Cat Tail Up Position: Meaning and Origin

Friendly Cat Encounter

The cat tail up position in relation to a cat meeting another cat is a communication signal – a piece of body language – which says: “I am friendly and I accept my social status”. So, it is more likely to be initiated by a cat of lower status to a cat of higher status. The dominant cat can accept it, whereupon he will put his tail up. This then leads to more intimate, friendly behavior such as rubbing and nose sniffing. The reason? To keep the peace, be friendly, fit in with the hierarchy and reduce the possibility of antagonistic behavior such as fights in colonies of cats. Bottom line: there is a better chance of survival for all.

Lion

Of the wild cat species, the lion also uses tail up. It is the only wild cat species which uses tail up. Common sense dictates that this is because lions are the only wild cat species that live in groups – prides. Groups of cats need to maintain order to ensure there is harmony otherwise the benefits of group living are eroded. Tail up body language has not be seen in other species, as far as is known.

Lions employ tail up “during head-rubbing and sniffing contacts”.  Tail up is described as an “affiliative behaviour”.  In layperson’s language that means friendly behavior between cats in groups. For the lion, the tail is raised almost vertically but tipped limply towards the lion being greeting.

The tail up body language communication evolved because of colony living of the lion and domestic, stray and, I presume, feral cats.

Pre-origin Behavior

How did it come about? It seems tail up evolved from three possible sources:

  1. tail up by a kitten when approached by his mother. This may be offering mother to lick the kitten’s bottom to stimulate defecation (this is my comment). The study concludes that the tail up position by a kitten towards mother is part of a request for food.
  2. tail up from urine spraying (territorial marking) and
  3. tail up from ritualized sexual behavior.

Conclusion

The fundamental reason for the evolution of the cat’s tail up position is because the domestic cat has adapted to living in groups or colonies and under these historically, unnatural circumstances the cat had to find a way to maintain harmony amongst cats who are essentially solitary creatures. The body language of tail up achieved that objective.

If you have any observationas of cat tail up and would like to share them, please leave a comment.

Source: A study was conducted on Italian cats in Rome. The study title is: The social function of tail up in the domestic cat (Felis silvestris catus) by S. Cafazzoa and E. Natolib

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Comments

Cat Tail Up Position: Meaning and Origin — 26 Comments

  1. Our cats always greet us with their tails up because they are happy to see us, to me it’s just like us smiling and saying ‘hello’ to another person who we are happy to see.

    • Same here Ruth – they are all tail up when I get home and they come to greet me. I think it’s a sign of being totally comfortable and happy really. Tail up is a good thing and it’s important to keep a track of how your cats are doing in part by their tail signals. I would notice immediately if something was different with one of their tails.

      • I love tails, I actually have one! lol It’s black with a white end and I wear it for fund raising lol but I wish I really had one permanently instead of having to pin it on.

        • lol – this made me laugh out loud Ruth :) Maybe if humans had tails that were constantly expressing our true feelings we’d not be able to lie and infact we’d generally be better people for it.

          • I think so too Marc, we could easily cut a hole in our clothing for it if we had a permanent tail and as they have a life of their own you are right, we’d be unable to lie and we’d be better people.

            • lol that does conjure up a graphic image in my mind lol
              I should calm down and remember I’m an old lady and old ladies don’t talk about tails ;)

              • Ruth, You are NOT OLD! Don’t ever, ever say that. You ARE a Cat, grrrl. ‘member that, my Friend…;)

          • Marc, if we had tails that can flick and express our emotions, when our other genuflex fail us, then, well, we rely on biting. sometimes. {Michael, deflect this, would you?)

            • Out late mother used to bite us quite a lot, she was totally feral, thank goodness she hadn’t many teeth.

              • I don’t believe that ;) What was the bite for: love or discipline? I haven’t read the entire thread of comments so the answer might be in there somewhere.

              • lol Michael she was just a natural comedian who had a very hard life but never complained and she was the greatest cat lover ever! Sadly she had many illnesses in later life and became disabled and of course Babz and I looked after her. We’d call her feral when she used to hate going in her wheelchair and then she’d bite us…..give us a whack with her stick too at times lol
                The legacy she left us was the best ever, her love and care for all cats and we try to live up to being the wonderful lady she always was and see the funny side of things, laugh when we feel like crying and then carry on.

        • You love tails? What, exactly, Ruth do you love about them, besides MY ego. just kidding. mrowr…prrrr…..rrr…

  2. I don’t think so. I think that a cat of “higher stature,” is just as likely to look for reassurance from a cat of “lower stature.”

  3. I know my kitties, Michael. I am thinking that those who hold their tail up, are either about to spray, or, hopefully they are content in their own furr.

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