If you have feline friends, you can probably attest to the fact that meowing is not the only way cats express how they feel. Body language, including cat tail behavior, says a lot too. So what does it mean when a cat wags their tail? And what do other cat tail movements and their appearances imply? Understanding cat tail meanings in relation to how a cat feels may help us get to know and relate to our cat much better. In this article, we’ll be talking all about cat tail language and how it can give us clues as to what our feline friends are trying to communicate.

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  1. Why Do Cats Have Tails
  2. Why Do Cats Wag Their Tails
  3. Can Cats Control Their Tails
  4. FAQs
  5. Conclusion

Why Do Cats Have Tails

To start off, why do cats have tails in the first place? Apart from how regal it looks, the tail serves a lot of functions in the daily lives of our feline companions. Read on to get to know more about cats’ tails.

Anatomy of Cat’s Tail

Did you know that a cat’s tail is actually an extension of their spine? According to Dr. S. Ellen Everett, clinical assistant professor of community practice at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, cat tails are complex structures that contain numerous vertebrae, muscles, tendons, nerves, and blood vessels too.

Talking about vertebrae, a cat's tail actually contains 18-23 vertebrae, many of which are located in the base of the tail and progressively decrease towards the tip. This allows them to move different parts of their tail freely. Another thing to note is that cats have more vertebrae in the caudal, lumbar, and thoracic regions of their spine as compared to us humans. No wonder why cats are like graceful and flexible ninjas as they move about.

So in what more particular ways does the anatomy of a cat’s tail function in a cat’s daily life?

Movement and Balance

Ever wonder why cats are good at balancing, say when they jump up our furniture and manage to find perfect balance atop; or when they walk narrow surfaces with poise? Or how about when they fall from our refrigerator but are quickly able to stand upright when they reach the ground? Our cat’s tail actually has a lot to do with this. As a matter of fact, according to research, the neurons of a cat’s brain that respond to angular, vertical, and lateral movements, influence the movements of the tail.

When they fall, cats rotate their tails opposite the direction of their bodies to keep their equilibrium, just like how we humans raise our arms to our sides for balance. Cats’ tails also have 6 muscles on each side, helping cats hold their tails upright or tuck them under their bodies. It also enables their tails to move from one side to the other.

But what about cats who have no tails due to genetics or injuries? Dr. Everett says that some cats have learned to balance without their tails, although cats can balance better with their tails than without.


The behavior of a cat’s tail is also a way for cats to communicate how they feel. For example, when your cat’s tail is upright, it indicates that they are feeling happy and content. If your cat’s tail is puffed and floofy, however, it indicates that they are feeling threatened and can be aggressive. On the other hand, a tucked-in tail means that your cat is stressed or afraid. Tail behavior also goes along with other body language cues. Decoding your cat’s tail language may help you understand how your cat is feeling and may signal you if they want to be approached, if they need space, and also if they are in pain.

A good pet camera such as the Petcube Cam can help us monitor our cats and help us decode their body language, including cat tail behavior. That way, we may be able to understand how our cat is feeling and be able to better take care of them. By having a trusty pet camera such as the Petcube Cam, we get to have a closer look at how our cats behave 24/7.

Sensory Functions

Having a lot of nerve endings and being an extension of the spine, a cat’s tail is a sensitive part of a cat’s body. As such, they also use it as a sensory tool to help detect danger or protect themselves from harmful elements.

When our cat rubs their tail or faces on us, it also serves as a sensory tool. With odor sensors 14 times better than humans, cats use gland secretions called caudal glands from their faces or tails for example, to “mark” or leave their scents on objects and even us too.

Why Do Cats Wag Their Tails

What does it mean when a cat wags its tail? Cat tail wagging has various meanings depending on the position, direction, speed of movement, and appearance of the tail, along with meowing and other body language cues.

Unlike dogs that wag their tails when they are happy or excited, some cats wag their tails when they are annoyed, unhappy, or in pain. It’s not always the case however, as some cats may also wag their tails to indicate affection and excitement as well. When we observe the nuances such as the direction and speed of our cat’s wagging tail, as well as other body language signs, it will help us understand how our cats are feeling. So what are the common cat tail behaviors and what does each one mean? Let’s get to know below.


If you see your cat’s tail in an upright position, this is a good sign. It indicates that they’re being friendly and are willing to interact. They may use it when approaching their humans or other familiar animals. Generally, the gesture shows receptiveness and openness.


A cat wagging their tail in a lashing motion shows deliberate irritation. This may happen when they are triggered and ticked off. Oftentimes, tail lashing is accompanied by plenty of vocalization and posturing right before they bring out their claws and fur starts flying. In this case, it is best to give your cat space to calm down.

Wrapping Around You

“Why does my cat wag his tail when I pet him?” You might wonder. How about when they wrap their tail around us? Like when we humans wrap our arms around our loved ones, this cat tail language connotes affinity. So, when our cat wraps their tail around us, it’s their way of bonding with us and is an expression of their trust. Another form of body language that expresses this is when they do headbutts.

Low Wagging

A cat with a low-wagging tail may indicate fear. Other body language signs that may express the same feeling include: when their ears are tucked behind, when their body is crouching to the ground, or when their tails are tucked in between their legs.

