Photo of @shakiraandnala on Instagram
Tails are very underrated and rarely recognized. I know that they look more decorative than functional, but they actually serve a very important purpose in our day to day lives as cats. Tails—whether long, short, fluffy, skinny, crooked or docked—are literally extensions of ourselves. Our tails are connected to our spinal cord and contain about 10% of the total number of bones in our entire bodies. They’re held together by muscles, ligaments and tendons that provide us with our incredible sense of balance and amazing mobility.
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THE PURPOSE OF OUR TAILS
Other than meowing, our tails are another way for us to communicate with other cats and our humans. Once you master the art of decoding tail language, you’ll easily be able to pick up on the subtle cues we cats give off with our tails and interpret what we’re trying to say.
- Tail is upright and held high
This means we cats are feeling happy and confident.
- Tail is curled at the top like a question mark
This is usually how we cats greet the humans that we feel comfortable around. This simply means we’re feeling friendly and welcoming. It is also the tail we use when we are about to double-check that gravity is working by breaking your favorite vase.
- Tail is straight and held down
If a cat’s tail is like this, it’s best to give them space. This tail position generally indicates that they’re feeling agitated, anxious and aggressive.
- Tail is curved under the body
This tail position either means that we’re feeling unsure or submissive.
- Tail is puffed up and fluffy
It might sound cute, but when a cat’s tail turns fluffy and appears puffed up, it means they’re feeling scared, angry or threatened and probably getting ready to either bolt or attack.
- Tail is quickly (sometimes, even forcefully) sweeping back and forth
This will usually happen before your cat bites or scratches you. So, if you’re petting your cat a certain way and their tail starts whipping back and forth, the best thing to do is stop whatever you’re doing because this is your cat’s way of telling you they’re not enjoying.
We cats do this with our tail when we’re feeling irritated, annoyed or angry.
- Tail is twitching or slowly sweeping back and forth
You’ll mostly see this kind of tail movement when a cat is “hunting” something—just before they go in for the “kill”. This tail movement means that your cat is thinking or trying to focus on something.
Do you ever wonder how we cats can balance so gracefully even on the narrowest of surfaces? Well, one of the things that make that possible for us cats is our tail. Just like how humans hold both of their arms out sideways to help keep their feet steady when walking along narrow spaces, we cats have our tails to act as a counterweight to keep us from falling. If we ever do fall, our tail also helps us safely land on our feet.
3. Bowel movement
Since our tails are attached to our spinal cord and contain nerves that connect to several muscles in our bodies, they actually affect our ability to control our bladder and bowel movements.
Now that you know how important a cat’s tail is, I hope you’ll take extra good care of your cat’s tail and always handle it gently. It’s not a good idea to ever intentionally pull on a cat’s tail or step on it because it can have serious repercussions and can sometimes even permanently immobilize your cat.
If, by accident, your cat’s tail gets injured, it’s very important to take them to the veterinary clinic right away. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you the extent of the injury, and if the damage happens to be too severe, your cat’s tail may need to be amputated. This can seem a bit worrying, especially after knowing how important their tail is, but cats will eventually adapt to the change. However, prevention is always better than cure. That’s why it’s best to take good care of your cat and always supervise their outdoor adventures. This way, you’ll be able to prevent accidents from happening in the first place and keep your cat safe and out of trouble.