Oh, cats. How we love them when they are being sweet. And how they confuse us countless other times. While cats cannot verbally speak to us to let them know how they are feeling, there are still a lot of ways in which cats communicate with us.
There are a lot of ways in which you can tell what your cat is feeling: Their meow, their body language, and their tail. Ah, the tail. Cats actually hold a lot of emotion in their tails and humans can gather a lot of information in seconds just by watching the tail.
In this section, I am going to mention eight different tail “languages” that are most popular with cats and what the meanings are behind them. It is also important to mention that while a cat’s tail can be very telling, it is also important to not neglect their body language they exhibit and their meows.
Combining all the tools that cats provide us will help us better understand their needs and what they are feeling, which in turn allows for a stronger relationship between pet and pet parent.
1. The Tail Straight Up
A lot of people see a cat with their tail straight up and immediately think the cat is mad or scared. In reality, it is probably the opposite. A cat with this tail in an upright position signifies confident and happiness.
One perfect example is my kitten, Wobbles. She is a complete daddy’s girl. And she can be sitting in the living room relaxing and normal. But when my fiancé starts walking towards her, her position changes. She stands up and walks towards him and her tail immediately goes from relaxed to straight up.
Wobbles is happy to see her dad and excited for him to pet her. This is usually accompanied by a meow which means she is happy to see him. So if your cat sees youand their tail goes straight up, they are not scared. They are happy to see you! A straight up tail is straight up awesome.
2. The Tail Straight Up with a curve at the top
The second tail language that occurs is similar to the first one. The biggest difference is what happens at the very top of the tail. If the cat’s tail curves at the top similar to the shape of a question more, you again have a very happy cat. The difference between the first and second language is the second language is usually a more playful tail.
Oftentimes, a tail will start out straight up and curve as it goes on. When your cat curves their tail at you, they are wanting to either play with you or be petted. The best thing you can do, if possible, is to pet your cat when they are doing this tail behavior. This lets them know that you understand that they are happy and want to be petted. Their form of communication from this method is working.
Another great thing you can do when your pet is showing this behavior is to try and play with them. There are so many toys that require humans to play with cats. And utilizing these toys when they are showing their tails in and upwards curved motion shows them that you understand they are wanting to play with you. Some of my favorite cat toys that require humans to help play with the cats are:
Ironically, as I was typing the section, Wobbles did the same thing to be. She hates when I am by the computer, therefore she will always give me her curved tail, walk up to me and rub up against my laptop. She is letting me know that she is there, and I need to stop paying attention to my computer and begin paying attention to her. Which actually leads me into my next way.
3. The Tail that Curves up against you (or something)
Does your cat ever rub up against you and their tail kind of wraps around you after their body has passed through? Ever wonder what that means. Well, a cat rubbing up against you is usually a sign of affection and trying to show that you are theirs. The lingering tail usually means the same thing. It is a loving gesture to show you that you belong to them.
I like to think of this curved tail as almost a hug the cats are trying to give. My cats will ALWAYS do this to my leg, and if I am sitting down, whatever object is closest. When Wobbles sees me on the computer and gives me the question mark tail if I don’t drop what I am doing and pet her she resorts to this. She will rub her body and then tail but against my laptop to let me know that she is there, and that I am hers! And I better not forget it!
One thing that I like to do when my cats begin rubbing themselves up against me is to use that as a great time to brush them. They are feeling extra affectionate and loving and will be more tolerable of a brush than trying to do it when they are annoyed. I always start by letting them smell the brush, rub up against the brush, then run it down their body to their tail so they can wrap their tail around it as well.
While this process usually only lasts a little while, it is still better than not brushing them at all. And gives them a positive connotation with brushing.
4. The tail that is puffed
While a relaxed tail should be very obvious to most owners. A puffed tail should also be just as obvious. When cats are scared, they will try and puff themselves up and make their hair stand up. This is to make themselves seem bigger and scarier with the intent of scaring off a predator.
If your cat hair their tail puffed up, chances are the rest of their body is puffed as well. Your cat is trying to let them know they are scared and you need to back off. Right now is not a good time to approach your cat because they are fearful and will likely react. A puffed tail is a warning to others to back off and give them space, or else.
Luckily, this tail is not something I normally see with my cats. I do see it a few times with Phoebe when she sees something that scares her. She is a very tame cat and stays by my side. Because of this, we will let her out on the back porch for her to smell the nice smells under our supervision. There have been a few times where she has seen a dog, a person, or some object that scares her which causes her to run back inside. In some instances, if she was really scared, I will notice her tail is quite puffed up after running inside as well. While I can’t prevent people from walking past her and scaring her, I can adjust my reaction to her when that happens. (Usually by slow blinking, which I will explain in another post).
