What Can My Cat’s Tail Tell Me About What They Are Thinking? (2024)

by Dr Ruth Cawston

  • by Dr Ruth Cawston

Jan 18, 2022


Updated: Jan 18, 23

What Can My Cat’s Tail Tell Me About What They Are Thinking? (1)

Contrary to popular belief, cats are not antisocial creatures. Instead, they are asocial. This means that they do not need to socialize in the way that humans or dogs do, but they can enjoy it when it happens on their terms. As pet parents, we must respect our cats’ independent natures, and learn to understand when they want our affection and when they would rather be left alone.

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Our cats’ tails can help to provide us with an insight into their mood and can let us know whether they are seeking out a snuggle, or would prefer to be left alone for some quiet contemplation.

If your cat is wanting to be affectionate, then they will approach you with an upright tail.

Upright Tails

An upright tail is generally the sign of a happy, relaxed cat. They will often raise their tail in greetings to other cats or humans in their family. Sometimes the tip of the tail may bend forward, or there may be a gentle curve as the tail rises.

A cat who is approaching you with an upright tail is generally relaxed and friendly, and may well be looking for some affection. Offer them a gentle rub around the head or under the chin and see how they respond. If they return the affection, then that’s the signal to continue stroking them!

Twined Tails

A cat who is being affectionate, or who is wanting something from a human, will often rub themselves around our legs. As they do this, their tail may wrap around our legs. This may be a sign that your cat wants affection, but they may also be seeking something else from you – often their dinner!

Two friendly cats who are walking side by side may also intertwine their tails as they walk. This is a sign of affection – only cats who are very fond of each other will do this kind of tail twining.

If your cat’s tail is tapping, then this is a sign that they are busy and do not wish to be disturbed.

Tail Between The Legs

Sometimes cats may sit with their tail wrapped around themselves, or even tucked up underneath their body. They may do this to keep themselves warm in cold weather, but also to comfort themselves. Cats who are stressed, sick, or in pain will often curl up in a tight ball with their tail either tightly around them, or underneath. You might also notice that they do this when they are sitting or crouching.

Cats who are curled up tight like this usually do not want human affection, as this may cause them to feel more stressed, or they may worry that your stroking will cause them pain.

If your cat starts to sit in these kinds of positions more regularly than they used to, then you should see your veterinarian for advice.

Tapping Tail Tips

If your cat is sitting with their tail out to one side of their body, then occasionally you might notice that the tip is tapping up and down on the ground, or gently flicking backwards and forwards. Only the very end of the tail will do this – if most or all of the tail is moving, then this would count as a “swishing tail” (see below).

Cats whose tails are tapping are usually concentrating hard on whatever it is that they are looking at. Sometimes they will not stare directly at the object of interest but will look near it instead, or give it the side-eye.

If your cat’s tail is tapping, then this is a sign that they are busy and do not wish to be disturbed. You should leave them to their activity, and come back later to see if they are more interested in some fuss.

If your cat’s tail is whipping from side to side, there is something around that is making them unhappy. If this is a small child or another pet, then you should quickly separate them to prevent injury.

Swishing Tails

A cat with a swishing tail is usually one who wants to be left alone.

Slower, gentler sweeps of the tail may be seen in cats who are intently concentrating on something. This might be a toy, another cat, or even another human. Whatever they are considering, it is best to leave them alone to think. They don’t want to be interrupted.

Large, sudden lashes of the tail are a strong sign that a cat is unhappy. In the wild, cats do this when they see other cats, as a way to appear large and threatening and to try and drive off their rivals.

If your cat’s tail is whipping from side to side, then their gaze will usually be fixed on whatever is making them unhappy. If this is a small child or another pet, then you should quickly separate them to prevent injury. Try to take whatever is stressing the cat away so that they can no longer see it.

Treat a lashing tail as a warning sign!

However, you must be very wary of cats whose tails are lashing around like this. If you try and intervene, there is a risk that they might think you are dangerous, and end up attacking you instead.

