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Why do Cats Have Tails? (2022) 8 Reasons

I adore my Siberian cat Alexei’s tail. It is so big and fluffy and I love how it flicks and sways depending on his mood. So sure, I enjoy his tail but does he need a tail? And why does he have one in the first place? I don’t – I have always thought it must be quite fun to have a tail. Anyway, I digress.

Here are 8 reasons why cats have tails – plus some other key things about cat tails that are worth knowing.

ginger cat with fluffy tail why do cats have tails

Why Do Cats Have Tails?

1. For Balance

Tails help your cat’s sense of balance. This is particularly important when they are walking or running along narrow ledges such as fences or shelves. Their tail is a counterbalance. It also helps them to balance when they are running and when they jump on prey.

siamese cat walking

This counterbalance is also a key factor in why cats always land on their feet (although the rare cats without tails are also able to land on their feet so this is one that we don’t fully understand yet). This balance also helps cats to get away from potential predators. If you watch your cat you will see that when it jumps up its tail goes down. When it swerves to the left, its tail will swerve to the right.

2. To communicate

You cat’s tail is a key indicator of its mood. We all know that a wagging tail in a dog generally means it is happy. Here are some of the things that your cat’s tail could be telling you about how they are feeling:

  • A cat is of course too cool to wag but gentle swishing can be a sign of a happy cat.
  • A stiff straight-up tail is a clear sign that your cat is unhappy or frightened.
  • When all the fur on your cat’s tail is on end and it is at its largest it is also an indication that your kitty is not pleased.
  • If your cat’s tail is thrashing around the odds are it is angry.
  • Sometimes cats whack their tail on the ground when they are lying down – this usually means you should leave them alone.
  • A tail that is up in the air and shaped a bit like a question mark is a sign that your cat is in the mood to play
  • If the end of your cat’s tail is twitching this is a sign that they are a bit on edge and you may want to watch out for potential marking behaviour
  • A tail that is tightly wound around your cat could mean that it is afraid or even unwell – particularly if this is accompanied by them being crouched down.
  • If you haven’t seen your cat for a little while and they greet you with their tail straight up in the air this generally means that they are in a good mood and ready for some love
  • A tail that is low to the ground may mean your cat isn’t well or is feeling anxious
  • When your cat wraps its tail around you it is their way of saying that they love you. They may also be saying that they are hungry.
  • A quivering tail means your cat is excited to see you – usually their tail will be up but the end will do a little shake. This is often accompanied by purring.
ginger tabby with very fluffy tail outside on a lead
Who wouldn’t chase this tail?

All of the above can help you to understand what your cat might be trying to tell you. However, do look at tail behaviour in the context of your cat’s overall body language and behaviour. For example, if your cat is asleep it is unlikely that a twitching tail is a sign of irritation – it is more likely that it is dreaming.

3. To send a message to other cats

If your cat is around other kitties and puts its tail in the air this is a sign that the other cats are welcome to come and have a good sniff around.

4. To keep warm

Have you noticed that often when your cat curls up and has a snooze they wrap their tail around themselves? This is to keep them warm whilst they nap or sleep.

tabby cat asleep with tail

5. To get rid of an irritation

If there are insects around your cat or a smell that they don’t like or even a human or other animal they don’t like they can whack their tail around a bit to try to clear the area of whatever is bothering them.

6. To understand their surroundings

Like whiskers, tails are also part of a cats’ sense of touch. Its tail can also help it check out its surroundings by feeling surfaces or areas and helping to assess if they are safe or comfortable. The nerves in a cat’s tail also send signals to a cats body to help it to coordinate a response to the environment it is in. This is a key part of your cat’s lightning-quick response system.

grey cat jumps through grass with tail in the air
Now that is a tail

7. To get your attention

Have you ever noticed that sometimes you are sitting working or watching tv your cat will just stick its tail in your face? This is your kitty’s rather unsubtle indicator that it would like your attention. This may be because they are hungry or they may want a pat and some cuddles.

8. To mark their territory

In addition to some of the other ways that cats mark their territories such as urinating, a cat’s tail contains scent glands which are called caudal glands. These are also used when a cat is marking its territory.

tabby cat on a bed with tail raised
Don’t mess with my tail

7 Key Things to Know About Cat Tails

1. Cat Tails contain nerves.

An injury to your cat’s tail can result in permanent damage. The tail is home to many nerves which affect how your cat controls urinating and defecating. Nerve damage can also be caused by pulling on a cat’s tail. This type of damage can heal over time but it can also end up being permanent.

2. Cats don’t have to have tails.

If a cat loses its tail it will soon learn to compensate. Manx cats are a breed of cat that are born without tails and don’t seem to have any agility issues relative to other breeds.

manx cat with no tail

3. Domestic vs Wild Cats

When a wild cat is walking it will either tuck its tail between its legs or hold it horizontal. Domestic cats are the only kitties that have a vertical tail whilst walking.

4. Cats do control their Tails

Sometimes a cat’s tail will move in an involuntary action – much like how we often blink without thinking about it. You may notice this in particular when your cat is asleep and its tail starts twitching. But generally your cat will be controlling

Two tabby cats sit in a window sill seen from behind
Tails from behind

5. Should I touch my cat’s tail?

The general answer to this is no. A cat’s tail is quite sensitive due to the number of nerves and muscles within it. It is quite easy to cause your cat some pain without meaning to – particularly if you step on their tail. Be as gentle as you can when it comes to your kitty’s tail. Some cats actually like having their tail pulled but your cat might not be one of them.

6. How long should a cat’s tail be?

A cat’s tail grows in line with the rest of your cat, so like your kitty, its tail can continue to grow up to the age of two years. Once your cat reaches two it is unlikely that its tail will continue to grow. A typical full-length cat tail will be between 9 and 11 inches long. The length of a cat’s tail will be proportionate to its overall body size to ensure that it is adequate to manage your cat’s balancing needs.

Ginger cat sits on couch with tail between its legs

A cat’s tail contains about 10% of the bones in your kitty’s body and it is made up of 19 to 23 vertebrae. These vertebrae extend from your cat’s spine but aren’t part of its spinal cord.

Some cat’s are born with kinked or bobbed tails and this can affect their ability to balance.

7. Can cat’s break their tails?

Cats can definitely injure their tails. These injuries are usually caused by a fall or your cat’s tail getting stuck in a door or being stepped on. As mentioned earlier, nerve damage can generally be fixed if treated in time but can result in permanent damage to your cat.

Bobtail cat portrait

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