Cat’s Tail

by Michael
(London, UK)

I’d like to discuss one function of the cat’s tail that I am yet to see mentioned on any webpage or in any book. The tail has many functions. It is well known as a means of communication. I won’t cover this in too much detail because they are largely known but I do see some misconceptions even on the best websites. For example, the tail swishing from side to side is described as signalling anger. This may be the case but not always. Often it is a sign of acute mental conflict and we can see it happen in a cat that is on open manicured ground trying to do the impossible and hunt when there is no cover.

The relatively sterile human environment has resulted in the outdoor cat’s natural instinct to hunt to be a source of frustration resulting in emotional turmoil. The conflicting desires are (a) to stay still but on open ground this is wrong and (b) to attack prey, which once again is wrong and will not result in success because the cat is exposed and too far from the prey.

cats-tail

Another use of the tail is for scent exchange. We know that head butting, flank rubbing is scent exchange and scent sharing is a way for our cat companion to feel more at home. The scent glands are at the base of the tail.

Yet the behaviour I would like to talk about is the action of a cat’s tail when it is used to touch and feel objects. When, in short, it is used in the same way as our hands.

There are two examples I would like to refer to. Firstly my cat. When I go out in the garden with her she will follow behind and then catch up. When she catches up and passes me her tail curls to my side and gently touches my leg and she may pause and then move on. This is her confirming to herself my position in relation to her and I will presume that is also telling me of her presence. It creates a comfort zone in much the same way scent exchange does. It is not scent exchange because the tip or last third of my cat’s tail is touching me, no more.

The video below of MAGIC the tallest domestic cat and now a famous cat because of that, demonstrates this beautifully. Although I think Scarlett’s MAGIC is both touching and scent exchanging simultaneously. Most of the interaction from MAGIC is scent exchange but I feel not all of it is.

You can see the whole tail curl around the Andreas’s head as if it is feeling the head and caressing his head. It is great to see. Here is the video:

So to recap, the tail communicates the cat’s mood including the unintended mental conflict. It also provides balance especially for the arboreal cats, the forest dwellers and tree climbers such as the clouded leopard and margay. The tail of the clouded leopard is awesome and the margay climbs like a monkey. There are more tree climbing cats. It also exchanges scent. But it is also used to feel and touch in a most tender and loving way as shown in this video.

See a great Helmi Flick picture of Draco with his erect tail

From Cat’s Tail to Cat Facts

Cat’s Tail – photo – this is a cropped original as allowed under the creative commons license: Attribution 2.0 Generic

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Cat’s Tail

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Dec 06, 2010
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If cat tails could tell tales
by: George

My two cats both use their tails in ways others have described here. It’s a means of communication if you take the time to watch for patterns and associations.

They also use their tails to show affection. It is their “touchy-feely” organ. When my Charlie is up on my shoulders, she lays down and wraps her tail around my neck and taps it gently on my face. It’s like a caress.

Often when I am at my desk, Charlie or Cassie might jump up for a little affection time. As they climb up they pass me and I give them a long stroke and they walk out of reach on my desk. Then they stop without turning around and gently swish their tail in my direction. If I hold my hand steady and allow their tail to bump my hand, it obviously pleases them and they bump it a few times before turning around for another pass and a stroke.

After they finish eating breakfast in the morning, one of my cats, Cassie, invariably will come to me and gently glide past my leg and wrap her tail around my ankle. I could swear she is thanking me for the meal and I always reach down and give her a “you’re welcome” stroke. Charlie will simply go sit nearby and lick her lips.

Another way my cats use their tails that I have not seen mentioned is as sensors to tell them where I am and if I have moved. For example, if I am standing somewhere, they might walk past my feet and stop then wrap their tail around my ankle. They might remain there for a long time not looking back. Only when I move do they turn around to see where I am going. So, their tails can be a location sensor for them.


