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The Cat Tail, the Swiss Knife of our Favorite Feline

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Cat Tail

The cat tail is an essential element in the anatomy of our favorite feline.

It’s a kind of “multifunction device” that serves him in several ways: to keep his balance, but also to communicate his emotions to his entourage, and in particular his human entourage (if you know what I mean…).

But let’s dive into the heart of the matter with this article that I’m sure will fascinate you!

The Cat’s Tail: Physical Characteristics

Felines are agile animals, fine hunters and acrobats. Their tail is of great use in everyday life. Flexible and muscular, it serves them specifically to keep their balance.

Here are 3 things to remember about the physical characteristics of a cat’s tail:

  • The cat’s tail is an extension of its spine;
  • The vertebrae that compose it are called caudal vertebrae;
  • The number of vertebrae varies from one cat to another, but there are usually about 20.

The Cat Tail, an Essential Element for Maintaining Balance

The tail is the main ally of the cat’s balance.

Even if felines naturally have a nervous transmission more powerful than ours, they would have difficulties to find balance without their tail.

Indeed, moving it from one place to another allows them to change their center of gravity and adapt to their environment.

When the cat walks on a narrow place, when he climbs up or down a tree, he places his tail on the right, on the left, raises or lowers it to balance himself.

Similarly, we all have in mind the image of the cheetah running at high speed after a prey, spinning its tail like a rudder to take ultra tight turns without falling.

In case of a fall or acrobatics, the cat will also use his tail to recover.

Good to know : Not all cats have a tail, some breeds have a very short one, or even none at all (Isle of Man cat or Japanese bobtail for example), but in these cases, the absence of a tail corresponds to a genetic anomaly which was then recovered and fixed by man in order to create a breed.

Angry or relaxed? A cat's tail says a lot about his mood

Angry or relaxed? A cat’s tail says a lot about his mood – Image by Jody Parks from Pixabay

The Cat Moves his Tail When He Is Undecided

When a cat is in emotional conflict and is undecided between two opposing and incompatible behaviors, it is common to observe how the cat moves his tail until he makes a decision.

For example, a cat that wants to go out in the garden but realizes that it is raining and may find himself in conflict: go out and get wet or stay home dry?

Once he has made up his mind, the cat will venture out in the rain or go back to the sofa, and once he has passed the moment of doubt, his tail will not move anymore.

The Tail: a Communication Tool for your Cat

In addition to its physical utility, the cat uses its tail as a communication tool. Cats have a very wide range of communication means thanks to their voice, pheromones and body attitudes.

Let’s decipher here the meaning of their tail postures and movements.

An Upward Tail: The Cat Is Happy and Quiet

A vertical and high tail, which comes close to the back of the body is a salute to the cat. They often raise their tail when their master comes home or to greet other animals in the house with whom they have a good relationship.

In fact, this is the typical greeting kittens dedicate to their mother. By adopting this posture, the kittens not only perform a greeting ritual, but they also expose their hindquarters for the mother to observe or clean them.

Tail-raising is often associated with other body signals that confirm the cat’s friendly intentions: the cat may rub his head and body against the other individual and use the tail to give a “friendly hug”.

The sounds that accompany these body messages are usually squeaks, purring and soft meows.

When he walks or trots, his tail is at 40° to his body, but if he increases his pace, he wears it lower.

In the same spirit, if he approaches, his tail vertically which seems to shiver: it is a sign of friendly greeting (not to be confused with the cat who makes a urinary marking against a wall or a tree for example).

Here are other signs that show that the cat is calm and relaxed:

  • The cat is sitting or lying down, the tail curled up around him, immobile, his general body attitude is relaxed: everything is fine, the cat is at ease, calm.
  • If the cat is sitting or lying down towards you and gently moves its tail: it signals that he is rather quiet, he is taking a nap, but does not necessarily seek contact.
Cat Tail Speak: Decoding the Language of the Cat Tail

Cat Tail Speak: Decoding the Language of the Cat Tail – Source:

Tail Down: The Cat Is Frightened or Wants to Defend his Territory

If you see a cat standing upright on his paws, making himself as tall as possible, the base of the tail arched and swollen but falling down, crabby and making big eyes: chances are he is defending his territory.

This is the typical intimidating attitude when faced with a foreign cat or other animal that is not welcome.

Also, if the whole tail is wagged (and the rest of the body in general): the cat is afraid and/or wants to scare, he will get bigger to impress his opponent. He can run away… or attack.

A cat lying on his side, tail flattened, tucked between the legs: it’s a sign of intense fear, the cat feels in danger, dominated, he is totally panicked. If he is cornered and cannot run away, he may try to defend himself.

In this case, the tail may be bristly and with the muscles stretched.

However, a relaxed and downward tail suggests that the cat is quiet.

