Cats don’t use their meows to speak to each other past kitten hood, they reserve those beloved cat sound effects for us. But in reality, a cat’s meow only has the ability to tell us so much. To better understand our feline friends, we must keep ourselves knowledgeable of their many body language cues. While it’s true that a cat’s eyes and ears can speak volumes, it’s the cat’s tail that possesses many traits and classic movements that can fill us in on what’s going on inside that curious little mind of theirs.
“Cats have very expressive tails, so tail position and movement can tell us a number of things.” — Dr. Eloise Bright, a veterinarian based in North Ryde, Australia
Here we’ll break down for you the language of what your cat’s tail is trying to tell you…
Tail Pointed Up
This one might be simple for us cat keepers to understand when it comes to deciphering cat tail lingo. When a cat presents itself with its tail pointing upwards, this means that your cat is feeling friendly and comfortable in your presence. A cat’s tail pointing up is showing you that they are feeling happy and confident and do not feel threatened in any way.
Question Mark Tail Kitty
This tail position is another indicator of friendliness. But symbolic of the question mark shape that it represents, it shows that your cat is feeling curious about something. If they see something or someone that sparks their interest, you might see this ?-looking tail take shape.
Cat Thumping Or Whipping Their Tail? Watch Out!
If a cat whips or thumbs their tail, this is an indicator of a cat that is ready to strike. This sign of aggression shows to us humans–as well as other cats and animals–that a cat is feeling aggressive and threatened.
Wrap Around Tail (Typically Draping Over Their Paws In A Seated Upright Position)
A cat that sits in this position is feeling nervous about their surroundings and is wrapping their tail around their body as a means to make them feel safe and comforted. If your cat is in this position, allow them to come to you–on their terms. Cats also do this when they are cold as a way to warm their little toes!
Tail Up, Flicking Back And Forth
Okay, so obviously like we mentioned above, the tail up is a good thing. But if your cat’s tail is up and it’s playfully flicking back and forth, well that means that your cat is feeling excited! Kinda makes me wish that I had a tail to flick back to show my excitement, too…
Cat’s Tail Pointing Straight Down
If ever you see a cat’s tail pointed straight down, it is a clear sign that they are agitated and most likely aggressive. Give them their adequate space and do not try and seek affection during this time. A cat with a tail pointing straight down is ready to strike–both familiar humans/pets or ones in which they do not know especially.
However, some breeds, such as Persians and Scottish Folds,tend to carry their tails low even when they’re in playful moods.
Idle Cat’s Tail
If your cat’s tail is relaxed and straight, most likely when they are sitting or resting (laying down on their side). This is tail language for “I feel at ease” at this moment. But as we know, cats are quick to flip on a dime. So an idle tail could transform to something else entirely in only a moment’s notice. Leave it to cats to always keep us on our toes!
Cat Wagging Their Tail
We know that dogs wag their tails when they are happy, but the same cannot be said for cats. In fact, cats often wag their tails in situations where they’re annoyed–the vet’s office being a prime example!
Tail Tucked Away
If your cat is hiding their tail and it’s tucked underneath their body, this is a sign of fear and submission to the imposing threat.
Puffed Cat’s Tail (Usually With A Side Angle To Their Body)
This classic Halloween cat look means one thing and one thing only: fear. Your cat is puffing their tail as a means to make their body appear larger to what has triggered that fear, and you best give them their distance. Do not for any reason try to interact with a cat in this position, it will only cause them more stress. Many kittens do this as they learn about the world around them, navigating between actual threats and things that they wouldn’t likely feel frightened of once they reached maturity.
Swaying Slowly Back And Forth, With Slight Twitching
Your cat will usually make this tail movement when they are focused on something, like prey! This movement is made as they are zoning in on their prey, whether that’s a live animal or their catnip toy across the room. And the reason that they do this? Well, it’s understood that cats will swoosh their tails back and forth when they are in hunter mode as a way to mesmerize prey.
Wrapped Cat’s Tail–Right Around You!
This is one of my favorite things that my cats do, and as it turns out, it’s a token of their affection!
“Cats will often wrap their tails around the leg or arm of an owner to show affection, but head butting is more commonly used,” says Margaret Donohue, psychologist and former cat trainer in Santa Clarita, California.
A Cat’s Tail Wrapped Around Another Cat
When you witness a cat do this to another cat, it’s as if the cat is hugging the other one–aww! This symbol of kitty companionship is just the sweetest thing ever.