A Tail is Worth 1000 Words: How Cats Use Body Language to Communicate

A Tail is Worth 1000 Words: How Cats Use Body Language to Communicate

Like we have mentioned before, cats only use meowing to communicate with each other when they are kittens - they meow as a needy signal to their mother. But past this age, they reserve that characteristic sound for communicating with their humans. And of course, just like when they were kittens, they use it to express their needs...whether it be extra attention, or a request for catnip.

Sometimes it can be difficult to interpret a cat’s meow. So, we can use their body language instead. While many refer to cats as mysterious or hard to read, we can actually pick up a lot from how they carry themselves.

A cat uses their eyes and ears to make tell-tale facial expressions. And if you are paying very close attention, you may be able to pick up on a few of these little quirks. Though it’s said that the eyes are the window to the soul, it is much easier to tell what is going on by watching your feline friend’s tail!

We have saved you the trouble of deciphering by putting together this list of things your cat may be trying to tell you.

Cat Tail Pointed Straight Up

If you have owned a cat for very long at all, you are probably familiar with this one. When your cat wants some attention, he may back his hind end up to your leg - signaling “Pet me, please.” And when he is done, he will simply walk away.

This action is usually reserved for a cat’s most trusted human. It means your cat feels comfortable and happy. Unless your cat is feeling particularly friendly and confident, he probably will not present himself to a stranger in this manner.

When a cat points his tail up, he is in a vulnerable position. This means he does not feel threatened in any way and that he feels safe and loved by you. Who knew cat butts could be so adorable!

When a Cat Curves His Tail: The Question Mark

Similar to the Straight Up tail position, the Curved tail of a cat also indicates friendliness and a desire for attention. When a cat’s tail is positioned in this way, it looks sort of like a question mark. And ironically, it represents curiosity.

When a cat hears or sees something interesting, they will perk their tail up in the Curved position to show their interest. It may also show that your cat is feeling particularly frisky and playful!

Cat's Tail Wrapped Around another Cat

Though they are not pack animals like dogs, cats can certainly enjoy the good company of a feline friend. When this is the case, you may see a cat wrap his tail around another cat. It is most commonly observed when cats live together and have a deep bond.

This tail position simply represents love and friendship - much like a human wrapping an arm around a friend for a warm hug. The tail wrap...a cat’s embrace. Your cat may even wrap his tail around your arm or leg to show how much he loves you! This is known as Affiliative Interactions in the animal world.  

cats hug with their tails

Cat's Whipping Tail

Luckily we do not have to wait for a cat to strike to know they are unhappy. We can just pay attention to their ever talkative tail! When a cat whips it tail around he is showing fear and potential aggression. A whipping tail is a sure indicator that the cat is about to lash out in anger. It serves as a warning to other cats, animals and humans to stay back!

Cat Tail Pointed Straight Down

Watch out! Similar to the whipping tail position, a cat’s tail that is positioned straight down is not a good sign. It signals agitation, aggression, and impending attack. Whether you see this behavior from your own cat, or a random cat, just back away and leave them alone.

If you try to approach a cat with a tail that is pointing straight down, you are almost certain to be struck. This is also true for other animals. Once a cat reaches this point, he will likely fight with any animal, even those with which he is familiar.

However, some cat breeds just have heavier tales that can be pointed straight down even if the cat is happy or in a playful mood. If you have a Persian cat, this may be the case. As the cat’s owner, you know him best so just trust your own judgement!

When a Cat Wraps His Tail Around Himself

When a cat drapes his tail and tucks it up under himself, he is feeling fear and anxiety. The cat is unsure of his surroundings and feels nervous. Cats wrap their tails around their bodies to make themselves feel safer and more comfortable. If your own cat is seated in this way, try to identify what is bothering them. You can try to call to him, but it may be best to let him come to you on his own. Alternatively, this could be a show of submission and respect. Cats also tend to do this if they are cold, so just use context clues when deciphering this tail message!

Cats wrap their tails around themselves for comfort and warmth

Cat's Swishing Tail

Like the Straight Up tail, the Swishing tail is a happy sign. Quick little flicks back and forth signal excitement and extra playfulness. But a tail that swishes more slowly indicates that your cat is laser-focused on something. A frisky cat might move their tail in this way right before they pounce! It is said that cats use this slow swish when they are in hunting mode. Apparently, the swishy tail mesmerizes the prey into a stupor and makes it easier for cats to sneak up on it. Definitely an interesting theory!

Still Cat Tail

If your cat’s tail is not moving, the cat is likely very relaxed. This simply indicates that your cat is comfortable and content. But of course, like any cat owner knows, this could change at anytime! So always be sure to keep an eye out for what your cat is conveying with their tail talk.

when a cat's tail is still, he is relaxed

Wagging Cat Tail

If your canine loving friend comes over and sees your cat wagging his or tail...your friend will almost certainly conclude that your cat is feeling happy and friendly! When dogs wag their tails, it usually means they are happy, like the person they are interacting with, and would love to be petted, etc. With cats, unfortunately this could not be further from the truth. Cats actually wag their tails in annoyance, much like when a human wags their finger. Talk about irony.

Cat's Puffed Up Tail

If you have ever seen your cat or any cat puff their tail up, you now how odd and somewhat scary it looks. When cats display this behavior, they are feeling nervous and scared- but more so than when they wrap their tails around themselves.

They puff their tails up when they feel threatened because it gives the illusion of a bigger, more menacing body. Basically, puffing their tails up works as a defense mechanism for cats. So, never approach a cat with puffed up tail. You will likely be attacked if you do, especially if you do not know the cat.

Kittens display this type of behavior more frequently than adult cats, because they have a lot to learn about the world. For example, a kitten may display this behavior when they see a large rock for the first time - they are unsure of what it is and may perceive it as a threat. But of course as your kitten grows, they will become more confident!

Here’s a quick summary chart to help you interpret your cat’s “secret signals.”

Signal Meaning

Pointed Straight Up

Friendly and Content

Curved

Curious

Wrapped Around another Cat

Loving and Full of Friendship

Whipping

Anger and Aggression

Pointed Straight Down

Agitation & will probably Attack soon

Wrapped Around Itself

Fear and Anxiety

Swishing

Frisky and Playful

Still

Content or Bored

Wagging

Annoyed

Puffed Up

Threatened

Summary

Like many animals, cats rely on body language to communicate with each other and their humans. And lucky for cat lovers, felines are actually one of the most expressive domestic animals. So all you really have to do is pay attention!

Hopefully in today’s article, we have provided you with all the tools you will need to understand how your cat, or any cat, communicates with their tail. Remember that cats are very different from dogs, and a wagging tail is not a good sign.

But do not worry, sometimes your cat will snuggle up and wrap their tail around your leg. This is a sure sign that your cat loves you and feels very bonded to you. Likewise, when your cat presents himself to you with his tail straight up, he is feeling friendly and would like to be petted.

We would love to hear stories about how your cat communicates! Join our community and drop a comment below.

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