Given that these sudden lashes show that our cats are upset, it might be tempting to try and comfort them. However, if your cat is in this agitated state, they will almost certainly not enjoy physical contact with you, and it is very unlikely to make them feel better. Indeed, they might mistake your affection for aggression, and lash out at you instead. Do not attempt to stroke or pick up cats in this state.


Our cats’ tails can be an important way for us to understand what our cats are thinking or feeling, and can help us to know whether or not they are interested in having a fuss. Sometimes their tails can also tell us that they are angry, sick, or stressed.

We should always pay attention to our cats’ behavior, and make sure that we respect their feelings on whether or not they want our affection.


A cat’s tail can give you a lot of information about what they are thinking or feeling. Different tail movements can suggest interest, concentration, or sometimes aggression. Our cats’ tails can also sometimes tell us if our cats are feeling unwell.

If your cat is wanting to be affectionate, then they will approach you with an upright tail, which may bend gently in the middle or flop over slightly at the top. If you are unsure, then it is best to let your cat initiate affection. You can let them come to you, or offer them your hand to sniff. If they rub up against it, then this is a sign of affection.

If your cat’s tail is flicking when you stroke them, then this may be a sign that they are not enjoying their fuss. Cats can be quite picky about when they want to be stroked, and it is important to always respect their boundaries. We should always let our cats initiate fuss.

Our cats will sometimes come to twine themselves around our legs and may hit us with their tails as they do so. They are not deliberately hitting us – instead, this is a sign of affection, or that they want something from us.

However, if your cat is swishing their tail backwards and forwards in large movements, then this means that they are unhappy about something. They are not deliberately trying to hit you, but it is their way of telling you that they are upset or angry. Try to work out what is making them unhappy – sometimes it may be the fact that you are stroking or holding them.

What Can My Cat’s Tail Tell Me About What They Are Thinking? (2)

Dr Ruth Cawston

Ruth graduated from Cambridge in 2014 and has worked as a small animal GP vet ever since. She is particularly interested in internal medicine, as it combines her love of problem-solving and her somewhat geeky love of knowledge, and has completed her certificate in Small Animal Medicine. She loves animals of all species but is particularly fond of cats.

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What Can My Cat’s Tail Tell Me About What They Are Thinking? (2024)


What is my cat's tail trying to tell me? ›

On a calm cat a straight-up tail with a hooked tip is a friendly greeting, while an aggressive cat may just have its tail straight up. A fearful “Halloween” cat will have an arched back and “its tail up and puffed.” A domestic cat seems less than thrilled during a studio photoshoot.

What are 2 different signals a cat can send with its tail? ›

Sitting upright with tail tip moving can indicate that the cat is alert and interested. However, tail twitching can also be associated with heightened emotion or aggression. The more the tail is flicking back and forth, the less happy the cat is.

Does a cat's tail tell its mood? ›

In general, a cat that's walking around with its tail held high is happier and in a better mood than one with a low tail. If your cat approaches you with their tail held straight up – sometimes paired with a prancing walk or happy meows – they're in a good mood and may be looking for attention.

How do you understand what your cat is trying to tell you? ›

Growling, hissing or spitting indicates a cat who is annoyed, frightened, angry or aggressive. Leave this cat alone. A yowl or howl (they sound like loud, drawn-out meows) tells you your cat is in some kind of distress—stuck in a closet, looking for you or in pain.

Why does my cat raise his tail when he sees me? ›

When your cat is approaching you, someone else, or another animal and is holding her tail straight up, it means that she is open and even a bit happy to meet you or this person or other animal. If her tail is quivering, it may mean that she is is excited to see you or whomever she is encountering.

Why do cats rub against you? ›

Cats release friendly pheromones from glands in their cheeks and chin, so when your favorite feline is rubbing its face on you, it usually means they are marking you as a friend. “It's an affectionate gesture that can also be used as a form of greeting,” Dr. Jill E.

