What Your Cat is Telling You with Their Tail – Cat Tail Language

Cats are mistakenly believed to be mysterious animals that are difficult to decipher. However, they are the complete opposite. Cats’ eyes, ears, and especially tails are great indicators of what the cat is feeling or trying to communicate. One just has to “read” their body language to understand what they are trying to convey. 

Cat Tail Language

Nonetheless, cats are still not human, and reading them requires some background knowledge about the different positions a cat’s tail takes as well as what each position entails. New pet owners especially are advised to read this article because cat tail movements may let the owner know when to push and when to give the cat its space, when the cat is feeling sickly and needs a trip to the vet, as well as when something needs to be done/provided. 

Cat tail movements: the basics

Many animal behaviorists contributed to what is sometimes called “cat tail language”, and Dr. Ballantyne is among them. Her studies focused on both the speed at which the tail moves as well as the different positions it takes. She stated that if the tail is moving quickly, chances are the cat is mad or agitated, however, if the tail’s movement is slow and languid, then the cat is probably contented and approaching the owner amicably. 

She also talked about the “tail-up posture”, where she explained that when the cat’s tail is thrust upwards with the tip curved a little bit, that means it is the cat’s way to greet the owner or other cats.

Other cat tail movements she studied where the way the cat curls its tail around the owner’s leg or around another cat’s tail. This means that the cat is bonded to that person/cat.

However, learning cat tail language is basically the same thing as learning a new language. It takes time to get used to the different positions and the meanings behind them.

Can you pet your cat’s tail?

Although it is not totally prohibited, petting a cat around the tail area or the tail itself is a major no-no by most cats. Ballantyne further explains that it is best to keep the pets around the ears and chin areas where cats like it the most.

If your cat is done with the petting session and is ready to move on to something else, it will make these feelings known. That is why it is important for cat owners to know their feline companions’ body language because knowing that helps the owners to know their limits.

What to do when the tail is sending a message?

A/ If the tail is thrust upward, held high:
Meaning: It means the cat is content and happy
Action to take: Offer some pets or treats
B/ If the tail is curved at the top
Meaning: amicable
Action to take: offer a hand for sniffing
C/ If the tail is straight down
Meaning: frustrated, agitated, aggressive
Action to take: avoid petting or touching it, attempt to deal with whatever is stressing the cat
D/ If the tail is curved under the body
Meaning: submission, nervousness
Action to take: leave it be it will come on its own terms
E/ If the tail is puffed
Meaning: mad, agitated, fearful
Action to take: let it be
F/ If the tail is swinging back and forth
Meaning: afraid, aggressive, agitated
Action to take: avoid it and let it calm down
G/ If the tail is swaying slowly back and forth (twitching)
Meaning: focused, curious
Action to take: let it investigate what is dazzling her

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