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What Is Your Cat's Tail Telling You?
CatsBehavior

What Is Your Cat's Tail Telling You?

Critter Culture Staff
Updated Jul 15, 2022

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Cats can't talk, but they have many ways to let us know what they're thinking. Of course, there are the meows, the purring, and the scratching, and then there's the scratching for sending you a message. However, there is another route for open and honest cat communication: the tail.

Cats' tails are a great indicator of mental state, and they give a window into how your cat's doing at the moment. Different kinds of tail wagging can mean wildly different things. Here are some of the most common ones.

1

Straight and barely moving

back view of cat with their tail straight ablokhin / Getty Images

Surprised cats will sometimes seem to forget they have a tail at all. A curious kitty that has maybe scented a mouse or a particularly interesting bit of cardboard box might hold very still, step forward cautiously and hold their tail straight out behind them with only a whisper of movement, if any at all. This usually doesn't last, and the tail returns to normal when their curiosity is satisfied.

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2

Slowly swishing from side to side

cat indoors Purple Collar Pet Photography / Getty Images

A relaxed cat can let you know by slowly swishing the tail from side to side, perhaps with the occasional jerk. Cats will walk this way when they're feeling good, and everything is alright, and maybe they'll speed it up a bit at feeding times. When the swishing motion softens into long, slow serpentine curls, it's a sign your feline friend is feeling very good and may be in the mood for petting.

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3

Held high and curved at the tip or vibrating

Kitten getting stroked by a female hand Sally Anscombe / Getty Images

A somewhat excited cat will often hold a near-perfectly vertical tail and strain its muscles as if they're stretching. When the vibration or curve is only happening near the tip, it's usually a sign of nearly unbearable happiness. This is the reason you're most likely to see this tail behavior while kitty is getting scritches over the hips and at the base of the tail. Do this frequently, or it's seven years' bad luck.

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4

Wrapped around your leg or smacking your face

A cat wipes itself on a man's legs FotoMirta / Getty Images

A purrrfectly content cat (get it?) will lazily drape their tail over whatever is nearby, with that spot under your nose being a favorite place to swat your face while walking on your keyboard. A very affectionate cat may wrap their tail partly around your leg as they stroll alongside you on the way to the kitchen for dinner. You'll also see this posture during relaxed downtime, so it's mostly a good sign.

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5

Rapidly swishing like a samurai sword

Grey Cat stands on a bath caddy and glances over her shoulder Catherine Falls Commercial / Getty Images

Suppose something catches kitty's attention, and it isn't immediately obvious whether it's food, something fun, or the end of the world. In that case, you might see your cat start tossing the whole tail around like a club being wielded by an angry caveman. The side-to-side chopping may be a way cats have for judging balance in case they have to jump or run, or it may have no meaning at all. They do it a lot, though.

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6

Slowly tapping

cat lying on the bed toniamarie / Getty Images

Cats at rest may tap their tails against the ground for much the same reason you drum your fingers. If nothing much is going on at the moment, don't be surprised to see your cat idling in neutral and slowly tapping the rug. This can actually be funny if they're resting on something plastic and hollow. When the first tap makes a sound like a bass drum, you'll get all kinds of surprised reactions.

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7

Twitchy tip

Tabby cat on a bed Linda Raymond / Getty Images

A surprised and intrigued, but definitely not scared cat may hold up their tail and twitch it in random little orbits. This is a sign of great interest, such as when they find something dead to drop in your new shoes, but it's almost always neutral or positive. This is not a posture of fear or anxiety, though your cat surely has ways of telling you about those feelings as well.

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8

Wiggling bottom

Cat stalking his feather toy Ramonespelt / Getty Images

The tail held straight, backside wiggling three or four times is something every feline companion has seen before, usually in a very specific context. When a cat spots something they would quite like to pounce on, first, they'll wiggle for a bit to get a solid footing and gauge their balance. This improves their odds of making contact with whatever they're staring at, while it gives you warning about an incoming foot attack with claws.

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9

Up and bristling

cat looking angry marieclaudelemay / Getty Images

A frightened or angry cat will absolutely not leave you guessing. Tail straight up, fur bristling, and possibly lots of hissing and spitting, and you know your cat isn't a huge fan of the new dog. Trust your cat's judgment here, and try to remove the upsetting phenomenon. Don't argue with your cat if they do this on a date you've brought home for the first time. Get back on Tinder and find somebody good.

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10

When you should call the vet

White cat on a medical exam at veterinarian office BraunS / Getty Images

Your cat can tell you a lot with that tail, and it's up to the humans who care for them to read the signs of trouble. Not every issue shows up in the way a cat moves its tail, but sometimes a limp or overly stiff tail can be a sign of trouble. If you ever have doubts about what's going on with your cat's health or well-being, be sure to call the vet.

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