Updated 2018. Our original Cat Tail Talk 101 graphic has been widely copied and appropriated by an online pharmacy. If you’d like to use it, please share the entire article or pin it on Pinterest which can then be shared to Twitter and Facebook. Thank you!
If a dog’s tail wags and thumps were music it might be a jazz band while the movement of cat tails would be a symphony orchestra. Cats communicate with their tails in dozens of ways to express an A to Z of emotions. The basics of tail talk 101 are outlined in our infographic but every cat has their own unique variation or signature. They may twitch their tail in annoyance that a person or other cat interrupted their snooze or in excitement because they spotted a squirrel outside. When twitching turns to thumping, it’s gone beyond annoyance to a warning: stay away. Other obvious and dramatic expressions are the classic piloerection or bottlebrush tail. The poofy bottlebrush tail pointing up is an aggressive stance to appear larger while the bottle brush low to the ground or between the legs is a defensive or submissive stance. In either case, stay away. Never try to touch or pick up a cat this angry or stimulated, they may bite or scratch. There is no reason to ever be scratched if we observe and listen to the subtle cues of communication.
Cat tails speak volumes but so do ear positions, body position, muscle tension, dilation of pupils, vocalization and hissing or spitting. Even if we think a cat attacks without warning, they don’t. It’s just that we didn’t notice and act on the subtle cues. Feeding feral cats through the years taught me to develop lightening fast reflexes and appreciate the subtleties of tail talk. Even with former feral Domino I remain hyper-alert when I brush him. When he’s had too much he’ll swipe at me. The trick is to stop before he does. It’s a very Zen thing. Of being tuned in and focused. The only time he’s drawn blood is when I was distracted or came from fear.
Does your cat have a unique or favorite tail position?