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Q. How should I interpret my cat’s tail movements?

Answered By
DANA KOCH, VMD, MLAS

A. Our feline friends express themselves in many different ways, including through the use of their tails. Most pet owners pay close attention to a happy or excited dog, but they are sometimes less attentive to the posture and movement of their cat. Here are some of the most common cat tail behaviors, and the underlying emotion behind each action:

A flicking tail: Many anxious, nervous or stressed cats will hold their tail in a low position and flick it quickly back and forth. This is often referred to as angry tail, and a pet owner or veterinarian should be on guard for any possible aggressive or defensive activity. If a cat is moving their tail slowly, and not exhibiting the flicking motion, then this cat is at a much calmer state.

Vertical position: Most of the time when a cat is holding their tail in a straight, vertical position this is indicating curiosity and a playful mood. A cat chasing after a laser pointer or playing toys will often have their tails in a vertical position showing their enjoyment. This position also helps with balanced movements. In contrast, if the tail is in the vertical position and the cat’s back is arched with pinned back ears then this could demonstrate a feeling of being threatened and thus result in defensive or aggressive behaviors.

The Tucked Tail: Similar to a dog, a tucked tail often indicates submission or fear. Your cat is conveying upset feelings and should most likely be left alone. This tucked tail appearance can also make a cat look smaller and less threatening to an aggressive cat.

The Tail Twine: Cats will often hook their tail around another cat’s tail, owner’s legs or other objects to show a friendly and affectionate nature. They are also trying to indicate whether they want to receive affection from their owners, be fed or have playtime.

The next time you are home with your feline companion take note on how they express themselves through their tail movements, their ears, body posture and vocalization. You can start to better understand their needs and wants, in addition to what makes them uncomfortable or happy. Cats will surprise you with their array of emotions and varied expressions they can express.


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