That’s What the Cat’s Tail Tells Us

With around twenty vertebrae, the cat’s tail is flexible right up to the tip. It not only helps the cat balance but is also a mood barometer.

You could watch young cats play with their tails for hours. They spin in circles, chasing him like he has a life of his own. That’s not entirely wrong.

Although the cat uses its tail as a means of communication, it can only control it consciously to a limited extent. Rather, it is a strong mood barometer that shows how the cat is feeling. “Comparable to when people get a red face,” says Ruth Herrmann, a veterinarian and behavioral doctor from Olten SO. “There are nerve fibers involved that are not subject to the conscious will.”

Of course, if you want to interpret the exact state of mind of your cat, you always have to look at it as a whole and pay attention to ears, eyes, and posture, for example – but the tail alone says a lot.

When he greets you by pointing straight up, that’s a good sign. The animal is excited. The tail can also move back and forth slightly or tremble. If the cat then strolls around the human’s legs, it spreads its personal scent. They mark their partners and their comfort zone via so-called pheromone glands, which are also located on the tail. She also does this when she strokes a chair or table leg with her tail, for example, or brushes past the corners of a cupboard or wall.

Excited, Stressed, or in a Good Mood?

With a raised and trembling tail, she sets her urine mark. With this, she marks her territory and indicates: “Here I am at home.” Certain cats also mark when they are worried or stressed.

If the tail hairs are bristling, caution is advised. The cat is agitated and in a state of alert. “It’s better not to touch them then,” says Herrmann. Even if she suddenly starts to flick her tail back and forth while being petted, you should let go of her. “Then she wants her rest and is annoyed by too much touch.” If the tail points horizontally backward – even when sitting or lying down – the cat is alert. “She’s anxiously waiting to see what happens next.” Sometimes the tip of their tail moves back and forth as well. On the other hand, if the cat’s tail is very close to the body, the animal may feel a little cold or not feel so comfortable. This is in combination with a crouched posture.

The cat’s tail is not only a mood barometer, it also has physical functions. With around twenty vertebrae, it is flexible right up to the tip. With its help, the cat easily balances over a narrow railing or jumps onto a wall. The fact that it usually lands on its paws when it falls from a height is also partly due to its tail.

However, the tail is not essential for the life of the cat. “If it loses it in an accident or if it’s paralyzed, the cat usually copes well with it,” says Herrmann.

Stub Tail and Kinky Tail

There are also breeds where the tail has been bred away. For example, the Japanese bobtail cat (Japanese Bobtail). Or the Manx, whose taillessness originally came about through a gene mutation, but which is now being bred specifically for this trait. Not particularly useful for Herrmann: “You’re not doing the cat any favors with it.”

She also advises against further breeding with the so-called kink tail. “People often have the feeling that the cat has caught its tail somewhere,” says Herrmann. But this is not the case. The kink in the tail is usually inherited. This is usually not a problem for affected cats. Breeding with them and their relatives do, however: “In the worst case, the offspring can have spinal deformities.”

Even the initially playful tail chasing can become a problem in the long run. Stress in keeping and under-employment of the high-performance hunter are possible reasons for this. “If the cat doesn’t stop doing it, it’s possible that its nerves are sending the wrong signals,” says Herrmann. “Similar to when people have restless legs and feel a constant tingling sensation.” Then medication can help.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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