The Purr-fect Reason Why Cats Have Tails

grey cat's tail

I own two cats who, like most cats, have tails. I have noticed that they each use them a little differently, which got me wondering – why do cats have tails?

Tails are a result of natural evolution, and evolution favors the fittest. So it makes sense that cats have tails because they help them survive. Cats use their tails to communicate with other cats, to help them balance, and even to show their emotions to their human companions.

If, like me, you have wondered why cats have tails, then read on to learn more fascinating facts about this interesting feline appendage.

Anatomy Of A Cat’s Tail

Cats have a unique type of tail that is long, narrow, and very flexible. Like the spine, which it is an extension of, it is made up of a series of bones that are supported by ligaments. The average cat has 19-21 caudal vertebrae (bones) in their tail.

Like the rest of the spine, each vertebra is separated by discs of cartilage which help the tail to be flexible and able to move in almost any direction. Cats also have strong muscles running along their tail that help control its movements.

Cats Use Their Tails For Balance

Have you ever watched a cat walk along a narrow ledge, like the top of a fence, and seen their tail moving while it did so? That tail movement is playing a critical role in keeping that cat safely on track.

Cats are excellent climbers and jumpers, thanks in part to their tails. When a cat jumps or climbs, its tail acts as a counterbalance that helps it keep its balance. Whether making sharp turns, keeping it balanced, or changing direction, the tail helps the cat stay on course.

orange cat's tail

Cats Use Their Tails To Communicate

Cats use their tails to communicate with each other and with their owners. A cat’s tail is a direct indicator of its mood and emotions but sometimes we humans need to use the rest of their body language to clarify what our cats are trying to communicate.

Here are some of the ways that cats use their tails to communicate:

  • An upright tail usually means that the cat is happy and confident.
  • A tucked-in tail usually indicates fear or insecurity.
  • A tail that’s held low might mean aggression, but it could also be a sign of submission.
  • A twitching tail tip is a sign of excitement. This is often seen when “hunting” their toys (or real prey) or getting ready to playfully pounce on you or another cat.
  • A puffed-up tail can be a sign of fear or aggression. It is usually accompanied by puffed-out hair over the rest of the body or along the ridge of its back.

The above tail movements need to be viewed along with the cat’s other body language.

For example, as I write this article my Sphynx cat is sitting on my desk with her tail tucked tightly in, but at the same time her eyes are closed and she is purring loudly. She is very relaxed and happy – apparently, she just likes to tuck her tail in where it is safe and warm!

Can Cats Live Without Their Tail?

Cats who lose their tails due to injury or other causes, such as a traumatic event, can still live happy and healthy lives. Although they will miss out on the benefits of having a tail, they can learn to adapt without it.

Some cats are born without a tail, such as the Manx cat which has a genetic mutation that renders them tailless. Tailless cat breeds have other adaptions to make up for the lack of tails, such as having stronger hind legs than other breeds.

These hind legs on tailless breeds are also slightly longer than their front legs, which slightly changes their center of gravity which also compensates for having no tail.

What Should I Do If My Cat’s Tail Is Injured?

If you notice that your cat’s tail is injured, it’s important to take them to the vet right away. A tail injury can be very painful and can cause infection if left untreated. Your veterinarian will be able to assess the extent of the injury and provide treatment or recommend further tests as needed.

Certain tail injuries can be more serious than others. The tail is an extension of the spine, with nerves attached to the spinal cord. An injury resulting from a pull on the tail can result in nerve damage leading to paralysis, incontinence, or inability to control the tail.

grey cat's tail with white tip

Why Cats Don’t Like To Have Their Tail Touched

A cat is very attached to its tail, and it is very important to them that it stays safe! Cats are sensitive to any kind of touch on their tail and have built-in reflexes to move it away from any touch.

Most cats, therefore, don’t like to have their tails touched or petted. Yours may be the exception, but go slow until you figure out whether your cat is open to pending in this area.

Conclusion

In conclusion, cats have tails for a variety of reasons – balance, flexibility, and communication. While they can survive without them, having a tail definitely helps to make your cat’s life that much better.

As always, be mindful of your cat’s body language and respect their boundaries when it comes to handling their tail. With that in mind, you can ensure that both you and your cat have a purr-fect relationship for years to come.

So, the next time you look at your cat’s tail, remember that it plays an important role in its life!

Author

  • Dr. Wendy Wilkins, DVM, PhD

    Dr. Wendy Wilkins is an experienced veterinarian and epidemiologist with over 20 years of expertise. She holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and a Doctorate in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Throughout her career, Dr. Wilkins has excelled in clinical practice, academia, research, and regulatory veterinary medicine. She is a respected voice in knowledge dissemination, delivering factual information in a readable and understandable manner through articles, books, and public engagements.

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