human. While a cat’s body language may seem friendly and inviting, it’s important to take the entire picture into consideration before you act.

A cat’s tail provides us great insight into their thoughts and mood, but the context of a cat’s body language is just as important.

What else is going on in the room? Does your cat have easy access to vertical space or an escape route from other pestering pets? Is there a sound that could be scaring them? All of these are important to look at as you try to understand your cat’s language.

The better you can decipher your cat’s physical cues, the happier and healthier your cat will be— and the stronger your bond will be.

Interested in even more cat behaviors and their meanings? Check out our article on these 7 common cat behaviors.

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