You can’t love cats without paying attention to cat behavior. We speak very different languages, and sometimes misunderstand the very clear messages cats send to us. While humans primarily communicate with a spoken language, cats talk to us with their entire body and vocalization is only a tiny part of their signals. In fact, feline vocalization may vary from cat breed to breed. One universal cat communication tool, though is tail talk. This cat behavior is also one of the most obvious and easiest parts of “felinese” to understand. Here’s what your cat is trying to tell you with her tail talk.
Cat Behavior & Tail Talk
Why Tail Talk Matters
Cats speak volumes with the twitch of the tail. Not only the motion, but also the position of their furry nether regions signals your cat’s emotional state. In other words, by understanding your cat’s tail talk, you know when it’s happy or hissed off. Cat tails communicate important information to other animals, too, so you can run interference with the clueless dog and keep Kitty from clobbering him.
10 Cat Tail Positions & Signals
Cat tails are used to signal emotion, invitation, and warning. Just the position of the tail may invite you to approach, or warn you to keep your distance. Here are some common cat tail positions and what they mean.
The cat’s tail curves down and back up in a gentle U.
The tail still curves down and back up, but she holds her tail higher with increased interest or curiosity. For instance, the idea of a forthcoming treat may elevate her interest—and her tail.
3. CONFIDENT GREETING
The high-held cat tail pointed straight up is the feline equivalent of a “howdy!”
4. LET’S PLAY!
The very tip may be flipped over like a finger waving, or the high held tail may be curved like a question mark. Kittens use this greeting to other adult cats, and most house cats greet favored humans with a high held kitty tail. That’s an invitation for you to give her attention and maybe some petting.
5. HORIZONTAL POSITION
Kitty feels neutral about what’s going on. A sitting cat may also wrap her tail around to cover her toes, almost like a human crossing arms. A cat wrapping her tail around another cat (or your ankle or arm!) is like a human draping an arm over your shoulders with affection.
6. WARNING! LOW HELD TAIL
Caution, this cat is concerned and if pushed, may resort to aggression. That said, the Persian cat breed tends to hold tails lower for no reason.
7. TUCKED TAIL
We think of a tucked tail more with dogs, but it means the same thing with cats. Tucking the tail between the legs signals ultimate fear. Remember that cats identify each other by scent, and sniffing each other’s tail area requires trust and an elevated tail. So when Kitty tucks her tail, it’s the equivalent of a human hiding his face.
8. WAVING TAIL
Motion indicates agitation or excitement. A gentle movement side to side may signal prelude to a pounce, for instance. But the end of the tail flicking back and forth shows frustration or elevated emotion.
9. THUMPING TAIL
This tail talk means business and possible aggression if the object of the cat’s ire doesn’t move away.
10. BOTTLEBRUSH TAIL
Fur that stands off the skin (piloerection) shows high arousal. When the bottlebrush tail is held straight up or behind the cat, watch out for aggression! A fluffed tail held in an inverted U (the typical Halloween cat) indicates fear or defensiveness.
It’s important that cat owners recognize feline “tail talk” because nearly all behavior problems result from miscommunication. If we listen, cats explain what they want and how they feel. And that keeps the whole family in purr-fect harmony.