As a cat parent, you’ve probably had moments when you are just left in awe with your cat’s tail, while at times, you are also confused by what your feline buddy is trying to tell with his tail movements.
You might have also noticed your cat tapping his tail while lying comfortably on his couch with his eyes closed. Isn’t he asleep? But, why is his tail wagging as if he is enjoying a disco medley that we can’t hear? Can cats control their tails?
Is your cat trying to communicate using his tail movement, or is it something that just naturally happens to his tail involuntarily?
And if everything that he does with his tail are involuntary movements, doesn’t that mean that he has no control over his tail?
We know you have a lot of questions surrounding your cat’s tail, and that’s why we’ve made this article to set things straight once and for all.
Can Cats Control Their Tails?
Cats may move their tail voluntarily or involuntarily, which only means that they do have control over their tails.
This also means that they may move their tail without their consent or control, just as we can blink our eyes and move our legs while walking without being totally aware that we are already doing it.
It’s just something that comes naturally to us – it’s like a reflex. And this is also true with cats and their tails.
Other involuntary tail movements that you may notice with your cat are tail tapping or twitching while they are asleep and dreaming.
If they are not fully asleep, they may also tap their tail as a way to communicate that they are relaxed, but hardly sleep to not notice the things happening around them.
And if cats are in deep sleep, and they suddenly thump or twitch their tail, it means that they are dreaming.
How Do Cats Control Their Tails?
A cat’s tail is somewhat an extension of his spinal cord. From its base, all the way to its tip, a cat’s tail is composed of muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, and bones, which is why it only makes perfect sense that a cat can have full control of the movements, position, and feelings of its tail.
Cats may use their tail for various reasons, from improving their balance, enhancing their landing, increasing their speed when running, and expressing their emotions. A cat’s mood may also reflect on his tail.
A thrashing tail may be a sign that your cat is angry or irritated, while a tail that is straight up in the air while your cat is walking towards you may indicate that your feline buddy is in a good mood and he may want to play or to cuddle.
The tail of a cat is connected to his spine through multiple vertebrae, muscles, nerves, tendons, and ligaments that allow him to move his tail with ease whenever he wants to.
According to the Department of Veterinary Physiology, a cat’s tail is made up of 6 distinct types of muscles. Additionally, it also accounts for up to 10% of the body’s total bone mass.
And all of these parts play an important role as to why a cat may twitch, shift, and wag his tail as he pleases. Also, the reflexes, micro-reactions, as well as all the voluntary and involuntary movements of a cat’s tail are carried out with the help of his nervous system.
For example, when a cat’s tail receives a stimulus such as a flick or a touch when you are petting him, or when he feels a sudden change in the air temperature, the nerve endings on his tail will receive these data and transmit it to his brain.
The brain in turn will send out signals to the different parts of his body on how it should react. And it’s no difference as to how these neural connections work in causing movements in a cat’s legs and other different parts of his body. This is basically the same as how the nervous system works, both in humans and other animals.
While the process may seem long, it only usually takes within a fraction of a second. And that’s why a cat may respond immediately the moment you accidentally step on his tail.
How Do Cats Move Their Tails?
When a cat is asleep, he may move his tail involuntarily, and while he is fully awake his tail may also move instinctively or with his volition.
And they do have control over their entire tail, from its base to its tip. This is, in contrast, with some people’s assumptions that the tip of a cat’s tail can’t feel anything or is immune to sensation or control.
Nonetheless, this belief still holds some weight, but it needs to be corrected. This misconception is primarily observed in thick-haired cats.
With these cats, it is apparent that the tip of their tail is already hair and not the fleshy part that holds the bones, nerves, and muscles. Cats don’t have control over their hair, in the same way, that we, humans, and other animals don’t.
Moreover, depending on the situation, a cat’s tail may move gently or rapidly in different directions and positions in response to a given stimulus.