If you notice your cat has a puffed tail around you quite often, you may want to think about creating a calming environment for them to feel safer in. My first step is to always watch your reactions and mannerism around the cat. They feed off your energy. The other is to take the territorial feel out of a scared cat by introducing pheromones*. Pheromones are great because they already help a cat feel safe and at home which can help them start to let their guards down.
5. The tail whipping back and forth
Are you every petting your loving cat and their tail starts whipping back and forth? Unfortunately, this one often confuses people a lot. Most of the time people will look at that tail and think of a dog. They assume the tail “wagging” is a happy tail much like when a dog is happy.
In reality, when a cat is whipping their tail back and forth, they are trying to let you know that they are annoyed. It is like if you are a mother and your child is getting sick of you. Kids will start with an eye roll, or an annoying stance before they snap. Cats are the same way. Instead of an eye roll and an annoyed stance, it is a whipping tail.
If possible, if your cat starts whipping their tail that means they want you to stop doing whatever you are doing. If you are petting them, then I would recommend backing away. But sometimes that is not always possible. My cat, Phoebe, will always whip her tail when I am carrying her places. Mostly because she does not like to be carried. However, there are some instances where she HAS to be carried (like to the car when we are going places). The alternatives are she follows me to the car (I wish!) or goes into a carrier while I carry her to the car. As much as she hates the carrier, I think 30 seconds of annoyance is worth her safety.
So if you are in a position where you can stop whatever you are doing with your cat when you notice the tail whipping back and forth, then it is recommended. However, there are some instances where they just have to be annoyed for a second. Much like kids, sometimes you have to do what’s best for them rather than what they want!
6. The tail in a neutral position slowing going back and forth
Another position that involves a “wagging” tail is if their cats tail is in a neutral position and slowly moving back and forth. There is not fast moving tail, much like a little fish swimming in the water. Slow and steady.
This means that your cat is very focused or interested in what they are doing. They are not annoyed or agitated, but not quite sure if they are excited yet. A perfect example that I use, and part of the reason I wrote this post, is when Phoebe goes outside. She is so interested in the smells outside that her tail will be slightly raised and slowly moving back and forth. Her body language is that of a happy cat, but her tail always confused me.
The cats that exhibit these tails are very focused on whatever is interesting to them that their tail is unsure of what to do. When I notice Phoebe’s tail acting in this manner, I normally just let her go and continue on with her investigations. They are obviously very important.
7. The tail straight up with a slight twitch
Do you ever get home from a long day and your cat comes running towards you with their tail up? Same! And sometimes if I am lucky, I will get a straight up tail with a little quiver at the top of it.
I remember the first time I saw one of my cats do that little quivering tail. I had been gone for a few days on a vacation and came home to them. They were so happy and their tails were shaking like a rattlesnake. So naturally, I went to researching.
What I found was that a rattling tail is a sign of extreme excitement or love. When a cat is quivering their tail at you it means they are either very excited to see you, they love you, or perhaps you have treats or food. (Okay, partially kidding on that one. But I have seen my cats give me the tail when I get them food sometimes. Very food-driven those cats).
If your cat runs up to you with a quivery, twitching tail. You should take that as a very big compliment. That means that your cat adores you! They adore you enough to be super excited when you get home or adore you enough to be shaking with love. The tail quiver is one of my favorite ways my cats communicate with me.
8. The tail tucked in
Last but certainly not least is a tucked tail. A tucked tail is usually pair with the cat staying low to the ground or making themselves small. This is because a tucked tail is a sign that the cat is nervous or insecure. They are frightened so they are trying to make themselves as small as possible to “hide”. This is the opposite fear tactic as number 4 where they puff their tails up to make themselves bigger.
This is not something to be too worried about especially if the cat is new or in a new environment. Fear is normal for cats in usual environments, so the best thing to do is try and make them as comfortable as possible. Just give the kitten time and they will become more comfortable. The more comfortable they are, the lesser you see a tucked in tail.
Cats can tell us a lot from their tails. The biggest thing is if we actually listen. Watching their tails helps us understand and communicate back with them in a language they understand. In turn, this communication leads to better and stronger bonds between the two of you. And I like to think an overall happier, relaxed cat because of it.
So take a few minutes today to just watch your cat. Which of these tail positions do they exhibit? When are they doing these tail positions? Perhaps you could learn more than you imagine about your cat in a short period of time. Or better yet, perhaps you can realize how happy your cat actually is with you. Talk about immediate gratification!