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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
Jean Dion says
This is such an important topic! And it’s close to home for me. One of my cats, Beorn, had a tail injury a few years back, and he was unable to lift his tail at all for several weeks. With acupuncture and other therapies, we were able to restore at least some of his motion. Now, he can hold it level with his back. But it was a long, hard road, for sure!
I loved this post, thanks so much fur sharing and FYI, I have a furry expressive tail that communicates soooo much to whomever is watching and taking note! MOL MOL
Mom and Dad say that knowing how to read cats’ tails is a big help when they volunteer at the shelter!
Our tails are a phenomenon for sure!
Cat’s tails can be very expressive. It’s amaing how much they communicate with them! So important to remember that a cat wagging their tail is not a good thing and a puffed tail…definately stay away.
The Island Cats says
When I was little cat, I got my tail smashed in the door. Fortunately, it just got a cut on it…no other damage. But it did hurt. ~Wally
Ellen Pilch says
I know a swishing tail means I am about to get swatted.
When the cat is away says
Thank you! I’m still a newbie and try to learn reading my cats’ body language – not as easy as I thought!
Lola The Rescued Cat says
I do the quivering tale a lot! I like to let mommy know I’m happy to be around her.
Angel Ms. Phoebe says
My cat is different than most in that when she swishes her tail back and forth it is not a sign of aggression. She just does this as a nervous habit I think, to soothe herself as she was abused in a former home. She will allow you to pet her and even handle her tail and doesn’t get aggressive. It definitely made me wary at first before I realized this about her as all of my other fur babies did it when they were annoyed or had enough interaction.
The only way to know when she’s had enough or is annoyed is by two reactions: she either gets up and runs off or she whaps your hand with her paw as a warning. If you do not stop after this then she will nip or scratch. She does use her tail to communicate all the other normal ways, which I love about cats.
I didn’t realize they use their tails to eliminate in the litter box too, but this makes sense when it comes to manx cats who I’ve often read have litter box issues, as well as some cats who have injured or lost part of their tails. Interesting info about my favorite part of a cat next to their ears and beans!
I have a very flouncy tail!