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Understanding Tail Language: What Your Cat Is Communicating

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Your Cat Is Telling You Something with Her Tail

Cats may seem completely enigmatic to some, with their aloof behavior and capacity for what seems like coldness. But as any cat lover may tell you, there's a lot more going on with a cat than may at first meet the eye.

Though interpreting cat behavior can be very challenging for some, gaining a basic understanding of a cat's moods as shown by her tail movements is relatively easy. Here's a quick rundown of what your cat can be trying to communicate with the positions and motions of her tail.

Straight-Up Positions with Cats' Tails

When your cat is approaching you, someone else, or another animal and is holding her tail straight up, it means that she is open and even a bit happy to meet you or this person or other animal. If her tail is quivering, it may mean that she is is excited to see you or whomever she is encountering.

A straight-up tail posture with a hook at the end of the tail typically means that your cat is undecided about how she feels. Think of the hook in the end of her tail as a question mark.

If your cat is holding her tail straight up and it is bristling, this is an indication that she is agitated, angry, or afraid. She is puffing their tail up in an instinctual attempt to appear bigger to whatever the perceived threat is. Typically, she will try to find a way to get out of the situation, but may lash out if she feels cornered or threatened.

Tail-Behind Positions and Cat Language

A cat may also communicate her feelings by holding her tail straight out behind her at a variety of angles. If the tail is held straight out, flat behind her, then she is most likely amicable and not feeling either aggressive or fearful.

If the tail is held straight out behind, but angled up, she is unsure how to feel at the moment. And if her tail is held at an angle behind, up, and away from the body, twitching back and forth, then the she is most likely trying to express a lack of respect or indifference toward whomever she is encountering.

Tail-Down Positions

Most tail-down positions indicate that a cat is feeling defensive or submissive. If the tail is in a hooked-down position, covering the cat's anus, then they she most likely is in a defensive posture ready to express aggression if she needs to.

If her tail is tucked under her belly, she is feeling submissive. And if her tail is held out and down at an angle, it may indicate that she feeling aggressive.

Tail Wags and Twitches: What Cats Mean to Say

If your cat is sitting, you can tell something about her mood from how her tail is moving. If her tail is twitching back and forth at the end, she most likely is feeling alert and interested in something that is happening. If, however, her tail is switching strongly from side to side, she is most likely feeling angry, excited, or irritable.

Understanding Tail Language May Make All the Difference

Going from a position of ignorance about your cat's feelings to one of understanding can have powerful benefits in your relationship with your cat. Cats are complicated, emotional creatures who rely on a combination of instinct and intelligence to navigate their day-to-day lives.

Understanding what your cat likes, loves, despises, and fears may help you understand her and provide her with a better quality of life.

About the Author

Dr. Evan Ware

Dr. Evan Ware is a veterinary practitioner in Phoenix, Arizona. He received both his undergraduate degree in microbiology and his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from The Ohio State University.

Dr. Ware is currently the Medical Director of University Animal Hospital (VCA) and is also the owner of two other hospitals, including Laveen Veterinary Center and Phoenix Veterinary Center. His areas of expertise include orthopedic medicine and surgery, veterinary oncology and chemotherapy, and general and advanced soft-tissue surgery.