What different cat tail flicks mean? ›

The Quick Flick

While a loosely wagging tail can be a sign of focus or playfulness, a rapidly whipping tail that is lashing from side to side more forcefully is a clear indicator that your feline friend is feeling fearful or aggressive. A quick flick of the tail is a warning to other cats and humans to back off.

What do cat tail flicks mean? ›

Flicking: If your cat is flicking its tail back and forth, particularly in a rigid way, there's a good chance she's upset or frightened—or stalking prey. Swish: A playful swishing tail will usually accompany your cat's signature playtime behavior.

How do you tell if a cat likes you? ›

9 signs your cat loves you
  1. Your kitty purrs around you. ...
  2. They sit on you. ...
  3. You've seen the 'slow blink' ...
  4. You have a sleeping buddy. ...
  5. They bring you gifts. ...
  6. Head bumping happens. ...
  7. You're being followed. ...
  8. You've seen your cat's belly, a lot.

Why does my cat stare at me? ›

As well as being a method of communication, staring is also a sign of a close bond between you and your cat, as they are unlikely to hold eye contact with someone they don't like or trust.

Where your cat sleeps on your bed and what it means? ›

PetMD also points out that cats are territorial creatures. They claim their turf by marking it with their scent. So when they sleep on top of you, they're actually marking you—and your bed—as theirs. We should be flattered by this behavior, apparently.

Why does my cat bite me gently? ›

It probably feels like your four-legged fur baby has got it in for you, but these perceived acts of aggression are actually an indicator of affection. That can be quite difficult to fathom, right? But it's true; they're actually “love bites” rather than a defense mechanism.

How do cats show they trust you? ›

Cats can show affection by bunting. When they rub their scent glands against your ankles and hands, it's a surefire way to indicate that they like you. Purring and other vocalizations also show that they trust you and your presence. Cats vocalize to communicate with you.

What phrases do cats understand? ›

“Technically, cats can't understand human words because their cognitive skills are not advanced enough,” Glover told The Dodo. Cats understand language the same way that we understand what they're trying to say when they meow. They know that we're talking to them, but they don't know exactly what we're saying.

How do cats know you're talking to them? ›

Cats lack the cognitive skills to interpret human language, but they recognize when you talk to them. To put it another way, cats comprehend human language in the same way that we understand meowing. It's similar to how you interpret your cat's language by "reading" how they arch their back or swish their tail.

Can a cat remember you? ›

Do cats remember people? Cats possess excellent long-term memories. They can recall their animal companions and the people who feed them as well as those who irritate them. Memory is what allows a cat to leap into the arms of a family member returning after a semester away at college.

Why do cats push their head into you? ›

Headbutting is a way for cats to mark you with pheromones and bond with you. However, sometimes headbutting can be a way for cats to seek attention. As a general rule, cats like to be scratched under the chin and on the head, so a cat may just be presenting their head to you for some attention and good scratches.

Why does my cat follow me to the bathroom? ›

One of the most plausible and sweetest reasons why your cat “follows” you even into the bathroom is that he loves you. The cat wants to take advantage of every second of your presence and every possible opportunity to spend time with you! He adores you so much that he will follow you everywhere in the house.

Do cats know their names? ›

Cats do recognize their own names (as long as the name is tied to positive reinforcement). Cats can also identify and remember vocal patterns. Clicker-training can help cats to understand their name and associate it with a positive experience (treats, toys, attention).

What does it mean when a cat kneads? ›

Kneading to convey comfort — Happy cats appear to knead to show pleasure. Cats often knead while being petted, or when snuggling into a napping spot. Your cat may also knead on your lap to show her love and contentment, and then settle in for a pat or nap. A stressed cat may knead to create a soothing, calm mood.

Why do cats thump their tails when lying down? ›

It may seem especially strange when cats wag or thump their tails while relaxing. Often, it means she's beginning to feel a little overstimulated. If she's lying down or even sitting calmly, she may swish her tail a little after you've been petting her.

Do cats like you talking to them? ›

Yes, you read that right: A recent study revealed that getting your pet's attention is as simple as speaking with a high-pitched tone and extended vowels, just like how you'd communicate with a human baby. Additionally, the study suggested that your cat can actually tell you apart from strangers.

