Understanding Cat Tail “Language”

cats | animal medical centerJune is the ASPCA’s Adopt a Shelter Cat Month, and June 4 was International Hug Your Cat Day. I need no better reasons to write a blog on cat “language” than those two cat celebrations.

Cat Talk
Some cat words are universally used by cats and understood by humans. For example, consider the wail emitted by your cat when you accidently step on their toes as they dance under your feet in the kitchen; you can hear that sound from another room and immediately know some kitty toes got crunched. How about the cat morning alarm sound which is readily translated to: “Get up you slug and serve breakfast!” Everyone knows purring is the sound of a happy, contented cat. Veterinarians quickly recognize the yowl of a male cat with a urinary obstruction. Certain cats have a large vocabulary, trilling and chirping about their day when you come home.

Cat Body Language
A recent scientific study demonstrated changes in facial features are one way a cat exhibits pain. But observing your cat’s tail may be the best method of listening to what your cat is trying to tell you.

Tail Straight Up
A happy cat has its tail straight up when it greets you at the door. This should be the normal position of your cat’s tail most of the time because she telling you what a good mood she is in. Some happy cats will wave their straight up tail back and forth, not like the wag of a dog, but more like the wave of Queen Elizabeth.

Tail Straight Out
This tail position is usually seen when your cat is crouched low to the ground in attack mode. The ancestral cat hunted for food. In order to disguise their intentions to their intended lunch, cats crouched low to avoid being sensed by their prey. Your cat probably exhibits this behavior when you bring out a new fur mouse or when hunting your slippers or another cat.

Tail Puffed Up
Bigger is better when you are facing enemies and the wild beast in your cat comes out when they are frightened by a strange human or the neighbor’s drooly dog. The tail puffs up as part of the “fight or flight response” mediated by adrenaline in an effort to say, “I am big and bad. Go away.”

Tail Flicking
When your cat is flicking her tail, leave her alone and teach your children to do the same. Tail flicking is your cat’s way of saying, “I am angry and about to go ballistic.” Remove the cause of her anger and steer clear until she calms down or someone could really get hurt.

Tail Injuries and Illness
Doors inflict a number of injuries on tails: lacerations, fractures and degloving (scraping) injuries. These are reasonably easy to recognize. A tail that is not moving may indicate a neurologic disorder. Tails can also develop tumors. If your cat holds her tail in a strange way, she is telling you a visit to the veterinarian is in order. Tail amputation may be the recommended treatment for certain diseases of the tail. Here is more information about tail amputations.

Pay close attention to the tail language of your cat as she may have something important to tell you!

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