How to Read a Cat's Tail

by Dr. Peter Hill 18. April 2014 07:41

I would imagine all cat owners have observed some bizzare behavior in their cats. Cats have a reputation for being aloof and non-communicative, but reading their emotions may be a matter of looking at body language. Cats express emotion with their tails.

All Wrapped Up
Even when the cat is asleep, her tail reveals her mood and level of comfort. When she is all "tucked in" with her tail wrapped closely around her body, she is feeling content but wants to keep to herself at the moment. Just as humans wrap in a blanket to sleep, a cat uses its tail for warmth and comfort.

You know when a dog wags his tail, he is excited and happy. It is just the opposite for the cat. A tail swishing rapidly from side to side is a sign that the cat is anxious and may become aggressive. It's best to leave the cat alone and let her relax before interacting. You can toss her a toy to distract her, but don't attempt to pet the cat until she calms down.

If the side-to-side motion of the tail is slower and more fluid, take a look at what is holding the cat's attention. There may be a bird on the windowsill or a squirrel in the yard. A slow swish of the tail indicates mild excitement or interest.

Puffed Up
When cats feel threatened, they puff their fur along the spine and down the tail. This is called "pilorection." A frightened cat resembles the Halloween cat in pictures: the back is arched, the tail looks fat, and fur is bristled all over the cat's body. It may be an attempt to look larger and more intimidating. Often the cat's ears will flatten against her head.

Straight Up and Quivering
When a cat holds her tail straight up, it's usually a sign that she is relaxed and happy. A slight curl at the end of the tail and a quiver means the cat is feeling friendly and may be excited to see you. If an unneutered male cat holds a quivering tail upright against objects, it may be preparing to mark its territory. A spray of urine is satisfying for the territorial tom cat, but not pleasant for the human caretaker.

Experienced cat owners can often tell what a cat is "saying" by the tone and volume of the cat's meow. It's easy to tell when a cat wants to be fed or let out, or when the cat's tail is accidentally stepped on. For deeper insight into more subtle feline emotions, look to the tail.

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