Why does my cat flick her tail when I speak? ›

Why do cats wag their tails when you talk to them? A cat may swish, flick or twitch her tail for a variety of reasons when you speak to her. It could be because she's feeling playful, happy, anxious or annoyed.

Are cats happy when they flick their tail? ›

They Are Annoyed

Any annoyed cat will certainly let you know how they are feeling, and a low whip-like flicking motion of their tail or a tail thump are easy tells that they would rather you stay away.

How do cats pick their favorite person? ›

According to a study done by the nutrition company, Canadae, they discovered that the person who makes the most effort is the favorite. People who communicate with their cat by getting to know their cues and motives are more attractive to their cat companions.

Does a cat trust you if it sleeps next to you? ›

Sleeping with you provides them with security and an extra defense if a predator should launch a nighttime attack. They sleep with you because they trust you, they know you're not a danger and you can also provide an extra layer of defense if needed.

How do cats show sadness? ›

Changes in body language, including ears held back, tucked tail, and hairs standing on end. Meowing more or less than usual or making low-pitched, mournful meows. Lack of energy or a decrease in activity level. Retreating from humans or other family pets.

What do cats see you as? ›

The strange part of all of this is that cats actually view people as fellow cats. Some researchers believe cats look at us as big, slow, clumsy, uncoordinated cats, but others say they're not quite so judgemental. The good thing is, whether or not they're judging our balance and agility, they still love us!

Why does my cat look away when I slow blink? ›

When a cat interacts with people and the cat is not threatened by the person, she may look at the person and then perform this same “slow blink.” She then may look away or she may not. If this happens, you can interpret this behavior as your cat not feeling threatened by or fearful of you.

Why do cats roll over when they see you? ›

Think of it as kitty zen mode. If a cat rolls over in front of you, it's a good sign. This is your cat's way of saying, "I trust you." Exposing the belly and/or sensitive parts is a very vulnerable moment for your cat, which is an opportunity for both of you to bond.

What is a cat's favorite sleeping position? ›

Laying on Their Side. One of the most common ways that cats sleep, your furkid lying on her side, with legs outstretched usually means she trusts you enough to leave her belly exposed. This is a comfortable position for cats, similar to the belly up position. Your cat is likely napping, rather than sleeping deeply.

What does it mean when your cat sleeps next to your head? ›

Cats may sleep by your head as a way of getting close to you to show you affection. When cats sleep with you, it shows that they trust you. Wild cats often sleep where they feel safest, so if your cat is sleeping next to you, it's likely because they feel safe with you.

How do cats choose who to sleep with? ›

They crave warm and cozy spots, so if your bed is something they find comfortable, they'll likely choose you to snuggle with. The one who makes them feel safe. Cats are particular about where they sleep, ensuring it's safe and secure.

How to discipline a cat? ›

How to Discipline Your Cat
  1. 1 Use Voice. When your cat is doing something you don't like, simply using your voice to stop them might be enough. ...
  2. 2 Clap Your Hands. Cats dislike the sound of hands clapping. ...
  3. 3 Use Noisy Cans. ...
  4. 4 Use Deterrents. ...
  5. 5 Play with the Cat. ...
  6. 6 Time Out. ...
  7. 7 Use a Spray Bottle. ...
  8. 8 Reward Good Behaviour.

How does a cat show love? ›

Headbutting and cheek rubbing are both social behaviours that are learnt and expressed throughout kitten-hood. Both are ways in which cats build bonds and affection with other animals and by extension, with the humans they do it to.

Should I let my cat lightly bite me? ›

Cats bite for many different reasons. Depending on the environment or situation, your cat could bite due to stress, fear, or overstimulation. It's worth noting that cats typically don't bite out of anger or spite – so don't take it personally if your cat nips you while you're petting them.