Shaped Like a Question Mark

This cat tail body language doesn’t mean that your cat is confused. Rather, it is an expression of playfulness and a desire to interact. It may also be their way of saying that they’re down for what you want to do.

Slow Swish

When your cat’s tail is swishing slowly, it could be a sign of curiosity, say when they are focused on a toy or another animal.

On the other hand, a slow swish may also be an expression of annoyance. If that’s the case, it’s best to back off as it may quickly progress to the angry low flick if you keep festering your cat.

It is important to observe your cat’s body language to help determine if it’s a positive or negative sign.

Quick Swish

In cats, a quick swishing tail from side to side may indicate that they are in play mode, and is often a precursor to pouncing. Oftentimes, this behavior is exhibited when a cat is playing with toys, a companion cat, or their favorite human. Other body language indicators may include ears that are pointed forward and pupils that are dilated.

Twitching and Quivering

When your cat’s tail shows slight and fast wiggling, these questions may come to mind:

  • Why does my cat’s tail twitch?
  • Why do cats shake their tails?
  • Why do cats flick their tails?
  • Why do cats vibrate their tails?

Cat tail twitching can have various meanings, depending on other factors, but being aware of the nuances may help us determine how our cat is feeling.

For instance, if their whole tail is twitching or quivering, your cat may be expressing utter excitement. They are happy, in the mood for play, and reveling in the attention and love you are showering them. This is often accompanied by head butts and sweet meows.

In some cases though, when a cat is twitching the tip of their tails, it may also be that they’re annoyed. Watch for other body language clues to determine whether it’s the former or the latter.

There is also the sleep twitch or tail twitching while your cat is sleeping. If this is the case, your cat may be communicating that they feel your presence while feeling safe and secure to continue their sleep.

Low Flick

A low flick of the tail may indicate that a cat is not happy and wants some space. You’ll likely see this if your cat is in a situation where they are brought to someplace outside of the home such as a visit to the vet.

Around Their Body

When a cat wraps their tail around their body, it may connote that they want to feel comforted such as when they’re feeling cold or under the weather. If you see your cat exhibiting this behavior, you might have to gauge the environment or have them checked with a vet.

Puffed Out

When your cat’s tail fluffs up 2-3 times than the normal size, it indicates that your cat is feeling threatened. Oftentimes, this happens during confrontations with other cats or animals that: they are not familiar with; do not get along with; or are afraid of. Fluffing up their tails and arching their backs is their way of appearing bigger and scarier to drive the opponent away. (Newman, Alexander, and Weitzman 2015)

Low to the Ground

When a cat is sitting with its tail low or drooping to the ground, it may be their way of hiding their feelings of discomfort or pain. If so, it may be best to have them checked with the vet.

Another possibility is a tail injury. Because a cat’s tail contains 20-23 bones and is an extension of a cat’s spine, it can be vulnerable to injuries. Such injuries are often accompanied by other signs such as crying and avoiding being touched in the tail area.

Some cases of Injuries to the tail are considered as a medical emergency so it is important to bring your cat to the vet for proper diagnosis and treatment. Remember that pet emergencies may happen at any time, so we pet parents should be prepared when it does happen.

Petcube’s Pet Emergency Fund is a good example of an insurance alternative that can give us peace of mind when pet emergencies happen. One advantage is that they do not discriminate - meaning they welcome dogs and cats regardless of age, breed, and medical history. For every annual subscription, you get $3000 in case of a pet emergency, which covers up to 6 pets. Also, when a pet emergency is approved, you won’t need to spend for medical fees because they pay the pet clinic or hospital directly. Not to mention, you are also given access to a 24/7 online vet service for emergency triage, first aid guidance, and professional advice from certified vets.

Can Cats Control Their Tails

Seeing your cat’s tail move about, you may be wondering - Do cats control their tails? The fact is that cats can consciously control the muscles within their tails, enabling them to control how their tails move, the way they can control how other parts of their bodies move. With muscles on both sides of the tail and vertebrae that decrease towards the tail’s tip, a cat can control and move their tail in different directions. In fact, according to Dr. Everett, some cats don’t like it when their tails are touched, having been used to being able to control their tails.

When monitoring your cat using a high-quality camera such as the Petcube Cam 360 for example, you’ll be able to closely observe how cats can control their tails and so much more. It features a 1080p HD full video, a 105-degree wide-angle view, and 8x digital zoom for details. When it comes to monitoring your cat using the Petcube Cam 360, you sure won’t miss a thing.


Why do cats wag their tails?

Cats wag their tails for several reasons. It may range from being happy, sad, afraid, irritated, angry, or in pain. You may read through the cat tail language above to give you a clue as to how their feeling. Other signs of body language are also helpful in determining what your cat is trying to express.

Why do cats wag their tails while lying down?

When a cat wags their tail while lying down, it could be that they are acknowledging their presence while feeling secure as they lie down. On the other hand, according to Dr. Ernie Ward, it may sometimes mean that a cat is in pain or doesn’t feel well, especially when they begin hiding or when they suddenly lacks appetite.


Cats express themselves in a variety of ways, including their tail behavior. Observing our cats and getting to know what their tail behaviors mean may help us know when we’re making them happy, when we’re crossing the line, or when they need veterinary care. Doing so will help us strengthen our relationship with our furry companions.

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