Dec 03, 2010
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Embodiment of a cat plus a little extra
by: Finn Frode, Denmark

I watched the video of Magic and Andreas once more today and this time I just have to comment. I must admit having questioned whether mixing wild and domestic cats could ever result in a truly domestic cat character, fully socialized to humans, but this little video remove all my doubts.
The tenderness and affection displayed so ardently by Magic is as good as it gets. Arriving at such a good character starts in kittenhood and the Stucki’s have every reason to be proud of breeding cats like Magic. He is the embodiment of what we love about our “usual” domesticated cats – plus a little extra.

Finn Frode avatar


Sep 13, 2010
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Remembering Kittu
by: Gail (Boston, MA USA)

Karma, It is so sad to hear about Kittu’s demise. I only saw your post today, even though it’s been a few months. Please do not berate yourself for your loss. The guilt will eat you up.

It could very well be that Kittu ate something poisonous – man-made or otherwise. Our house gets field mice periodically and although I’ve got mice pellets to put in the holes inside holes of the apartment, I fear using them since if one of the mice ingested them and still got into our home, my Sadie just may bite it and get poisoned in the process.

As time passes, the hurt lessens and someday you may consider giving another feline a home. The newest addition will never replace Kittu, but you will have honored Kittu’s memory by helping another. Take care.


Sep 09, 2010
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your beutiful cat
by: sarah (uk)

wow Magic is amazing, my two bengal cats can jump, but straight on to a top bunk!! no matter how big they may get,i dont think that would ever be possible! it was like Magic was gliding. looking forward to seeing my ‘whisky n frisky’grow-up
thanks for making me smile with your clip xx sarah (whisky n frisky’s mum) xx


Sep 09, 2010
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your beutiful cat
by: sarah (uk)

wow Magic is amazing, my two bengal cats can jump, but straight on to a top bunk!! no matter how big they may get,i dont think that would ever be possible! it was like Magic was gliding. looking forward to seeing my ‘whisky n frisky’grow-up
thanks for making me smile with your clip xx sarah (whisky n frisky’s mum) xx


Jun 23, 2010
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peanut
by: cynthia

my bengel/siamese cat peanut and I are very bonded, she touches me a lot with her tail. she sleeps in bed with me and will ask me to play with her tail the same way a mother cat does with kittens. she likes for me to hold her tail while going to sleep. I have awakened after around 30 minutes and am still holding her tail and she is sleeping. I firmly beleive she uses her tail affecionately and in play with a human. she is also a champion headbutter for attention.


May 13, 2010
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KITTU FOREVER
by: Karma

i just lost my cat a week ago and this untimely death has really disturbed me as i personally had adopted it…i got my kittu from a small tea shop man who had a small kitten too ( a sweet cute one) so i got one some days later, he was a tiny little baby who just had started walkin, i took him home in a small plastic bag and from that gay the journey of me and kittu started, till a couple of days back. he has just turned a year old…he had turned from a sweet tiny little todller into a handsome young cat full of energy and life until that fateful day when i foubd him in the corner of a neighbouring building, i don’t know if he was murdered or had been poisoned eating some insect or a lizard. ( i had caught him twive with a lixard he had killed ) but then again his eyes were popped out and there was some ghit in his arce.. i don’t know if thats how a poisoned cat looks like as few people told me that he must have consumed something poisonous. i wish i was there when he needed me his dead face shatters me. he was someone i’d die for..every single day i fell his absence as he was the first pet i had willingly adopted on my own. he has taught me a lot of things. anyways i hope i haven’t wasted your time.


Oct 13, 2009
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Cats
by: Ruth aka Kattaddorra

Cats adapt to any situation , they have to, they have no choice.


Oct 12, 2009
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Learning to communicate
by: Michael

I think that when we learn to communicate with cats we see much more in them and more intelligence. One problem is that a lot of people tend to measure and observe solely from a human standpoint.


Oct 12, 2009
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Cat Tail & Harness
by: Gail (Boston, MA USA)

Hi Ruth,

I agree about not having man-made stuff on a cat; however, there are exceptions.

