Catster Tips
A black cat with a puffed or bottle brush tail.

8 Cat Tail Signs — Decoded

What does a tip twitch mean? How about a single flip? Learn about cat tail signs and cat tail talk right here.

JaneA Kelley  |  Feb 21st 2018


A cat tail is an amazing and beautiful thing. Not only is it an anatomical wonder, it’s an excellent tool for feline self-expression. Even the most obtuse of humans can learn the secrets of this behavior — “cat tail talk,” if you will — with a little observation, and your cat will love you even more if you can interpret her special cat tail sign language. Here are the facts behind some of my favorite cat tail signs and what they mean.

1. Cat tail in the air

Two cats with their tails in the air.

Two cats with their tails in the air. Photography courtesy JaneA Kelley.

When Sinéad and Siouxsie were kittens, they’d come running up to me with their tails held high the minute I opened my apartment door. This would quickly be followed by purrs and head bonks all over my shoes. Nothing says, “OMG, I love you so much and I’m so happy to see you!” quite like high-tailed kittens. It’s a cat tail sign that needs little translation.

2. Question mark cat tail

A girl sitting on a bench petting a cat.

A cat with a question mark tail. Photography by mimagephotography / Shutterstock.

A cat that approaches you with an erect tail with a tiny hook at the end is saying, “I’m friendly and I’m also just a tiny bit tentative and curious. May I come to you?” I saw this a lot in my shelter cats, and my own kitty roommates do that when guests come over to visit. As soon as you say something like, “Hello, darling,” and reach out a hand, the tail straightens out and you’re greeted with head bonks and love.

3. The tip twitch

A woman on her computer, hugging a cat.

If your cat’s tail twitches, it’s time to take a break from pets, cuddles and other affection. Photography ©cyano66 | Thinkstock.

If you’re petting your cat and you start seeing the tip of her tail twitch a little bit, that’s an early sign that your cat is getting overstimulated and wants you to back off. If you see the tip twitch, you should heed this polite request.

4. The single flip

A gray and white cat with her tail up.

The single tail flip is a sassy cat tail sign. Photography ©GlobalP | Thinkstock.

When I scold Bella for getting on the counter while I prepare her food, she hops onto the floor and does a single whole-tail twitch. I interpret this as the cat tail language equivalent of a teenager’s smart-ass comment and reply with, “Don’t you twitch your tail at me, young lady!”

5. The cat tail hug

A hairless cat with a curled tail.

A cat with a curled tail. Photography by Dan Kosmayer / Shutterstock.

When Thomas climbs into my lap while I’m sitting at the computer, he either drapes himself over my arm or settles in for a snuggle and wraps his tail around my wrist. I call this a “tail hug” and I melt every time it happens.

6. Exclamation point cat tail

A scared or surprised cat with his back arched and eyes wide.

Cats who get scared or startled may get the exclamation point tail. Photography ©PeopleImages | DigitalVision / Getty.

When Bella gets startled, she jumps backwards and her tail instantly goes full vertical and all the fur stands on end. This is her equivalent of “Eek!” For her, it doesn’t seem to mean “I’m terrified” as much as “You shocked the hell out of me … and I kinda liked it!” When I see her in exclamation-point-tail mode, I gently stroke said tail and tell her, “Oh, Bella, what are you all fat-tailed for?” Then it’s time for skritches around the neck and ears as she slowly de-floofs.

7. Cat tail tag

Thomas absolutely loves to play tail tag with Bella. He flicks his tail back and forth, all the while looking at Bella with wide eyes. Bella gets all excited and starts smacking at his tail. Here’s a video of a tail tag game in action.

8. Hunting tail

A cat going on a hunt.

A hunting cat stretches her tail just behind her. Photography by LeniKovaleva / Shutterstock.

When my cats are stalking rodents or their favorite interactive toys, they hunker down with their tails stretched out behind them. The very end of their tails twitch just the tiniest bit, as if it’s the only way they have to discharge some of the adrenalin coursing through their bodies.

Tell us: What are your favorite “tail talk” phrases? Share them in the comments. Bonus points if you have photos or videos of the tail talk in action.

Thumbnail: Photography ©GlobalP | Thinkstock.

Read more about cat tails on Catster.com:

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.