The other day I was perusing a message boards in one of the cat communities to which I belong. I ran across a very strange question posed by an owner who was quite upset and concerned about his cat’s usual tail position.
“My cat’s tail is always pointing straight up at the ceiling. All the cats I have ever owned always had their tails relaxed and pointed downwards. It’s annoying to me that my cat always has his tail up in the air because then I am forced to see his not-so-“butt”. Is there anything I can do to keep his tail pointing downwards?”
It simply amazes me that folks who have cats don’t understand tail “language”, thereby missing what their cats are communicating. If this person had been fluent in “tail” language” he would have been overjoyed to know that his kitty is happy, content, and telling him that “all is right with the world.”
Since using their tails is one of major ways that cats communicate with us (and other cats) I am positive that kitties would appreciate it greatly if their humans took the time and made an effort to understand them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all kitty guardians became fluent in the amazing language of the tail? If their guardians were fluent, they would be absolutely fascinated by all the interesting and even sometimes very important messages that their cats are conveying.
Understanding tail language is an essential part of kitty keeping. Being able to translate all the subtle and not so subtle nuances in the slightest motion of the tail is crucial in understanding cats. While a tail pointed up in the air is a very positive message, just a small droop on the tip of the tail can be translated as “I am happy, but something has me wondering”.
Tails carried downward generally means that cats are calm and relaxed, while a bristled tail tucked between the legs and held close to the body conveys anxiety, fear and/or submission. But watch out if a cat’s tail is humped and resembles a bottle- brush. This tail communication means the cat is extremely frightened and/or defensive and if the cat is feeling threatened he is getting into attack mode. And when the tail is bristled and is standing straight up or out behind, with the ears laid flat against the head; this is a cat who is ready to attack. Definitely give this frightened, angry kitty plenty of space.
This said, our two Oriental kitties present an interesting exception to the usual meaning of a bristled tail. Apparently Sir Hubble Pinkerton and Dr. Hush Puppy‘s tail behavior is a genetic trait, because the breeder told me that it’s a common characteristic in her line.
When their tails starts bristling from the tip, rather than the base, with the bristle spreading downwards; this means our cats are ecstatically happy. So when we see this type of bushy tail, it makes us happy too!
What do you think? Tell us in a comment.
P.S. from Michael: The classic tail up greeting comes to mind. Perhaps this gentleman’s cat is just pleased to see him and demonstrates that with the tail up position.