Whether your cat’s tail is long, skinny and jet black or short, fluffy and ginger, it’s an amazing and fascinating thing. Not just for tickling your nose as part of her morning wake up call, it’s made up of lots of small bones (about 10% of the total amount of bones in her entire body), along with muscles, nerves and ligaments that all help to make it so fantastically mobile and useful.
What Do Cats Use Their Tails For?
Cats tails’ are used in a number of ways, one of them being to help them to balance. When your cat is walking along a narrow path, such as the top of a fence, her tail acts as a counterweight to keep her movement graceful and stop her from falling. If she does ever fall, her tail is an important part of the ‘righting reflex’ that helps her to land on her feet.
Tails are also a great form of cat communication, and you can tell a lot about your cat’s mood depending on the position of her tail.
- Curved slightly down, tip curved upwards: She’s relaxed.
- Curved and slightly raised: Something has caught her attention.
- Erect and upright with the tip slightly curved: She’s very interested in something but not quite sure about it.
- Erect and upright, completely straight: A greeting signal. If the tip or the whole tail is quivering, she’s particularly pleased to see you!
- Low and between her legs: She’s submissive or defeated.
- Fluffed out: She’s scared of something, and trying to make herself look bigger and more threatening.
- Lashing from side to side: A sign of aggression – if she starts doing that while you’re petting her, that’s an obvious sign to stop.
A cat’s tail has so many nerves that relate to her lower body, and some help to control bowel and bladder movements, so her tail helps when she goes to the toilet too!
Cat Tail Injuries
Cat’s tails can suffer some serious injuries, including broken bones, nerve damage and pulled or torn muscles. The result of such injuries can be truly terrible, depending on the severity of the injury. Because the nerves at the base of your cat’s tail are so important, any damage to them can cause temporary or permanent paralysis of the back legs, severe pain or the inability to control her bowels and/or bladder.
Sometimes amputation is necessary if the injury is severe, and if your cat has to have her tail amputated, you may worry about how she’ll cope with losing such an important part of her body. Cats are adaptable creatures, and while it might cause minor issues to begin with, she will adapt to it eventually.
There are even breeds of cat that are tailless or have a small stump for a tail, like the famous Manx cat and the Japanese Bobtail. As they are born this way, they automatically learn to balance in different ways – it’s believed, for example, that they have more sensitive vestibular (relating to balance) systems.
Have you noticed your cat communicating with its tail? What was your cat telling you?
Top image: Barbara Wells via Flickr