Medically Reviewed by Taylor Froiland, PharmD, RPh
Written by Adam McCown, PharmD
Let’s face it, our cats are largely a mystery to us. Although they enjoy our attention—at least on their own terms—they tend to do what they want, when they want, for as long as they want. Their aloof, and sometimes what may seem like cold, behavior is what often turns “dog lovers” off from appreciating the more subtle behavior and bond cat owners form with their pets.
However, any cat lover will be able to tell you that there is a lot more going on with their cat than initially meets the eye. Although it may not be easily apparent to the uninitiated person, cats can be extremely expressive and, if you know what to look for, make it easy for you to gauge their mood and feelings. A cat’s ears, eyes, body posture and, in particular, tail, express exactly what they are thinking and experiencing. You just have to know what to look for.
Cat Tail Language: The Basics
High Cat Tail Position – When you see your cat’s tail high in the air as they strut about the house, it means they are confident and content. They’re in their own territory, they feel comfortable, and they’ll probably be receptive to getting some attention. A tail that sticks straight up signals happiness and a willingness to be friendly. And watch the tip of a vertical, erect tail. A little twitch can mean a particularly happy moment.
Curved Cat Tail Position – If you see your cat with their tail in a curved question-mark-looking position, then get out the laser pointer, hair tie, rolled up piece of paper, or whatever they enjoy playing with. This tail position indicates that your cat is ready to have fun and is in a playful mood. Put down whatever you’re doing and give them some attention for a little while.
Low Cat Tail Position – Watch out when you see your cat’s tail in this position, as there may be trouble. A tail positioned straight down can signal aggression. A lower tail is a very serious mood. However, be aware that certain breeds, such as Persians, tend to carry their tails low for no particular reason.
Tucked Away Cat Tail Position – If your cat’s tail is curved and tucked beneath their body, then it usually means something is making them nervous. This position signals that your kitty is scared or being submissive, maybe even seeking help or protection from you. If you’re a cat owner, then most likely you know that when your cat actually acts like they need you, something serious is up.
Puffed Up Cat Tail Position – A tail position that resembles a pipe cleaner means that your cat is extremely agitated or frightened, and that they are trying to look big and scary to ward off any potential danger they perceive.
Whipping Cat Tail Position – You might consider staying away when you see your cat’s tail in this position. Slapping back and forth rapidly indicates both fear and aggression, and it means that your cat is warning you or anyone or anything else in the vicinity to stay away. They aren’t messing around when you see this tail position.
Swishing Tail Position – If your cat’s tail is swishing or twitching back and forth slowly, especially if they are sitting at the same time, it means their interest is peaked. They are most likely feeling alert, interested, and focused on something, like a toy, piece of food that fell out of the food bowl, or something else. If the swishing is strong, however, your cat is most likely feeling angry, excited, or irritable.
Your Cat’s Tail Wrapped around Another Cat - A tail wrapped around another cat is like you putting your arm around another person. It conveys friendship or a loving bond between your cat and the other cat.
Why Cat Tail Positions Are Important
Understanding your cat’s different tail positions can help you more easily communicate with them, know what they are feeling, and gain a better picture of what they like and don’t like. All this helps you to build a better, stronger relationship with your pet. As you know, cats can often be complicated, somewhat guarded, and pretty emotional.
Help provide them a better quality of life by comprehending what your cat is telling you through their tail positions.