Tail talk is something many cat owners overlook as a way of understanding their cat. When it comes to tail motions and movements, you can pin point your cat’s current mood and stance based on how the tail is moving alone. Think of it as being similar to human body language. Every creature has body language that is easily understood through brief observations. Cats are just one in particular that use their tail alone to relay messages to humans and other creatures around them. Here is some tail speak you can use to understand what your cat is feeling and why he/she is doing that particular movement.
The Puff or Poof
If you are like me, you get a kick out of it every time you see your cat jump 2 feet in the air and the tail poofs up to 4 times its size. You may notice that your cat does this around loud noises, when being startled, and even when being approached by someone or something new. When a cat uses this specific tail action, they are doing so to appear bigger. With a poofed out tail, the cat appears larger and more threatening to other animals. Many different animals, and even some insects, do this as a defense mechanism. They make a certain part of their body appear bigger and in the wild, bigger is always more threatening. So when Mr. Mittens gets the pants scared off him from you dropping a glass plate from the kitchen floor, it is a direct reaction of the flight/fight response. The quick scare is preparing your cat to either run and hide, or stay and fight. The tail becoming larger is a natural instinct triggered by an adrenaline rush from the brain. Pretty cool, eh?
The Straight Up
If you were expected me to say this is a form of a feline high-five, you will be partially disappointed. You will see a cat do this when approaching you or another cat. You can think of this as raising a white flag of peace. When the tail goes up, they are letting you know they are passively approaching you and are content in their environment. This doesn’t always mean they are looking for a petting, but most of the time, one is not denied.
The Tip Twitch (or Rattle)
Not all cats exhibit this tail talk action but when you have a cat that does, you know exactly what I am talking about. The very tip of the tail becomes like a rattle and twitches repetitively. Most cats will show this when they are excited to eat or excited to see someone. This is actually a nervous tick and a form of feline anxiety. Cats that have patterns of spontaneous aggression show this more often than cats who don’t. What is happening is similar to the flight/fight response but instead of your cat becoming adrenaline induced, he/she is becoming over joyed and anxious. Think of a person who is nervous being on the first date. They will bounce they leg, sweat, twiddle their fingers, and so on showing they are nervous. This is what that tail switch is. It is not fear based, but a rush of joy and excitement that can’t be contained.
The Tail Stomp
When you see your cat slamming his/her tail hard on the ground, you know he/she means business. This is a sign that whatever was just happening around or to your cat is not acceptable and further annoyance will result in the claws coming out. This is the most common communication all cat owners see and know. It is simply a sign of your cat saying “I am not happy, leave me alone”. The cat in video is clearly not happy and I am shocked it did not go after the baby.
The Side Wiggler
This tail talk action is similar to the tail stomp, but its far more passive. When the tail moves, it goes side to side instead of up and down. This action is showing your cat is interested in whatever its eyes are locked onto. Your cat is curious to see what is going on or to better understand an object. It is not fear based or a sign of over excitement, just a simple way of them letting you know they are eager to learn about something. They also do this while hunting and some will do it whilst being pet.