Making Sense of Cat Tail Language

September 18, 2012 by Tails Magazine in Behavior, Home with 2 Comments

By Brandy Martin

All cat parents can benefit from understanding cat tail language. Even if you are not typically around cats, learning their language can help you avoid being hissed at or scratched.

Some people assume that different types of animals communicate in the same way, but cats and dogs communicate very differently. For example, when a cat wags her tail it means she is angry and ready for a fight, but when a dog wags her tail it means she is happy and ready to play.

How Cats Use Their Tail to Bring People Closer or Push Them Away

It is essential to remember that a friendly cat uses her tail to decrease the distance between herself and people, while an angry cat uses her tail to increase the distance between herself and people. When a cat holds her tail high she is displaying confidence and openness. If her tail is a bit curved at the end, it means she is seeking out interaction. When a cat is calm she curves her tail into a U-shape.

Understanding Cat Tail Movement

When a cat’s tail is moving it means that she is excited, scared, or becoming aggressive. If the end of the tail flicks back and forth it likely means the cat is very frustrated and becoming quite upset. If people do not notice this warning sign, the cat will then move her tail back and forth more quickly, and could even begin lashing her tail violently. Once this happens, the cat may attack.

Identifying an Angry Cat

The way a cat moves her tail and the position the tail is in reveal the cat’s intentions. In addition to observing a cat’s tail, people should also pay attention to the cat’s hair. When a cat is very upset or scared, or is getting ready to attack, her hair will stand straight up.

When a cat has a hump shaped bristled tail it means the cat is scared or defensive and will attack if she feels threatened. A straight bristled tail that stands upright or straight out behind the feline means the animal is prepared to fight, so people should move away.

When a cat is extremely fearful she will tuck her bristled tail between her legs. Cat tail language goes together with growling and hissing, and cats may flatten back their ears and crouch close to the ground when very angry.

It is important for people to pay attention to the unique ways a cat communicates her feelings and intentions—cats give people very clear signals and expect them to know how they feel and what they want. People who have both cats and dogs as pets should understand cat tail language as well as dog language so they can avoid any behavior problems and conflicts that arise.


Brandy Martin grew up on a small farm in central Oklahoma, where her family raised chickens, geese, pigs, and goats. She also had a few of her own pets—a black lab mix, Jimmy, and a few outdoor cats. She studied biology so that she could train to be a veterinary assistant, and now gets to see all kinds of animals every day working with two local vet clinics: Pet-Vet Supply and PMC of EdmondAnd now that she has her own backyard, she’s planning to raise some hens of her own.   


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