How to read your cat’s body language

Have you ever wondered how your cat is feeling? Some believe cats are naturally mysterious and don’t share how they are feeling. But cats do communicate their emotions through the body language of their eyes, ears, posture and tail. Pay attention to your kitty’s tail and you can learn a lot about his mood.

If he holds his tail high — straight up — as he moves about, he is feeling happy and confident. If he’s approaching you this way, he is ready for some attention. If his tail is held high but with a curve, he is feeling friendly and playful. If he approaches you with a curly-tipped tail, get out some of his favorite toys and have some fun. He’s ready and willing.

Try to figure out what is upsetting your cat when his tail is straight down. A tail in this position means he is agitated or stressed and feeling aggressive. Instead of trying to hold or cuddle him, remove the source of tension from his environment.

If that tail gets tucked between his legs or is curved up beneath his body, he is telling you he is afraid or very nervous. If he is holding his tail like this when he’s with another cat, he is being submissive. A tucked tail can also be a sign that he is not feeling well.

A tail that is wrapped tightly around a cat’s body consistently while he is sitting or lying down for a few days in a row may be an indicator of pain or illness. Call your veterinarian to rule out medical issues.

I love it when my boys wrap their tails around each other. Ozzie and Walter trust and love each other. They also wrap their tails around my ankles as they rub back and forth on my shins and around my arms as I pet them. It’s nice to know they love and trust me, too!


A tail slowly swaying from side to side indicates a kitty who is focused. Is he watching the birds at the feeder outside? Is he about to pounce on his toy?

A tail moving back and forth rapidly is a sign of fear, anger, or aggression. If you’ve been petting him and he seemed to be enjoying it, but then begins to move his tail in this manner, he is asking you to stop.

This is not the time to give him a smooch. Instead, offer him a toy and give him some space.

When a cat twitches the end of his tail, you have to look for clues in the environment to gauge his mood. It might mean he’s playful, but can also mean he’s frustrated. There are two possible reasons why his tail quivers, too. Hopefully, it is because he is really excited to see you, instead of marking the wall or couch or anything else, for that matter, with urine.

We’ve all seen a cat who is frightened or agitated with a puffed up tail. Cats use this defensive gesture to make themselves look larger to scare away the threat, whether it’s a dog or another cat or the new Roomba you just set loose in your home.

Most cats don’t like having their tails pet. Ozzie and Walter don’t mind and seem to enjoy their tails rubbed as much as their heads, backs and bellies, but I keep an eye on their tails. They will let me know how the boys are feeling.

• Diana Stoll is the Practice Manager at Red Barn Animal Hospital with locations in Hampshire, (847) 683-4788; and Gilberts, (847) 426-1000. Visit their website at


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