While they’re not always as expressive or attention-grabbing as a dog’s tail, cat tails are no less vital to their social and physical functioning. We may not give them much consideration, but tails perform essential roles for our cats as much as they impart critical information to others. Let’s discover all we can learn from our pets with this breakdown of five interesting cat tail facts.
The 5 Interesting Tail Facts
1. Tails Are Crucial for Balance
Offering far more than looks, the tail performs several jobs for domestic cats. Chief among them is balance. A cat’s superior agility and climbing ability are due to the tail acting as a counterbalance and control for the cat’s center of mass while changing directions quickly or adjusting to sudden shifts underfoot.
2. Not All Cats Have Tails
A bare rump is the first thing you’ll notice about a Manx cat, a native to the Isle of Man that often looks similar to a typical British shorthair save for the lack of a tail. Despite the missing accessory, these cats can thrive and still show off the same spryness as tailed cats, including the uncanny righting reflex that allows them to land on their feet.
Sadly, Manx are prone to severe spinal issues. The dominant genetic mutation causing the missing tail is semi-lethal, often killing the fetus when it inherits two copies of the gene.
Tailless cats that survive can suffer from Manx syndrome, a collection of lifelong problems including spina bifida, infections, incontinence, and paralysis. Due to the quality-of-life issues, many have raised ethical concerns about breeding these cats.
3. Tails Are Valuable Communication Tools
The sense of smell is a cat’s most valuable form of communication, but the tail is one of the most vital non-verbal indicators for nearby cats and other animals. One of the most recognizable signals is the tail-up display, often a friendly gesture cats use when approaching others. Due to their social nature, the domestic cat is the only feline species to do this. Other common meanings behind various tail movements include:
Cats will pair tail movements with other cues, like ear positioning, to create more diverse and specific messages. Although cats have adapted their communication with their tails to suit people, owners must look at all their cat’s signals to understand their true feelings.
4. Cats Can Break Their Tails
Despite their flexibility, the incredible control cats show over their tails can leave many wondering, “Do cats have bones in their tails?”. There are 18–23 caudal vertebrae lining up from the tail base, dwindling in size as they near the tip. Cats control the position and movement of these bones using six muscles running along either side of the tail.
Since their tails contain bones, cats can break them just as they would a leg. Limpness, swelling, and visible deformities like kinks can all be signs of a fracture. Breaks around the tail’s tip are generally easier to manage, while fractures near the base may come with more severe nerve damage.
5. Tail Injuries Can Be Debilitating
Although the vertebrae extend into the tail, the spinal cord ends in the lumbar vertebrae before the tail. Many issues, like bites, cuts, and infections, can heal quickly at home without causing worsening nervous problems. Still, nerves extending into the tail can stretch or rupture from aggressive pulling on the tail or fractures near its base.
Signs of a nerve injury in the tail could include a drooping tail, incontinence, and hind leg mobility issues. Cats may need a partial amputation following severe trauma, though they can lead normal lives afterward.
Although we’ve evolved past them, tails play vital roles in the modern domestic cat’s physical, social, and emotional health. See what you can glean from your cat the next time they walk into the room. From head to tail, our pets constantly communicate, revealing plenty of subtle insights into their health and mood for anyone willing to pay attention.
Featured Image Credit: olivier.laurent.photos, Shutterstock