What does it mean when a cat lets you touch its paws? ›

It is a very important and sensitive part of their body. However, if your cat lets you touch its paws, it means that they love and trust you. This small action truly demonstrates that you have created a great bond with your cat as they trust you enough to let you touch one of the most sensitive areas of their body.

How do cats say hello? ›

The head bump. It's their way of saying hello, by using the oil glands in front of their ears to greet you as if you're a cat and leave their scent on you. They see you as one of their clan, so bump them right back.

Do cats learn the word no? ›

Yes, cats can not only acknowledge the message, but they can also change their behavior. Here are a couple of methods that work for me.

What do cats think when we pick them up? ›

Being picked up and held can make some cats nervous, as they are being restrained in your arms. This limits their options for escape if anything were to startle them. Cats are independent creatures, and although they often like to be up high, they like to choose their own perch and not be restrained whilst doing so.

Can my cat understand me when I meow? ›

Sorry to break it to you, but human meows mean nothing to cats. At most, you can get your cat's attention and they may even appreciate your attempts to communicate by purring or even meowing back. But to most cats, human meows sound like human language.

Do cats know we are not cats? ›

“In a way, cats think of us as bigger cats,” Bonk says. “They might not necessarily know that we're a different species or they just don't care.” Stelow suspects cats will treat their human caregivers with similar displays of affection they show toward other felines.

What do cats think about all day? ›

To summarise, cats don't think about their day or how they feel. But they do think about previous situations they have encountered. For example, when your cat is chilling out, it's not thinking about anything in particular.

Can cats recognize their owners voice? ›

Yes, really. Filling a long-standing gap in feline research, a small study shows that cats can distinguish their owners' voices from those of strangers. Like many who share their homes with a cat, I often talk to the miniature predator who sleeps on my pillow.

What does it mean when a cat wraps tail around you? ›

Tail Wrapped Around You: Touching you with the tail or wrapping it around you is one way your furry friend expresses affection, relaxation, and love. It's the perfect opportunity for petting your cat and having a play and bonding time.

What does it mean when a cat flicks its tail while lying down? ›

Why do they wag their tails while lying down? It may seem especially strange when cats wag or thump their tails while relaxing. Often, it means she's beginning to feel a little overstimulated. If she's lying down or even sitting calmly, she may swish her tail a little after you've been petting her.

Why does my cat thrash his tail when I talk to him? ›

Why do cats wag their tails when you talk to them? A cat may swish, flick or twitch her tail for a variety of reasons when you speak to her. It could be because she's feeling playful, happy, anxious or annoyed.

Why does my cat flick his tail while cuddling? ›

Cats Wag Their Tails When They're Feeling Secure

If you're petting your cat and they acknowledge you by moving their tail a bit or your cat is wagging their tail while they are purring, they're feeling secure. This is a good sign you're free to keep petting your beloved cat and showing them that you care. Trust us.

What does it mean when a cat lets you touch its belly? ›

It means that your cat wants attention and trusts you enough to touch her belly. Remember your cat's belly is the most vulnerable spot on her body. If she allows you to pet her in this area, then she trusts you completely.

Why do cats touch you with their paw? ›

Cats tend to use pawing as a form of communication. Cats paw at us out of instinct, by accident, to give or get affection, and to get our attention. Most times, when cats paw at us, it means nothing serious. Sometimes, however, they are getting our attention to tell us that they are sick or in pain.

How do I know if I'm annoying my cat? ›

Signs a cat is frustrated with you

Your cat may move their head or body away from you. Your cat may sharply or quickly turn their head towards your face or hands (usually as a reaction to you touching them somewhere they're not keen on).

Why does my cat walk in between my legs and rub his tail on me? ›

All creatures within its social group, as well as objects, will be anointed with its unique smell using scent glands in its face, body and tail. When your cat rubs around your legs to greet you it is doing the same as it would in greeting another cat by mutual rubbing of the face and body.

Why is my cat annoyed at me? ›

As for why your cat is angry, chances are it's afraid, feeling territorial, having a conflict with another cat or a dog, or in pain. We asked cat behavior experts to share the subtle signs of how your angry cat may show anger.


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