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When it comes to dogs, there is an extensive and very obvious language of communication based around simply how they hold and move their tails, and even very young children tend to learn from an early age that a dog with a wagging tail is a happy or friendly dog, although this information alone should not be used to indicate that they are safe to approach!
Cats are as much more subtle and mysterious than dogs in every facet of their lives and communications, and learning how to spot and correctly decode feline communications is much harder and less intuitive than it is for dogs. However, cats communicate and express emotions with their body language just as much as dogs do-although the same action within the two different species often means very different things.
Cats have a number of almost universal tail positions and stances that are used to communicate and that can help you to determine your cat’s mood or feelings-once you know how to recognise them and tell them apart, and learn what they mean.
In this article, we will look at some of the most common and universal cat tail positions, shapes and methods of communication, and how to interpret them. Read on to learn more.
A cat that is walking along with their tail held pointing straight upwards is a cat on a mission! Walking or stalking along with the tail held upright and erect indicates a cat that is on full alert and taking in everything around them, and this can be a form of either territorial behaviour or a “don’t mess with me!” signal.
Additionally, in unneutered cats that are ready to mate, a very stiff and straight tail held upright can indicate to the other sex that the cat is receptive to mating.
If your cat is holding their tail taut and the fur is bushed up to its full extent, your cat is on high alert. This is a behaviour they will display to try to make themselves look bigger and more imposing, which they might display if they perceive something as a threat, or are very annoyed about something!
You might see this behaviour when two strange cats meet and don’t know each other-or in a cat that has just seen another cat off their territory, been seen off by another cat, or that has had or narrowly avoided a fight with another cat.
A cat that is swishing their tail very stiffly and quickly is most annoyed, and if you are the source of their annoyance, you should stop what you are doing and back off! If your cat is annoyed with another feline housemate or if you are bothering them or trying to get them to move from a favourite seat, you may witness the fast swishing tail-and this can also be an indication that a cat that is being groomed, petted or that is playing with a person or other cat is becoming overstimulated and may be about to lash out.
A tail that is just twitching slightly, particularly if only the tip of the tail is twitching, is interested in something or about to make mischief! This may potentially escalate into full-on swishing, but it is more likely to indicate a cat that is playing, hunting or about to pounce on your unsuspecting toes to initiate a game!
If your cat’s tail is held up and hooked or curved over towards their back, this is a friendly and welcoming signal, such as you might see used between two cats that live together and get on well, or when you come home from work and your cat wants some attention.
On the other hand, if your cat’s tail is up and the tip of it is hooked or curved downwards, they are wary or suspicious about something, or haven’t yet made up their mind about what is going on.
This may occur if you have a visitor over that wants to say hello to your cat and your cat hasn’t decided if they want to or not, or if something new or confusing is happening and your cat doesn’t know what to make of it.
If your cat’s tail is loose and relaxed, then your cat is relaxed too, and generally calm and happy. This is a good time to begin to groom them or pet them!
Cats that don’t have a tail or that only have a short tail-including both cats that have lost all or part of their tail due to an accident or amputation, and breeds with short or missing tails like the Manx cat-still go through all of the motions, which may be seen in the remaining portion of the tail if it is not entirely absent.
However, a very short tail or one that is entirely absent can be much harder to interpret, and so you will have to learn more about your cat’s other cues and body language signals to work out what they are trying to say!
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