I’ve learned that one of the easiest ways for me to tell what my cat Java is thinking is through her tail language. Before I had a cat, I never would’ve thought that there’s a pattern to tail movement, but it turns out cats actually use their tails to communicate and express their emotions (among other body language).
Thankfully, animal behaviorists like Pam Bennett have done plenty of research to help cat owners understand the nuances of what their cat is trying to say. I’ve also found the ASPCA to have extensive resources on cat behavior.
What Do Different Cat Tail Positions Mean?
Cat’s usually walk with their tail horizontal, which represents a mostly neutral attitude. When they raise or lower their tail, accompanied by different actions it could signal changes in your cat’s attitude. By reading your cat’s tail language, accompanied by the rest of their body language, you’ll be able to have a better sense of what your cat is thinking. An explanation of these seven tail movements may help in understanding your cat’s tail language and guide you in determining if your cat is ready for pets or if you should give them some space.
Curved Like A Question Mark
If your cat’s tail is upright and curved at the top, much like that of a question mark, it means your cat is in the mood for some fun. In cat tail language, it’s a friendly and playful sign, and you can more than likely show them some affection.
Java often jumps on my bed or the couch and will stick her tail up like this, basically telling me it’s time for pets. Usually my affection is received well and she plops down for more, a good sign I translated her cat tail language correctly.
A tail that is pointed straight down is a strong sign of agitation and can mean your cat is feeling aggressive. You’ll want to figure out what’s upsetting her – maybe it’s a new environment, she feels cornered, etc. Try to solve the problem so that your cat no longer feels threatened or nervous.
It’s also important to know that some cat breeds tend to carry their tails low on a regular basis and shouldn’t be mistaken for aggression. Persians and Oriental Shorthairs are good examples of breeds that do this. It’s always a good idea to assess your cats overall body language, not just their tail, before assuming their mood.
Much like the question mark, an upright cat tail is a sign of friendliness. It also signals that your cat is comfortable and confident within their environment. If they give off a little flick at the end of their tail, consider an especially friendly sign or happy moment.
A tail that is tucked away is a sign that something is making your cat nervous or they are afraid of something. If your cat’s tail is being held close to their body it could be a sign of anxiety. She may also be curled into a ball and appear tense. If your cat seems anxious the goal should be to identify the source of their anxiety. This could mean simply helping them feel safe and relaxed in their surroundings. Just act relaxed and wait for them to come to you.
If their anxiety continues and you can’t seem to identify the cause, it could be caused by underlying health issues or toxins. If you’re unsure, it’s best to get them to your vet so they can properly diagnose the issue. They can also prescribe anti-anxiety medication to help keep your kitty calm, as well as recommend a trainer or animal behaviorist if need be.
Not to be confused with fast whipping, a slowly swishing their tail back and forth is a sign your cat is just focused on something. You might see this when you’re playing with your cat and she is getting ready to pounce on a toy or as you are about to feed her.
As cute as a wagging tail might be, it’s actually a sign that your cat is upset. If your pet starts whipping their tail from side to side while you are petting them, it’s time to stop because it’s also a sign that they may be overstimulated. The best thing to do is give them some space and let them relax.
Puffed or Arched
A cat that is arching and/or puffing up their tail could be signaling that they are feeling threatened. Making oneself appear larger is a common defense mechanism in the animal kingdom. It’s a form of deception and is used to avoid conflict, so it makes sense to back off if your cat is employing such a tactic. If a cat continues to feel threatened, eventually they’ll show signs of aggression and defend themselves.
Do You Know How To Understand Your Cat’s Tail Language?
- Was there a time you knew exactly what your cat wanted based on their tail alone?
- Have you ever annoyed your cat and just realized their tail was giving off one of these signs?
These suggestions and my advice are based on personal experience, research, and secondhand accounts, but I am by no means a professional cat expert or licensed in any way. I would love to hear if you have any opinions on cat behavior and I’m sure other cat parents would appreciate learning from your experience as well, in the comments below!