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Why Do Cat’s Tails Puff Up? 4 Vet-Approved Reasons

Written by: Lorre Luther

Last Updated on July 11, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

Cat Tail Puff Angry Defensive

Why Do Cat’s Tails Puff Up? 4 Vet-Approved Reasons

VET APPROVED

Dr. Luqman Javed Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

Cats often puff their tails as a form of body language communication. It’s technically called piloerection! Felines use body language to communicate with each other and with us. A puffed tail means various things in cat language.

It’s not always a signal that your cat is scared or upset. It can also indicate anger or that your cat is feeling a bit chilly. When combined with exuberant springs, it means your cat is having so much fun that they can’t contain themselves! Read on for more reasons that your cat could be puffing their tail.

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The 4 Reasons Why Cats Tails Puff Up

1. Anger

A Note About Anger

The signs of an angry cat can overlap with those of a frightful cat (see below). Many times, a cat that’s angry is also scared.

Cats often puff out their tails when they’re angry and getting ready to attack. A common feline survival strategy is trying to appear as large as possible to dissuade potential attackers. Angry cats often crouch down close to the ground and lay their ears sharply back. Some cats whack their tails when extremely agitated.

It’s relatively common for angry cats to have raised hair along the ridge of their back. Some cats will shadow you or hiss if they’ve completely reached their limit. Most cats prefer to bluff their way out of confrontations.

They’ll often assertively swat their paws to try and get the threat to move back. These displays of feline anger don’t always lead to aggressive behavior. Feline signs of anger are designed to scare threats into backing down and going away. Most cats will calm themselves if the stressor is removed.

Catster_Cat Tail Language_Negative Signs_Infographic_v1-4 FINAL_Mar 6 2024
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2. Fright

Startled or scared cats commonly arch their backs and puff out their tails to appear larger to dissuade attacks. Fearful cats often jump back and curl themselves into a “question mark” shape. Some lay back their ears when startled, and others hiss in a warning.

Most calm down quickly once they’ve recovered from the shock and feel safe again. Coming too close or touching a scared cat can be dangerous, as scared cats are inclined to attack when they feel unsafe and cornered. In fact, fearful cats often attack proactively out of a defensive instinct.

It’s why injured cats frequently become aggressive the minute a veterinarian comes near them. The best way to calm a frightened cat is to stay out of their way. Give them plenty of time and space to decompress, and your cat will return to normal in a bit.


3. Fun

Some cats, particularly younger ones, will puff out their tails in moments of exuberance. It’s often seen along with pounding, springing, and enthusiastic running about. There’s nothing to worry about if your cat suddenly starts bouncing around with a puffed-up tail during a play session; it’s not a sign of aggression, but rather an indication of just how much your buddy is enjoying themselves.

The phenomenon is anecdotally more common in younger cats. Ensuring your cat gets enough mental stimulation is key to maintaining your cat’s mental health. A good play session is a great way for cats to get a bit of exercise and blow off some steam.

Most veterinarians recommend that cats get at least 60-120 minutes of play per day; this can be split over several small sessions. A few interactive toys like food puzzles can go a long way toward keeping your cat mentally engaged.

Finding a toy that your cat enjoys, is genuinely drawn to, and is excited to play with can be a challenge. That's why having a few options is always a good idea until you get an idea of what gets them moving. We love the Hepper Catnip Stick and Whale Kicker for different reasons. For cats who need a little encouragement in playing, the stick is packed full of organic catnip enticing enough to lure in the laziest of felines. The Whale is a great option for cats who love to hunt, pounce, and kick! Both are extremely durable, and can be cleaned and reintroduced for play days yet to come. Find out which is best suited to you below. 

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4. Cold

Cats love warmth; it’s why they love to hang out in front of radiators and snuggle up in your lap. Healthy cats have body temperatures somewhere between 38–39.1°C (100.4–102.4°F). The thermoneutral zone for domestic cats is 30–38 °C (86–100.4°F).

But during the winter, homes can sometimes be below a cat’s preference. Cats will often puff out all their fur, including their tails, if they’re cold and trying to warm up. A cold cat may also hold their paws close to their body while they sit and “wrap” their tails around their body to keep warm.

If you suspect your thermostat is turned too low for your cat, there are several things you can do to improve your pet’s comfort without breaking the bank. Self-warming beds and homemade pet-bed warmers are inexpensive ways to remove some of the chill. Microwaveable heating pads also go a long way toward creating a comfortable environment for cats when the temperature drops.

However, these heating pads should never be placed in direct contact with your cat’s body (they should be wrapped in a towel or other fabric deemed appropriate for such use).

divider 1 paws Conclusion

Oftentimes cat’s tails puff up when they’re scared or angry. But those aren’t the only reasons. They’ll also puff up their tails when cold to retain warmth. The puffy tail hop that some cats break into when truly beyond themselves with cat joy is one of the most adorable things you’ll ever see.

Excited or angry cats aren’t terribly likely to become aggressive. Scared cats are only likely to launch attacks when they feel cornered and threatened. Frightened cats are best avoided until they recover their composure and feel safe again.

See Also:


Featured Image Credit: Samokhina Anna, Shutterstock

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