Cat Body Language – Cat Tail Movements

Cat Body Language

Cat Body Language

Communicating well with your cat necessarily involves an understanding of the various gestures he makes in cat language. One of the most significant ways in which he does this is with tail movements. Getting to know the signals of these will enable you to comprehend a lot of what your cat is trying to convey —mostly to other cats, of course, but this may also be of value to you in your dealings with one another.

Q. My cat has always wagged his tail since he was a kitten. My daughter says he thinks he’s a dog. Why is this?

This is unusual but by no means unheard of. Just as people are different, so too are cats. Although we can speak in generalisations, it is only fellow cats that can really understand. Don’t worry about it.

Q. My neighbour’s cat lost part of his tail in an accident. Will this interfere with his body language?

No. He will continue to attempt to move his tail as if it were all there.

Q. How do cats know how to express their feelings through the use of their tails? Is this something that their mother teaches them?

No, it is an entirely instinctive thing and cats know how to do it from a very early are, basically, four main tail postures that a cat can adopt, and each means something quite different. These are the friendly, aggressive, defensive and submissive tail postures. Other parts of the cat’s body are also involved in these postures, all of which add shades of meaning.


When a cat is feeling friendly towards any other cats or people nearby, he adopts the friendly tail posture. This is a vertical tail, perhaps waving gently from side to side but it certainly won’t be lashing about.



The aggressive or angry cat swishes his tail to and fro. This is the cat that is spoiling for a fight. The tail will be held low, probably bristling, with the ears pricked up and the pupils of the eyes narrowed to a slit.


The defensive cat stands with an arched back and also arches his tail, which will probably be bristling. The pupils are wide open, the ears flattened, his mouth open and hissing.


The submissive cat, which is not spoiling for a fight but has rather given in and is in retreat, communicates his intentions by holding his tail low – almost between the legs – and thumping it hard against the ground.

He will most likely be cringing close to the ground, with enlarged pupils and flattened ears, and his fur will probably be flattened against the skin.

A cat that is refusing a food that he has a particular dislike for will often show his feelings with a contemptuous jerk of the tail. The tip of the tail of an excited cat often quivers. Similarly a cat that is preparing to leap on his prey may be quite still except for the tip of his tail, which may suddenly twitch in anticipation. When a cat is attacking another cat, his tail may have a downward crook in it.