When it comes to human communication, there are loads of “tells” that inform us (consciously and subconsciously) about another’s moods, feelings, opinions, and perspectives. Of course we’re not always aware that we’re giving cues, or even picking up ones from others.
Cats, on the other hand, are expert communicators. We just have to know what to look for. Their eyes, ears, and posture all give telling clues, but to really have a handle on cat body language, it is the tail that is arguably the most precise.
We may not speak the same language, but we can definitely do our best to understand one another. Cats convey a lot of their preferences via behaviors and vocalizations unique to them. Their tail can act like a barometer of sorts, and when we closely observe how they use it we can better meet their needs.
Distilling Cat Body Language
We can easily intuit how a cat feels based on, say, a hunched back with a puffed-out coat, or a pair of satisfied squinty eyes slow blinking at us. While cats feel and communicate a diverse assortment of emotions beyond fright or pleasure, they can be fairly subtle at it.
Watching the way a cat holds or positions their tail can give you tremendous insight into their enigmatic feline brain.
- Straight up – Cats that parade around with a perfectly vertical tail are happy and friendly. It’s like a sign that says they are open to sharing a moment with you.
- Low down – Perhaps the direct opposite of the straight up tail, one that is pointed downwards or extended horizontally conveys doubt, apprehension, fear and general unhappiness. If you have to approach, do so with caution. If the tail is whipping around or thrashing, keep a wide distance.
- Hiding – A cat that feel threatened or uncertain about their environment will tuck their tail between their legs. Additional signs of unease include pinned back ears, puffed-up fur, hissing or yowling. This is an example of cat body language that signals a real warning.
- Puffed-up – Speaking of puffed-up fur, when the tail is all bristled out a cat may feel severe alarm or the need to be on the offense. This appearance gives the impression that the cat is larger than they really are.
- Curved – When cats feel relaxed, their tail will be back up in the air but with a slight curve at the tip. Look out for extreme playfulness coming at you!
- Waiting – If a feline is in a good mood but experiences some indecision or doubt, their tail may be extended and slightly tilted up. Their mood could change abruptly from this position.
- Twitchy – If you’ve never seen a cat twitching their tail at the sight of you or impending proximity, you’re really missing out! Perhaps one of the sweetest and most exact features of cat body language, the twitchy tail says “I LOVE YOU”.
- Like a hand – Many cats will employ their tail as a sort of extra appendage to touch or wrap around their best friend. They may do this while walking past standing legs, or next to you on the couch. Interpret this as you and your cat are holding “hands”.
Consider the Whole Cat
Interpreting cat body language is fun, but it’s also super informative. Our veterinarians and staff members love speaking “cat”. If you have any questions about your cat’s behavior, personality, patterns, or habits Godspeed Animal Care is always here for you.