My own beautiful Sadie, who is 15 yrs young, is an indoor cat only; however, she does enjoy the outside. I refuse to put a collar on her. Although she is microchipped and innoculated, she also suffers from hyperthyroidism and takes daily medication. In order for her to be able to enjoy going outside periodically, I put a harness and leash on her as protection. She only goes on the back porch with me on warm days. The leash in question is a retractable type to enable her to explore whilst allowing me to control how far she goes. We have loads of ferals around and with her condition, as well as Fel/FIV out there, my 1st concern is her well-being.

When I say to Sadie “Go outside?” she gets all excited and heads for the door and waits patiently for her harness to be put on. She never struggles nor gets upset. When she wants to go back in the house, she goes to the screen door and taps it with her paw, indicating “in.” Once in the house, she waits patiently for the harness to come off.

Her tail talks to me all the time. She also wraps it around my arm affectionately when she’s at rest and wants to be stroked. When she wants to be left alone, that tail smacks my arm or leg or whatever extremity is closest.


Oct 12, 2009
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Cat’s Tail
by: Finn Frode, Denmark

A cat will often wear it’s tail elegantly curved over the back. It is particularly noticeable with cats with a big, furry tails. This “flag-waving” makes the cat appear bigger, thus serving to underline it’s status and as a deterrent to any attacker.

The picture below shows Milly’s first encounter with the mechanical mole. These things can be dangerous, so she inspects it with great caution and a raised tail. 😉

fluffy cat's tail held high


Oct 12, 2009
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Agreed
by: Michael

Ruth, I agree with everything you say and think at a fundamental level. A better world would be a very different place. It would be a place we can hardly imagine because this world is very far from where it should or could be on basics.


Oct 12, 2009
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Harnesses
by: Ruth aka Kattaddorra

Yes I do understand about that cat being walked like a dog,but I don’t agree with cats being fettered in any way at all especially in their own home. To put something man made on a cat is sacrilege to me and also to me, from the scraggiest moggie to a pedigree cat worth a lot of money,each and every single cat is of equal importance and has equal rights to live a cat’s life.
I hate cat shows too,cats toted around the country, primped and put in cages to be gawped at !
I am past caring who doesn’t like my views, I will never change them.
It’s the same with people,those who are ‘upper class’ are no more important in my eyes than a beggar !


Oct 12, 2009
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Harnesses and twitches!
by: Michael

Hi Ruth, I understand your point about harnesses etc. I think in the case of this cat, an F1 Savannah cat called Scarlett’s Magic, it is on her because she goes out a lot in harness like a dog as it is the only way for her to go out safely. From a purely commercial point of view she is priceless being the Guinness World Record “tallest” domestic cat (to the shoulder). It is a shoulder harness too.

As to tail twitching, yes, I have seen this too. It seems to be a sign of anticipation of getting the food and an anxiety that they won’t get it despite being so near! But I am not sure.


Oct 12, 2009
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Tails
by: Ruth aka Kattaddorra

Yes cats tails ‘talk’ a lot more than they are given credit for by many people.
That is a beautiful cat in the video and a lovely little boy too,but I do hate to see cats in harnesses ! I know they get used to them but cats are such free spirits, I’d never put a collar or a harness on one of mine.
But back to tails, one of our cats,Jozef,sits by my feet and wraps his tail around my ankle if someone not well known to him comes to our house.He protects me with his tail ! He also, when having his ablutions on my bed last thing at night, likes me to hold his tail for him so he can wash the very tip of it,well it is awkward holding it still if you are a cat !
I don’t think we know half as much as we think we do about cats !!


Oct 12, 2009
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Turbo’s tail twitches
by: Isabelle B South Africa

Just reading the info of Cat’s Tail…Turbo does this twitching thing with his tail when I go to the cupboard to get his soft food sachets…he loves the Purina One dry food, but I complement it with some soft food as well…when he sees me taking the sachet, his tail is straight up in the air and it twitches from top to bottom…I must take a pic and send it for you all to see…



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