What Your Cat Is Saying: Get Fluent in Cat Tail Language

By Brandy Martin

Whether you live with a cat or not, everyone can benefit from understanding cat tail language. Learning how our feline friends use their tails to communicate will help you avoid being hissed at or scratched, as well as bring you more in tune with what your kitty’s feelings.

Many people assume that all animals communicate the same way, but cats and dogs actually 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 generally means she is happy and ready to play.

Learn to de-code your cat with this quick lesson in cat tail language:

tailhighHolding tail high

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.



quicktailQuickly moving tail

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 she 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 it violently. Once this happens, the cat may attack.



bristletailBristled tail

If a cat has a hump-shaped bristled tail it shows she 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. An extremely fearful cat will tuck her bristled tail between her legs.















It is important to pay attention to the unique ways a cat communicates her feelings and intentions—cats give people clear signals and expect them to know how they feel and what they want. When we can anticipate our feline friends’ needs by tuning into their body language, we can keep them feeling safe and happy, and avoid unnecessary stress.

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.

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