Your kitty’s tail tells a lot!
All animals, including our pets, connect and converse with us in their own way. It’s up to us, their family and protectors to understand these messages, and to respond appropriately. Here are a few cat tail positions and what they mean.
Dogs and cats have been trying to talk to us for over 14,000 years now, cats even longer, since the first time man started domesticating them. It’s only now that we are starting to understand what these bodily cues and statements mean. These mysterious, adorable creatures convey a lot of silent signals, especially with their tails. Here’s how to understand and anticipate their emotions, temperament and needs through their tail positions:
Puffy tail: A frightened cat will puff up their tail. The puffing is significantly different in size from a regular cat tail and can sometimes be even two or three times the original size of the tail. This can look very impressive in a long-haired breed of cat where the hair stands up and the tail looks incredible and puffy. This is often accompanied by an arched back and flattened ears. They are attempting to look bigger than they are and thus threatening to their opponent.
Tail low to the ground: A cat who is hesitant, or isn’t sure of herself will keep her tail low to the ground. A feline who feels threatened can also place her tail low on the ground. If you see a cat looking wary with the tail in this position, understand that this can quickly progress from uncertainty to aggression.
Tail tucked underneath: Just like with dogs, this is an animal who is frightened or intensely scared. If she has seen something alarming, she begins to act strange and tuck her tail between her legs. This is a cat who is essentially in a flight mode, but if cornered, will quickly switch to fight mode.
Tall tail with a question mark: If there is a slight curve at the end of a tall standing tail, this usually resembles a question mark. This little curve at the end of their tail expresses playfulness. They are feeling friendly and are definitely up for some play and activity. They look forward to human communication and interaction. Tail lashing back and forth rapidly: If there is something in the cat’s environment that is quickly getting on her nerves, then it is very likely that you will observe this behavior. If the cat’s tail is quickly whipping back and forth or thumping the floor, it’s a sure sign of irritation. Understand that this is a warning and treat it as such. This cat will lash out. Understand that when she is doing this, your sweet little kitty is preparing to take on anything and everything that is irritating them. Tail standing up and quivering: This is a cat who is excited about something or anticipating something. Maybe she has caught a mouse and brought it to you as a present, or they heard or smelt that can opener and that tuna. Maybe they just saw a mouse and are strutting around. This is also a tail that shows that she is pleased or generally feeling fine.
Tail straight up: This is also a sign of contentedness, excitement or anticipation. This is usually how a cat will greet you at the door when you come home after a long day. They are excited by the prospect of dinner or anticipating a belly rub, but at any rate, they sure are happy to see you.
Tail gently swishing from side to side: These are cats who are gently focused on a specific sight, like a bird outside their window, or that feather toy you think they love playing with. This is a movement that a cat will exhibit prior to pouncing. The sight that’s before them tantalises them and they want to get at it.
Tail wrapped around one another: Cats wrap their tails around other felines, and occasionally human friends to show friendship and affection. If your cat does this to you, you are one of the lucky few. Your kitty is displaying great affection and camaraderie towards you and you should feel very highly of yourself. Noticing and understanding the position of the tail is critical in understanding the moods of your kitty friend. The various positions indicate various emotions, and should be read carefully to be able to gauge her moods and affiliations.
(Garima Singhal is neurobiologist, school teacher and a long-term pet parent based in Bengaluru).