Or as mentioned earlier, it may also move involuntarily due to mental or physical conditions. Below are some examples:
As its name suggests, voluntary tail movements are actions that are made by cats when they are fully awake and conscious of what is happening around them.
And there are several reasons why cats move their tails purposefully, such as the following:
Keep Their Balance
A cat’s tail plays an important part as to why they can walk on a narrow path or stand on the thin handrail of your stairs. Their tails act as a counterbalance.
When their body shifts to the left, their tail will go to the right to bring a portion of their body weight in that direction, and therefore, keep them from falling or tipping over.
Their tail is also one of the reasons why cats always land on their feet. If your cat falls with his back facing the ground, it will intentionally swing its tail to rotate his body around and land on his agile legs.
Increase Their Speed
A cat’s tail also helps in realigning their hips and legs while they are in motion, and assist them in movement, especially in running.
Wild cats that run very fast such as cheetahs have longer tails that keep them from tumbling over while running as fast as they could.
The Egyptian Mau, the fastest domestic cat that can run at an amazing speed of 48 km/h can definitely outrun us, humans.
And while their outstanding speed can be attributed to their powerful hind legs, their tail also plays an important role in the equation.
Express Body Language
Your feline companion uses his tail to communicate his feeling towards you, as well as to his fellow cats, and other animals. For example, when a cat wags his tail, it could mean any of the following emotions and/or state of mind:
Additionally, cats may also use their tail to discourage other cats from approaching them, or to attract potential mates.
Have you ever noticed your cat’s ears and legs twitching while sleeping? These are involuntary movements, along with tail tapping while they are asleep.
And this happens because a cat’s tail is connected with its spine and its tails contain a lot of nerve endings that may be stimulated.
Once it is stimulated, it can trigger a response from their body even without their knowledge or consent. Additionally, the involuntary movements of a cat’s tail may also occur out of reflex. Here are some examples:
REM or Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (Dreaming)
Whether you believe it or not, cats dream like us, humans, and they may also act out while asleep. They may dream of stalking, playing with toys, or hunting.
And that’s why as natural reactions to what is happening in their dream, their tails, legs, and ears may flick. A cat that is in deep sleep may also curl its tail along with its body and assume a fetal position.
Depending on the type of injury, a cat’s tail may move involuntarily as a result of muscle spasms that are brought about by the injured nerves.
Also, for the record, when a cat’s tail is injured, it won’t be paralyzed. This is simply because their tail in itself is not part of their spinal cord; it only has nerves that are connected to the spine.
Parasitic attacks, changes in the temperature of their environment, and hyperesthesia are just some of the common stimuli that can cause an involuntary reaction (such as twitching) to a cat’s tail.
Can Cats Feel Their Tails?
Cats have plenty of nerve endings in their tail, which enable them to feel sensations from this part of their body. However, the sensitivity level may vary from one cat to another.
And that’s why some cats that are more sensitive may instantly move their tail away once you glide your hand through its entire length.
Also, as discussed earlier, cats may be unable to feel or control their hair, but they can sense their hair follicles or the root of their hair.
Some cats may not like being touched on their tail, and while this can be simply part of their nature, it can also be due to an injury since the tiny bones in their tail are very delicate.
If you suspect that your cat’s tail is injured, it’s best to seek veterinary guidance immediately as it cannot resolve on its own. It may even worsen in time as he moves about with his usual activities without added protection on his tail.
Also, when your cat’s tail is injured, it can’t efficiently act as a counterbalance when he jumps or runs around the house. As a result, your cat may be prone to losing his balance.
Why Do Cats Have Tails?
For us, humans, we may not find the essence of having a tail, but for our feline companions, their tail gives them a major advantage.
With the voluntary and involuntary movements of their tails, they are able to elude from predators, catch their prey more flawlessly, and communicate their emotions to us and to other animals.
And as discussed earlier, a cat’s tail has these major purposes: it helps them from keeping their balance, it improves their speed when running, and it acts as an added communication tool.
