The Pets Doc

Dr. Kevin Watkins, DVM

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Cat Speak – Exploring The Tale Of The Tail

I know I often write about dogs, but I really love cats, too. I have always had cats in my life, and we currently share our lives with six: Flash, Esmie, Kit, Fiona, Stretch, and Salem, who lives at the Hilltop Animal Hospital.

My first cat was a beautiful, kind hearted seal-point Siamese named O’ Henry, named by my mother after the short story writer. I was only 7, so I didn’t even know who O’Henry, the writer was, but I sure loved that cat. My mother told me that after I left home, O’Henry would walk through the house saying “Mrar-ro” over and over, sounding eerily like he was calling my name.

One of the things I love about cats is the way they engage you when they are interested in you, and are desirous of your attention. If you are a cat lover, I’m certain you have had a “meow conversation” with your cat and knew exactly what he was saying to you.

I know I have. Something along the lines of… “Oh, you heard the can opener and you want this tuna? OK.”

Cats are definitely vocal creatures, but they also “talk” with their tails and will tell you a lot, if you know what to look for.

Have you ever noticed how cats move their tails about? Sometimes they quiver just the tip, and sometimes the whole tail goes back-and-forth and back-and-forth really fast. Sometimes they swish them slowly from side to side. Sometimes they lash them, and even thump them. Brisk lashing back and forth is a clear sign of annoyance, and it’s a good sign that you should stop whatever you are doing.

When you’ve made a cat thump her tail, look out! If she’s nice, she’ll warn you first with her tail. Let’s hope you are paying attention.

Here are some other interesting facts about cat tail “language:”

Cats will “swish” their tails from side to side to get their balance before leaping. Kitty will also use her tail to first, mesmerize and then initiate movement of an intended prey. Pretty sneaky. A half-hearted tempo can mean kitty is feeling indecisive. She may want to go out, but it’s raining, and she can’t think of anything fun to do inside. The tail waving quietly from side to side is a sure sign of contentment. If kitty is sitting quietly with her tail gently wagging back and forth, she’s concentrating on something.

My Kit Kat, a handsome 2-year-old who is solid black, frequently carries his tail straight up in the air at a 90-degree angle and does that rapid back-and-forth thing in a snakey sort of way. I read recently that this is a joyful greeting and that he’s telling me that he’s really glad to see me. It made me feel so good.

Margo Watkins, Pet Behavior Counselor

Pawsitive Pet Behavior Blog