Decoding Your Cat’s Tail Language

Everything about a cat makes it endearing, although it is still a mystery how one could understand the cat’s actions and their meaning. As studies show, cats are more difficult to read compared to dogs that seem very transparent.

Cats have a very dynamic tail that has more uses than just being used for balance and looking fluffy. They use their tail to help communicate what their mood is and how they are feeling about a situation.

Below, we cover some of the most common and easy to distinguish cat tail positions and movements the tail will go through.

cat moving around

Tale of the Tail and What You Can Do About It

I’m confident around you

This is something you may have seen when coming home and being greeted by your cat or a random friendly cat in the street.

The tail is held in an almost rigid upright position, as the cat calmly walks towards you. This would then be followed by a head bump or full body rub.

This tail position is held as a greeting towards other cats and people, it is something that states that the cat is confident and friendly.

It also shows that the cat is comfortable, doesn’t feel threatened, wants to greet you and exchange scents.

It’s always safe to calmly and slowly approach or wait for the cat to approach you, when they are showing this tail position.

A not so confident hello:

This tail position is not always so obvious in cats, especially cats with fluffy tails or those breeds who have bobtails.

It is similar to the happy greeting position but has a slight curl at the end. This indicates a little bit of unsure feelings towards who the cat is greeting.

If you are being greeted by a cat with this tail position, then it’s best to lower yourself down into a crouch if possible and turn slightly away so you aren’t in a confrontational position.

It’s still okay to say hello to the cat but its best to let the cat approach you in this situation and keep yourself as least threatening as possible for the most positive experience for you both.

cat with a ribbon on its neck

So much love:

This tail position and tail position 7movement would mainly been seen between cats and people who have built up a strong bond together.

Usually the tail will take on an upright position and look like it’s vibrating occasionally. Some cats have their own quirks and have their tail lower down or in a more neutral position but the vibrating pattern of movement is a big giveaway of how they are feeling.

This clearly indicates the cat wants attention and affection from you and is an invitation to give lots of pets and rubs.

Not all cats do this form of tail communication but it is always a positive sign if your cat or a cat you know does this towards you, as it shows how much they like you attention and affection.

I’m getting overstimulated *tail swoosh*:

This tail movement can tail position 8happen in any context depending on the cat’s personality, it is used to communicate an escalation in emotion for the cat and that they need some space.

The tail will usually be low and flat on whatever surface the cat is sitting or laying on. The tail will do long, slow full movements with the body also starting to tense up along with it.

If a cat is starting to show this form of tail movement, with whatever you are doing at the time then its best to move away and give the cat space to calm down.

This movement is often seen in play between the owner and cat, which can result in more aggressive behaviour towards whatever toy is being used in play but it is best to let the cat have a little break to calm down before continuing to play.

This helps the cat regulate it’s emotions and stops any potential accidental bites or swipes onto hands or other body parts while playing.

I don’t want to be approached:

This position is a semi-relaxedtail position 3 with the tail being kept still, that is easy to identify.

The tail will be down instead of upright, like in a greeting position. The tail won’t be moving and the cat is usually walking calmly.

Often this is a signal saying that the cat is about doing their own thing and isn’t interested in being approached by anyone.

It isn’t an aggressive or positive state but more of the simple statement about the cats current motives. You can invite the cat to come over and say hello but it is best to not chase the cat and force a greeting they do not want.

Back off:

This more subtle tail tail position 1movement can sometimes be hard to spot and is much like a fuse without knowing the length of the string. The cat will have a certain length of time before it escalates into swiping or biting.

The tail will be low and laying on a surface or hanging very low if the cat is being held. The end slightly flicks either continuously or every so often.

When you see this tail movement, it is a big sign that the cat wants you to back off and give them space. It is a very angry, sharpe movement which is then escalated to either hissing, swiping or biting.

If you see the cat do this then it is best to move away or walk away from the cat. This is a communication of the cat saying, it is getting annoyed with whatever you are doing and it will go further if you keep annoying them.

I am uncomfortable:

This tail position also goes tail position 9with a body posture as well. Usually the tail will be tucked to the side of the cat, almost trying to wrap around the feet. The body will be hunched up and feet together underneath the cat.

This is a very strong signal that the cat is feeling very uncomfortable and scared of the situation it is currently experiencing.

From this the cat will escalate its behaviours to cowering/ hissing or growling, then go further with running away or if it is cornered then defending itself.

It is very important not to approach a cat in this emotional state and its best to leave. If the cat needs to be captured for whatever reason then depending on how confident the cat is, use tasty food to get them to approach you or put tasty food into a carrier and give them plenty of space to hopefully eventually choose to go into the carrier.

I am very scared and will defend myself:

A cat who has their tail tail position 5completely tucked underneath itself and has a hunched/ crouched body posture, is a very scared cat who feels cornered and so will defend itself.

The tail will be positioned to hide it away in between its back legs and against its belly. With legs close to its body.

It is best to give the cat as much room as possible or to leave them alone. If they need to be captured then its best to herd them into the desired area or carrier slowly and calmly, while giving them an escape option in the direction you want them to go.

I am very scared/ angry, go away now:

This tail position is very tail position 2obvious and usually goes along with other signals, such as hissing, spitting and back being arched.

This is a signal that the cat does when they want to make it clear they will attack you if you do not back down, go away or stop what you are doing.

You will also see this behaviour in kittens when they are still learning, they do it in response to when they have been startled or they meet something that scares them.

In adulthood it is used to say to other cats and animals, that they are big and willing to defend themselves physically if needed.

It is best for your safety to not approach a cat showing this behaviour and to leave or give them space.

Understand the Signs

Remember to not just look at how the tail moves or how it looks in general before approaching your cat. Check the ears, how the body is positioned, or even its vocalizations. Not all tail movements are voluntary as it is connected with other parts of the cat’s body. So be careful in looking out for the signs.

It is important for you to at least have a basic understanding of what a cat may be trying to tell you. This is to avoid any untoward incident especially if you have kids. By recognizing the signs or what your cat’s tail actions mean, you are avoiding yourself and your loved ones being hurt unintentionally by your pet cat.

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