4 Facts to Know About Your Cat’s Tail

Why should you study your cat’s tail? Because cats reveal more about themselves through their tails than most people realize.

Jun 30, 2024byAbigail Gould

facts to know about your cats tail


Not enough social drama in your life? Get a cat! Cats are creatures of complexity that keep things interesting! While none of us may ever fully grasp the inner workings of the feline sensibility, we can still try. So, do you want to understand your cat? Learning how to read a tail is a great place to start.


It’s surprising how much information you can gather from the movements of one fluffy appendage!


1. Cats’ Tails Are Bones, Joints, and Muscle 

cat with fluffy tail staring out window
Image credit: Unsplash


Cat’s tails have 18 to 23 caudal vertebrae. These small boney segments progress from the biggest at the base to smallest at the tip of the tail. The tail contains ten percent of all the bones found throughout the entire feline anatomy.


Kitty tails are equipped with a useful arrangement of muscles, blood vessels, tendons, and ligaments. Though the spinal cord ends before the caudal vertebrae, there are more than enough nerves to supply the tail with sensation.


Thanks to its specialized structure, cats are in full control of how their tails move. It’s a voluntary action that plays a large role in cats’ body language.


2. A Cat’s Tail Tells Its Mood 

cat standing outdoors tail upright
Image credit: NaturesProtection


With a swish, a flick, or a twist of her tail, your cat will let you know what’s going on in her little kitty head. That’s right, the way a cat moves his or her tail can tell you if they feel happy or grumpy, fearful or focused. And, the bigger the tail movement, the stronger the mood.


Cats are all about boundaries. They use non-verbal cues to communicate what’s allowed and what’s not. Unfortunately, many humans don’t understand their hints, leaving a cat no choice but to respond with violence! Most often, tail-flicking is your cat’s first request for a little space (although a cat may growl first to show displeasure).


So, cats use their tails to express their feelings. However, it’s important to remember that cats are also creatures of context. If you’re going to read tail signals, you also need to take a look at your cat’s ears, eyes, whiskers, and posture to determine what their overall body language is saying.


cat in the snow
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons


When a cat is content and confident in his environment he will strut around, holding his tail high and upright—as though he owns the place (which he probably does).


If your cat’s tail is upright with a little bend at the top, he is happy and friendly. If the bend gets bigger, developing into a question mark shape, then he is also feeling playful. When two cats like each other, they will link their tails together. Similarly, when your kitty wraps her tail around your leg, it means you’re her friend.


3. Cat Tails Help with Balance and Movement 

ginger kitten in a tree
Image credit: Catster


You may have heard that tails help cats maintain their balance. That’s true, tails stabilize cat maneuvers such as running, playing, pouncing, chasing, and climbing.


If you watch closely, you might be able to see that as the cat goes up, the tail goes down. During counterbalance, as your cat moves in one direction, her tail will go the opposite way.


Interestingly enough, even cats that don’t have tails do just fine. If a cat loses their tail, they learn to compensate and are still able to perform all their impressive stunts.


While cats’ tails do assist with balancing, they actually aren’t needed for a cat to land on its feet. It’s thanks to the righting reflex of a cat’s refined vestibular system coupled with an amazingly flexible spine.


4. Don’t Touch the Tail! 

ginger cat getting scratches
Image credit: BC SPCA


All cats have sensitive tails. It’s crucial to respect that.


Thanks to all their sensory and motor nerves, cats have a lot of feeling in their tails. Some naturally affectionate cat breeds will tolerate a little tail touching from time to time. Other cats will not stand for it. Ever.


In most cases, it’s usually best to pet your cat around the head, neck, and chin areas. All cats are different, so be aware of your cat’s signals and pay attention to them. Stick to the cuddle sessions that please your cat and avoid the ones that don’t.


Sometimes, cats injure and even break their tails. So, what happens if something goes wrong on your cat’s tail end?


While cats can get by just fine without one, if there is damage to the nerves at the base of the tail, your cat will not be so fortunate. Your cat’s tail holds the nerves that control the muscular function of the tail itself, as well as their hindquarters and even muscles that manage urination and defecation.


The bottom line: never pull a cat’s tail!


Want to Learn More About Cats? 

white and grey cat lying down
Image credit: Vet Care Belmont


Each cat is different, so the better you know your own, the greater your affinity for cats will be. Each cat that comes into your life will teach you something different, enriching it in a way that’s completely their own.


Cats are more communicative than most people think. As with any language, feline expression is delicately nuanced. With that in mind, is it possible for us to learn everything there is to know about our cats’ tails? You decide.


Check out the other articles in this series to improve your cat-reading abilities!

Abigail Gould
byAbigail Gould

Abigail’s experience with animals comes from growing up on a farm. She has been fortunate enough to look after cats, dogs, ducks, geese, chickens, and guinea pigs. Of all the pets she’s cared for, guinea pigs have been the most entertaining, dogs the most rewarding, and cats the most essential!