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How to read your cat’s tail

Ever notice that your cat shakes its tail at you? It’s not a random tic; your cat’s tail movements are actually a form of communication! When your kitty motions with its tail, be it through thrashing or thumping, they’re expressing themselves though a special cat tail language. To give you the low-down on these signals, we’ve categorized them by mood.

Happy and excited signals

When your cat is friendly and content, their tail will stick straight up. Kittens to do this to their mama to show they want food, while grownup cats do this as a way to greet one another. Look extra carefully though. If their tail sticking straight up and vibrating a bit towards the end, it means they are giddy! Finally, a happy and affectionate cat may also curve its tail forward and over its back.

Angry and fearful signals

Your cat is on the defense when their tail is straight up and bristled. This could mean they feel scared, startled, or angry, as bristled hair is a way for them to look bigger and more powerful. Another indication of anger is a tail that thumps loudly on the floor. Similarly, a tail that thrashes back and forth indicates aggression and often means your cat wants to be left alone.

Playful and mischievous signals

A lively tail isn’t all bad news! Depending on the context, a tail that whips back and forth could simply indicate feistiness. Is your cat prowling birds or eyeing that toy you’ve got dangling over its head? In these scenarios, a thrashing tail means they are intensely focused. Similarly, your cat is feeling playful or excited when the tip of their tail twitches.

Knowing what a cat needs starts with knowing how to read their moods. Our sitters understand that the best way to treat a cat is to pay attention to and respect their feelings.


Candace Elise Hoes is a pet sitter and blogger at Katie’s Kitty. She is a graduate of the MFA Writing Program at California College of the Arts.

photo by Tambako The Jaguar on flickr

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