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    Tail Language: What is Your Cat's Tail Meaning?

    Authored by Jodi Helmer

    You know that dogs communicate with their tails, wagging or tucking the tail to convey happiness or fear, but you may not realize that cats do the same. In addition to meowing, hissing and purring, cats also use their tails to communicate—and you can learn a lot from paying attention to their swishing, swaying movements.

    Cat tail position

    Similar to dogs, cats holds their tails high in the air when they are feeling confident and content. 

    When cats are feeling especially friendly, their upright tails curve at the end (giving them the same shape as a question mark or hook). These tail positions are a sign that your cat is open to receiving affection and eager to play.

    The lower cats hold their tails, the less at ease they feel. Cats will lower their tails (or hold them straight down) when they’re feeling stressed;  a low tail can also be a sign of agitation or aggression. Proceed with caution and watch for clues—like their tail rising into a vertical position—that the cat is feeling more comfortable with your presence.

    When cats tuck their tails under their bodies, it’s a sign of fear, nervousness or submissiveness. Offer a treat or hold out your hand for sniffing and give nervous cats a little extra time to relax.

    Tail speed

    A slow “wag” is a sign of focus. Your cat might be preparing to stalk a toy or pounce on a treat. This lazy, back-and-forth swishing is common when cats are “napping” but still focused on something (like a bird outside); cats with swishing tails may also be dreaming.

    Playful cats will often sway their tails from side to side.

    In contrast, a tail that is whipping back and forth is a sign of aggression or fear and should be considered a warning sign to stay away. Cats may also thump their tails on the ground or twitch the tip of their tails to signal that they are feeling irritated or annoyed and no longer want to interact.

    Tail appearance

    If your cat’s normally sleek tail is puffed up, back off. 

    A puffed up tail is a sign that you cat is feeling afraid. Cats will puff up their tails (and the hair on the rest of their bodies) to appear bigger and more imposing in the hopes of scaring off potential threats. A hormonal response triggers the “fight or flight” response, which leads to the fluffed up appearance. 

    Cats can puff up their tails in the face of an actual threat like a hawk or a strange dog or in response to a loud noise or other perceived threat. Their tails will go back to their normal sleek appearance when they perceive the threat is gone.

    If you notice a cat with a puffed up tail that is also arching her back and hissing, back off. 

    Cats will curl up into compact positions and wrap their tails around their bodies as a sign of pain or distress. Call the vet if your cat assumes this position for several days because it could mean that she isn’t feeling well and needs medical attention.

    A cat that curls its tail around you or another cat is showing affection. Cats wrap their tails around you just like humans offer hugs; it might be offered as a greeting, as a sign of trust or to get your attention. Bonded cats will also intertwine their tails as a sign of affection and friendship. 

    Cat tails are very expressive. Watching the position, speed and appearance of their tails, and combining these details with other cues like vocalization and overall posture, can help you understand the message that cats are trying to send.