• Cat Tail: Understanding Cat Body Language

Cat Tail: Understanding Cat Body Language

I find a cat’s tail to be of utmost intrigue, with each swift cat tail movement revealing a hidden message waiting to be deciphered. The flexibility of the cat tail allows for an abundance of movements ranging from being raised up or down, sweeping from one side to another, moving with a calculated lethargy or a flash of speed, all the way to curling itself around something, twitching and thrashing.

The movements are just the beginning; the hair of the cat tail reveals further information. Whether the hair is standing straight up or laying flat says a lot about the cat’s mood. But how do we begin to understand all these signs? Here is a fantastic image that helps break it down:

Cat tail - Understand your cat's body language

Going through the above examples will help us better comprehend each of the tail’s signals.

Cat tail: How to Decode Your Cat’s Body Language

Straight up

Content. When your cat’s tail is standing straight up, your cat is feeling affectionate and friendly. For this reason, your cat’s tail will often times be standing upright when they are in your presence. A mother cat will have her tail upright when she is gesturing for her kittens to follow her, helping them to find her easier. As they greet their parents, cats will stick their tail up, further showing their content and affection.

Raised back at an angle

Doubtful. A simple gesture that tells you your cat is uncertain of something. Encountering new people is a common trigger, and your cat’s tail should rise once they are comfortable again.

Raised up and swishing

Disturbed. Most commonly a large swish of the cat tail is showing your cats’ disinterest. They mean to tell you that they are preoccupied with other things and may either be upset, or wish to be left alone.

Straight up and quivering

Excitement. Your cat’s excited to see you! As bizarre as it may seem, your cat is allowing you to get a whiff of their anal glands, which is their way of showing you their excitement and joy that they get to see you. Commonly, your cat may pull his tail over his back, which is just another way of showing this feeling. Coming home at the end of the day will typically earn one of these greeting-like motions.

Cat tail meaningRaised up and hooked at the tip

Unsure. Imagine the end of their tail forming a question mark. Your cat’s tail is raised, showing you that he is feeling friendly, but it’s hooked at the end, showing you he is also uncertain.

Horizontal behind the cat

Impartial. Depending on the situation, this may mean many different things. Caution, confidence, peacefulness, kindness, any of these emotions may be what your cat is expressing.

Hooked at the base

Aggression. Known as the “inverted U” and “horseshoe”, your cat is feeling angry and defensive. The hair on your cat’s tail may be bristled, and an arched back and a crab-like walk are signs that may accompany. Typically, this is seen when your cat is irritated, perhaps at the end of the day (known as the “kitty crazies”) or if another cat has annoyed him.


Meaning many different things, it’s important to look at your cat’s other potential signs to help decipher what he is feeling. The trashing tail may be signifying:

  • Focus. If your cat is fixated on something outside the window or is ready to go after a toy/prey.
  • Ecstasy. If he is engaged in his grooming.
  • Anger. If it is accompanied by a repeated thumping on the floor.
  • Invitation. If he is willing to play with another cat.
  • Intense excitement/aggression. If there the tail is trashing about destructively.


Defensive. When startled or scared, your cat’s tail may bush up, showing that he feels threatened. As a result, fight or flight instincts may come in to play. This act is meant to enlarge the cat, making him appear bigger, and tell his aggressor to back off.

Low and straight

Aggression. This is a portrayal of aggression; however, look for the cat’s other body language to find out what this turns in to. Your cat may be annoyed and almost at the point of anger.

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Between the legs

Submission. As an attempt to make your cat appear smaller, he probably wants to be alone. It is a passive action that could mean your cat is upset.

Twitching tip

Alert. When your cat is focused on something, just the very tip of his tail may twitch. The sight of prey might be the cause of this twitching, your cat’s tail beckoning his interest.


Deceleration. If you’ve ever felt your cat entwine their tail around you, it means they are amiably reminding you that you are theirs. They may also be attempting to steal your attention. This particular act is one of my favorites.

Be sure to check out my new book which covers in great detail the behavior and body language of cats.

Do you notice any of these demeanors in your cat? Is there a favorite that wins your heart or makes you laugh? Let me know in the comments!

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