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What Cats Signal With Their Tails

What Cats Signal With Their Tails

My cat had such an expressive tail, I sometimes thought she was spelling out letters in an effort to communicate with me. Although she couldn’t form letters as well as, say, the cowboy or Indian chief could make a YMC or A, she could certainly say a lot. As it turns out, a cat’s tail does more than act as a rudder and provide balance–like dogs, cats use their tails to signal their moods.

According to Arden Moore, author of The Cat Behavior Answer Book (Storey, 2007) recognizing the messages delivered in tail talk can help you better communicate with your cat. Here are some key tail positions and what they mean.

Hoisted high
A confident, contented cat will hold her tail high in the air as she moves about her territory. A tail that is erect like a flagpole signals a happy mood or a friendly greeting. Cats often send this message as they approach a welcoming person. If the top third of the tail twitches as the cat nears you, this means he totally adores you.

Question mark
A tail looking bent in a question mark often conveys a playful mood. This would be a good time to engage in a five- or ten-minute play session.

Flying low
A tail positioned straight down, parallel to the legs, may represent an aggressive mood. Be wary. That said, there are exceptions to this rule. Some breeds, such as Persions, Exotics, and Scottish Folds, normally tend to carry their tails lower than their backs.

Tucked away
A tail curved beneath teh body signals fear or submission. Something is making the cat nervous.

Puffed up
A pipe cleaner of a tail reflects a severely agitated or frightened cat whi is trying to look bigger to ward off danger.

A tail that whips rapidly back and forth indicates both fear and aggression. It is a warning that says “stay away.”

A tail that swishes slowly from side to side usually means the cat is focused on an object. Cats often swish their tails right before they pounce on a toy mouse. It is part of their predatory positioning.

A tail that twitches just at the tip is a sign of curiosity and excitement.

A tail wrapped around another cat is equivalent to a person casually putting her arm around a favorite pal. It conveys feline friendship.

Read more: Behavior & Communication, Cats, Pets, ,

By Melissa Breyer, Senior Editor, Healthy & Green Living

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


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7:32AM PST on Dec 17, 2014

thank you

7:56AM PDT on Aug 31, 2014

I love when cats wrap their tails around each other. So sweet.

9:29AM PDT on Jul 12, 2014

Thanks for sharing.

7:15AM PDT on Apr 25, 2014

I love my cat xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxSo much.

2:26AM PDT on Mar 21, 2014


1:20PM PDT on Mar 15, 2014


10:20AM PST on Feb 20, 2014

My Mr Boots loves to play catch with his treats. Higher toss toward him and he stands on two legs and makes a great first base catch..lower directly at him he catches and pops into his mouth in one quick movement..he is very good at playing catch..chasing them and pouncing too..he is a great friend, and hooks his tail around my leg often as if he is saying hey bud what's up, as mentioned cats do to each other..
His looks leave me baffled.. he will just star at me..for a long time..or sit and have one eye directly focused on me for minutes at a time..
Makes a cool little chirping purr every time I speak or we meet up in the a little jump when I call him or we are going for a stroll to the food dish.. he is about 12 years old now and pretty playful too..but, being a new hampshire main coon he is a bit of a nipper..
sneaks up and nips and runs..wanting me to chase him so I do..
always sneaking into my room and snuggles at night but never has sat in my lap.
He has all his parts too..happiest right after a big dump..:0) Never been outside except on a netted patio in an apartment, now we are in a house and he won't go out side..sniffs at the doot and walks away, turns his back and sits there..stolidly refusing to leave the house..
Occassionally tackles my leg from behind, like when I am heading for the fridge in a darkened room at night..whamo..then runs off snickering..:) Heh heh heh..gotcha.!
He can rip and tear at any furniture he likes and keeps his nails in

11:08AM PST on Dec 26, 2013

Sweet cats,wrapping their tails around each other,

10:17AM PST on Dec 22, 2013

interesting, thank you

12:16PM PST on Dec 9, 2013

Thank you. I think the same kind of tail-communication might apply to squirrels.

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