Cat Tail Meanings – Decoding a Cat’s Body Language


Cats are fascinating creatures with a lot to say, especially with their tails. Cats use their tails to communicate their emotions the same way a human might use their facial expressions. Therefore, if you want to get to know your feline friend better, you need to know about cat tail meanings. Determining whether a tail position means fear or happiness will help you unlock your cat’s brain; you can then figure out what your cat needs.

Today we’re looking at cat tail meanings, so you can build a more fulfilling and trusting bond with your cat.

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Understanding Your Cat’s Tail: The Basics

The feline body is remarkable. Not only do cats have incredible flexibility, they have tails that can move a number of ways. The tail is an extension of a cat’s spine. Where the human spine ends with the pelvis, the cat (and all tailed creatures) have a spine that continues on for another 18 to 23 vertebrae or bones in length. 

Did you know that male cats have longer tails than females? The average male tail is 11 inches (28 cm), while the female’s reaches 10 in (25 cm). However, there are larger breeds, like the Maine Coon, that may have a 16-inch long tail! There are also differently shaped tails. Persians have thicker, plume tails, while short-haired cats often have thinner, narrower tails. 

The tail itself is made up of fur, skin, muscle, blood vessels, and connective tissue. An abundance of nerves give cats unique control over their tails, so they can move their tail in many directions or make tiny or large movements. This is why you will see the tail whipping about like a snake some moments then watch it go almost still other times. 

orange tabby cat in blue plastic bucket

Cat Tail Positions and What They Mean

What can your cat’s tail tell you? So, so much! Cat tail meanings are vast, but here are some of the most common positions you’ll see, as well as what they mean: 

1. Standing Straight Up

What does it mean when a cat holds its tail vertically? From an anatomical standpoint, when a cat does this, they are displaying their backside, where there are glands. By exposing this region, they’re inviting other cats to take a whiff, which is a type of friendly social correspondence opening up friendship. 

For humans, you can read this tail-held-high position as your cat saying, “I’m your friend.” Feel free to reach out and give any cat with its tail standing straight up some love. 

2. The Curled Question Mark

One of the most asked about cat’s tail signals is the question mark. This is when the cat has their tail standing straight up but with a little (or large) hook on the end, which looks like “?” to many. Seeing this is a good sign. It means two things: your cat is in a good mood and wants to be your friend. If your cat sees you and begins to approach with their tail in a question mark position, consider it an invitation to give them a pet. 

3. Curled Around the Body

If your cat has their tail curled tightly around the body while laying down, it could mean that they are feeling unwell or in pain. Carefully observe your friend for any other signs of illness. If your cat doesn’t appear sick, take it as a sign of contentment. 

4. Wrapped Around You or Another Pet

Cats will loosely wrap their tail around your leg or other pets as a way of greeting their friends. Think of this gesture as the equivalent of shaking someone’s hand. If a cat does this to you, consider it behavior displaying their willingness to interact. 

Biologically speaking, a cat’s tail has scent glands. Cats use this motion to share their scent with another creature. 

5. A Loose, Wagging Tail

What does it mean when a cat wags its tail? The cat tail meaning for this motion is one of ambivalence. Your cat doesn’t know what to do about a situation and is calculating their options. This is different from tail lashing or whipping, which means a high level of emotion or anger. 

6. The Quick Flick

A flicking tail can mean a few things. First, your cat is irritated. When you mess around with your feline friend for too long and they’re getting agitated, you might notice that their tail flicks about angrily. This is a warning before they go in for a scratch or bite. 

The second meaning is fascination. Look around the environment for something that may have your cat’s attention. Sometimes, the quick flick means they’re excited by something they see, like a toy or another cat. Other times, it could mean there is an unfriendly cat wandering through the yard. 

7. Tail Held Straight Back

Is your cat laying on the ground with their tail held back behind them? It means they are stalking prey and decreasing the size of their profile. By hiding their tail, the prey won’t be able to see them as well. 

8. Tucked Tail

A tucked tail is often a sign of upset, illness, or discontent. Check to make sure there is nothing physically wrong with your cat. They may also be upset with the environment or another cat. 

9. Puffed Up Tail

An arched back and puffed up tail is a clear sign that your cat is either frightened or startled by something they perceive as frightening. Cats can stand their hair on end (called piloerection) as a defense mechanism that makes them larger and more threatening.

Should your cat do this, it is a clear sign that they don’t want to be bothered. Avoid interacting with your cat when they are clearly startled. Sometimes, cats will play by doing this as well. They will arch their back, crabwalk sideways, and puff their tails. Be sure to look for context before engaging with a cat you think might be playing. If there are other signs of aggression, such as growling or crouching, it’s best to leave them alone. 

black female cat walking towards me

Your Cat’s Tail Language

One of the things you need to do when decoding cat tail meanings is look for context. Any changes to the environment or intrusions could make a cat act strangely. Furthermore, if your cat has been feeling unwell or perceives a new stressor, their tails will show their frustration. Always be on the lookout for things that will impact your cat’s mood. If it doesn’t help your cat, remove it! 

Cat Tails As Part of Feline Communication – Final Thoughts

Cats use their tails to communicate in a noticeable way. While some motions may be subtle, most cat tail meanings are easy to decode when you know what to look for. By reading less into your cat’s expressions and more into the way they hold their tails, you can better your relationship with your pet so they live a happier, healthier life.

Read more about cats on our blog!


What can a cat’s tail tell you?

The position, movement, and behavior of a cat’s tail can communicate a variety of messages regarding their mood and well being.