Additionally, it also helps with the execution of several bodily functions. It helps them in urinating, defecating, and even in giving birth.
Cat’s Tail Language – Tail Position, Movements & Their Meanings
Aside from excitement and happiness, cats also use their tails in communicating other feelings and intentions to other cats and animals, and to us, humans.
Most often, their tail movements are also accompanied by other forms of body language to make it easier for us to understand what they are trying to convey.
When your cat’s tail is up straight or up with a curled tip like a question mark, it could mean that he is happy and excited to see you, or that he is ready to play.
However, when your cat’s tail appears so puffed out as if all its hairs are shoot out, it means that he is scared, extremely irritated, or angry.
If you have multiple cats in your household, you may notice this when one cat is angry with another, or when they are angry with each other.
In times like this, you should act fast to distract them and de-escalate their emotions. You can create a sudden noise, put a barrier between them, and separate them from each other temporarily.
A defensive or frightened cat may observe a tail-down position. This is common with cats who are not used to meeting strangers, and their emotions may easily escalate to aggression with the slightest provocation.
A cat with his tail tucked between his legs and under his belly may indicate that he is scared, or it can also indicate submission to you.
Cat tail position can tell you about your cat’s current mood, but if you are still unsure about what he is trying to convey, you may also want to pay attention to the movements of his tail.
For example, if you are petting him and all of a sudden, he starts thumping and whipping his tail, you can take that as a sign to stop what you are doing.
When cats quiver their tail while it is in an upright position, it could only mean that they are marking or spraying on the territory or a wall. Nonetheless, they can also do this tail movement when they are in heat or are excited.
Moreover, you may also notice your cat wagging his tail, and wiggling his butt when he is spying on birds from your window.
If your cat’s tail is wrapped around his body, it could mean that he is scared of something, or that he is not feeling well.
And if your cat comes to you and wraps his tail around you, it could only mean that he is being affectionate, and is trying to give you a warm, kitty embrace.
Do Cats Have Bones in Their Tails?
Yes, a cat’s tail is composed of 23 vertebrae. Its bones are arranged and locked together resembling a spine, and the size of the bones decreases from the base all the way to the tip.
Just like us, humans, these small bones are attached and held together by tendons, ligaments, and six distinct muscle types.
While these small bones enable the tail to twist and bend with an amazing range of motion, it’s still not entirely flexible.
And that’s why you should be careful not to twist, bend, or tie it. If your cat’s tail gets caught in your door, its bone can easily be broken.
You should also avoid pulling your cat’s tail, as it can cause some of the bones to be dislodged from their points of attachment, which are the tendons and ligaments.
Can a Cat Live Without a Tail?
Cats without a tail can either be born without it or they may lose it through an injury; either way, cats may live without a tail, but the quality of their lives may vary.
Apparently, cats that are born without a tail due to genetic defects in the spinal cord or genetic mutation won’t have a problem reproducing and surviving.
These cats don’t even have to adapt to a life without a tail because they were already born without it. Their reality is different from cats that lost their tails due to an injury.
Cats that had their tails removed may experience difficulty adjusting because of the possible nerve damage caused by the loss of this appendage.
While it’s possible for them to live without a tail, the potential damage to their appendage can affect their spine.
Additionally, the damages to the nerves in their tail may take time to heal. These could also affect the way they pee and poo, and these damages could also cause different health problems.
What Should You Do If Your Cat Isn’t Moving His Tail?
If your cat’s tail is not moving, you should take it as a serious sign that something is wrong. And since cats are experts in hiding how they truly feel, it’s easy to consider this sudden immobility as a sign of illness.
Hence, it’s best to take your cat to the vet immediately so that he can receive prompt treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment will help improve the prognosis of your cat’s tail and can help hasten recovery.
On the other hand, not dealing with the symptoms immediately may put your cat at risk for permanent nerve damage and/or amputation of his tail.
Frequently Asked Questions
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