Cat Tail Talk 101

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?

cat tail talk decoded


27 thoughts on “Cat Tail Talk 101”

  1. Hi there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this write-up to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

  2. Our cat Junior is always flicking his tail side to side. I’ve told my Hubby that I think Junior is just annoyed (in a Grumpy Cat sort of way) by our playful pup, Lucy. And from this chart, I see that I’m right. LOL

    Visiting from #SITSBlogging.

  3. These are great tips! I’ll have to share this post with my mom. She has Seven cats and always enjoys learning more about her furry babies. Thanks for sharing!

  4. My Skeeter is a tail hugger! Shadow and Twig both carry their tails bent almost parallel to their backs when they are excited to see me.The Feral Gang have upright tails 99% of the time when they see me now. That does my heart good!
    We love the graphics!
    Tail luvs from
    Skeeter and Izzy and the Feral Gang + Twig and Peanut and Romeo >^..^<

  5. Very inneresting. I attack at night when the peeps can’t see me or my tail. When we play where TW chases me through the condo, sometimes the game ends when I jump on Pop’s bed and my tail get bushy. TW will explain that I should know we are playing and I’ll even exchange kisses with her when my tail is still bushy. She used to know when her other cats were ready to attack cos their cheeks got puffed out and their eyes got dark.

  6. Love this post, Layla! We’ve become pretty adept at reading cats’ tails — very important as we deal with so many new kitties as they come to PAWS.

    Moosey, Gracie and Zoe usually have happy tails. Zoe is “most likely to have a thrilled tail.” 🙂

    Years ago, one of the dog volunteers at PAWS told us that she knew that Herkemer, one of the big male shelter cats, liked her. We asked how she knew, and she replied, “He always wags his tail when I talk to him.” True story! 🙂

  7. Well, well, well… Apparently, my tail is almost always HAPPY and LOVING. My sister Tess? Her tail is almost always ANNOYED. And that quiverin’ means excited? Who knew? Ol’ Peepers always thought my Auntie Primrose was tryin’ to do somethin’ she shouldn’t be doin’, if you know what I mean. MO– — — USES!


  8. Sometimes the bottlebrush happens when the cat is startled or scared, at least that’s what I’ve noticed with my own cats.

  9. I am always surprised when humans don’t understand kitty tail language! I mean, it is so obvious. Even MY human gets it – she knew that when my formerly semi-feral roommate, Boodie, ran away from her, that she was not really scared because her tail was straight up in the air! She was just being silly and coy. How sad that anyone could ever miss such a charming signal.

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