A Moving Tail: Beware!

A sudden, rapid and energetic wag of the tail, from one side to the other or against the ground may indicate a sign of extreme concentration, of tension, something is bothering him, worrying or embarrassing him, he may be partly hunting or he sees a stranger through the window and it annoys him a lot.

A cat sitting or lying down with his tail flapping strongly: it is the opposite of a dog flapping his tail as a sign of welcome and contentment. The cat clearly signals his annoyance, you have no interest in seeking contact, beware!

If you don’t listen to him when he warns you that something is wrong, at best he will be very unhappy, at worst you will get scratched or severely bitten.

However, you can calm your cat by stroking him. When stroking your cat, always keep in mind that a cat can become overexcited if you pet him for too long in one place.

If the tail movement is lighter, slower or softer, it does not have the same meaning and could simply indicate that the cat is focused on something that attracts his attention or that he is indecisive.

When a cat is absorbed by something, he has a fixed gaze and makes a slow movement with his tail. His interest in what he is looking at will be so great, that his reaction afterwards is really unpredictable.

If he has seen a prey for example, he may make a big jump on it. During these situations, you may notice in your pet a malicious pleasure to watch for something.

It may also be a toy that arouses his curiosity and desire to have fun.

By wagging his tail behind its back, the cat may also checks to see if there is an enemy behind him.

My Cat Broke his Tail

Victim of a road accident, a fight with an overly robust opponent, a bad fall that he couldn’t receive properly or a door that slams…

Our hairy friend may suffer a fracture following one of these unfortunate events… But how to detect a broken tail?

Signs of a Broken Cat’s Tail

Usually the tail does not make the same gesture as usual: for example in a sitting position, it should form a curve, like a comma.

If it is fractured the curve is interrupted sharply and line gives way to a straight line.

When standing, the limb “falls off”: the place that seems to be the base of this break generally corresponds to the location of the fracture.

As the cat can no longer feel the part after the break, he is embarrassed and may be self-aggressive: he attacks the injured part himself.

He can also be nasty to his owners.

Signs such as vomiting, anorexia (no longer eating) or apathy (no longer moving and reacting little or not at all to your requests) may indicate trauma.

Contact a veterinarian immediately: there is a fear that he may have been run over and suffer fatal complications.

What to Do If a Fracture Is Suspected?

Do not try to immobilize the tail, you could make things worse: call your veterinarian and explain the situation. He will then tell you what to do.

If you have to go to the office, place the cat in his carrier as gently as possible, or encourage him to enter it by himself.

Don’t give him any treatment for pain, as this may mask signs that are relevant to the diagnosis.

Once in the hands of a professional, he or she will guide you.

Treatments for a Broken Cat’s Tail

For pain relief, veterinarians often recommend anti-inflammatory pipettes, which cats love most of the time.

It is difficult to evaluate an animal’s pain since he barely expresses it: therefore, respect the prescriptions and dosages even if the signs of suffering are no longer present.

If the fracture is accompanied by a wound, antibiotics should be administered: they will prevent the occurrence of an abscess, which would make the situation even more delicate.

Finally, unfortunately, if the blood does not circulate to the extremity, amputation will be necessary: necrosis (tissue death) could spread to the entire limb.

What Is the Incidence of Tail Docking (Caudectomy) in Cats?

Some cats injure their tails irreparably. It is then necessary to surgically remove the injured part of the tail: this is called tail docking.

The remaining tail stump is sutured and protected with a bandage or covered with a protective chemical substance.

The healing process takes about 2 weeks.

Don’t worry: your cat will gradually get used to his new balance and will surprise you with his adaptability.

Once the balance is restored, the cat will no longer suffer from his severed tail.

He can sometimes bite it with annoyance (the scar itches) but as long as he doesn’t hurt the skin and shows no signs of suffering, no worry.

You will soon be able to see him climbing his favorite trees again!

That’s It, You Now Know (Almost) Everything About the Cat’s Tail!

As we have just seen, the cat’s tail is a kind of pendulum, fundamental for the cat’s balance, especially when running or jumping.

It is also an irreplaceable means of communication: the cat can lie and feign an expression, but the movements of its tail betray its true intentions.

Indeed, it’s not easy to understand your cat when he doesn’t speak!

Joy, fear, anger… just like us, cats have their own moods and emotions that they express in their own way.

To communicate the cat will use different types of language: facial expressions, vocalizations or gestures.

In addition to the cat’s meowing, which says a lot about his desire, the movements of the cat’s tail also help to better understand his feelings.

There would undoubtedly be many other things to say about the cat’s tail, but you have in this article a rather complete panorama of our furry friend’s “Swiss Army Knife”.

I hope you enjoyed the reading. Please do not hesitate to give me your feedback!

Image by Christel SAGNIEZ from Pixabay


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