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Cat Behaviour: Talking with the Tail

Pay absolutely no heed to the dog lovers who claim cats aren’t expressive and are impossible to gauge. How your cat is feeling and what they’re thinking are all expressed through their ears, eyes, body posture and, above all else, their tail. They’re telling you what you want to know – you just need to learn how to speak their language.

Humans don’t always automatically understand what a cat is telling them, as the two animals are very different. Understanding cats becomes much easier once we learn how they communicate, and it’s well worth taking the time to do that. From identifying an illness sooner to picking up on their mood and identifying situations that cause them distress or pleasure, we can care for our cats much more effectively when we understand their body language. Your feline companion is sharing so many emotions and messages with you all the time, and picking up on these signals is vital to both your and your pet’s happiness in the home.

How Is Your Cat Holding Their Tail?

Cat tail language can seem a little complicated, but thankfully animal behaviourists have done exhaustive research to help pet owners understand it. Your cat may be moving their tail slowly or quickly, for example. A cat that’s about to pounce on a toy or is otherwise focused on something may slowly wave their tail, while a lashing or flicking tail signals that the cat is agitated.

If your cat bonds with another cat, the two cats may intertwine their tails. Your cat may also curve their tail around you if they feel the bond is close enough.

1. Tail Held High and Upright

What does it mean?

Your cat is feeling happy and self-assured.

How should you respond?

Offer your cat treats, scratches and cuddles.

2. Question Mark Tail

What does it mean?

Your cat is feeling friendly.

If your cat is approaching amicably, this is often signalled through the tail-up posture: tail straight up with a slight curve at the end. Cats will often greet their humans in this way, and will also use the posture with their feline friends. “Affiliative behaviour” is the term used to describe this set of actions.

How should you respond?

Allow your cat to rub up on your hand or sniff it.

3. Low and Straight

What does it mean?

Your cat is feeling aggressive and worked up.

How should you respond?

Don’t try to pet or play with your cat. If you can figure out what is upsetting them, try to neutralise it.

4. Tail Curled under the Body

What does it mean?

Your cat is feeling submissive or scared.

When they feel frightened, cats tend to tuck their tails up beside or under their body. At the same time, they may also crouch with their head tucked in. Cats who are in pain may exhibit similar behaviours.

How should you respond?

Try to act casual. They’ll come to you when they’re ready.

5. Puffed Up

What does it mean?

Your cat is feeling angry, threatened or agitated.

How should you respond?

Give them space!

Is Your Cat Living Their Best Life?

It takes time to learn cat tail language, just like any other foreign language. If your cat tends to be a little less content in their communication than you might expect – a little less friendly, for example – it may be that they are not currently living in an arrangement that suits them. For example, they may be living outside when they’d be happier living indoors.

The best solution is to allow your cat to keep their territory and have a familiar and reliable hand to feed, stroke and clean up after them. Wherever you live, and whatever your cat’s personality, it’s generally possible to find an arrangement that will keep them happy and healthy if you pay attention to their needs. Keep in mind that whether they’ll eventually be an indoor cat or an outdoor explorer, it’s generally best to keep kittens and newly-adopted cats indoors for the first while.

Preparing for a New Cat

Another way to try and avoid negative tail signals as much as possible is to ensure you have the perfect kitty paradise before you ever bring your cat home.

  • Arrange to have your new kitten microchipped in case they ever get lost – you can do this at your vet’s office.
  • Look into pet insurance so that you’re covered in the event of unexpected veterinary costs.
  • Every vet will have a different way of working with animals, depending on where they trained. There are so many options out there, so there’s bound to be a vet that’s perfect for you and your kitten. Make sure your cat is registered with your local vet, and don’t leave this until an emergency occurs.

Getting the Right Supplies

As soon as you have the admin out of the way, you can get to the most fun part of the kitty preparation process: shopping for your new kitten’s toys! Essential supplies include:

  • A brush suited to their hair type.
  • Age-appropriate cat food, ideally as close to the food they’re used to eating as possible.
  • A soft cat bed they can relax in.
  • A strong carrier your cat will feel safe and comfortable in, no matter what size they grow to.

For more information about our feline friends, check out Need2Know’s Essential Guide to Cat Care which explains what to do when dealing with a new kitten and throughout the lifetime of the cat as it becomes the pet and companion it is meant to be. Need2Know have books about lots more of our favourite furry friends, including Bulldogs, Cocker Spaniels and Dachshunds. Becoming an animal expert has never been easier!

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