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5 Interesting Vet-Reviewed Cat Tail Facts You Need to Know (With Infographics)

Written by: Christian Adams

Last Updated on July 6, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

closeup of a curled cat's tail

5 Interesting Vet-Reviewed Cat Tail Facts You Need to Know (With Infographics)

VET APPROVED

Dr. Maja Platisa Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Maja Platisa

DVM MRCVS (Veterinarian)

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

Learn more »

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.

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The 5 Interesting Tail Facts

1. Tails Are Crucial for Balance

Offering far more than looks, the tail performs several jobs for 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, jumping, climbing, or adjusting to sudden shifts underfoot.

white-cat-tail-up
Image Credit: JumpStory

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 may appear similar to a British Shorthair body type save for the lack of a tail.1 This characteristic can also occur in other cat breeds due to various genetic mutations. Despite the missing accessory, some of 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, but this will greatly depend on other possible spinal defects they may have.

Sadly, Manx are prone to severe spinal issues. The dominant genetic mutation causing the missing tail can also lead to painful spinal issues and fatal defects in kittens that inherit two copies of the gene from breeding two tailless cats.2

Tailless cats, even with only one copy of the mutated gene, that survive can suffer from Manx syndrome, a collection of painful lifelong problems, including spina bifida, incontinence, urine and fecal scalding, weakness, and partial paralysis. Due to the quality-of-life issues, many have raised ethical concerns about breeding these cats.

kurilian bobtail cat standing on the window perch
Image Credit: TalyaPhoto, Shutterstock

3. Tails Are Valuable Communication Tools

Cats use their body language to communicate with other cats and their humans, and the tail is one of the vital non-verbal indicators for nearby cats, other animals, and people. One of the most recognizable signals is the tail-up display, sometimes with a hook at the tip, which is often a friendly gesture cats use when approaching others to show they’re interested in socializing and playtime. If your cat is following you around with their tail up while meowing and chatting, they may be saying they want some food.

Common meanings behind various tail movements may include:
  • A quivering tail held up indicates excitement
  • A twitching tail may display irritation, frustration, or concentration while hunting
  • A heavy thumping and thrashing tail indicates annoyance or anger
  • A slow, swishing motion means intense focus, usually on some type of prey or a toy
  • A puffed-up or low tail tail show fear or defensiveness

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.

Catster_Cat Tail Language_Positive Signs_Infographic_v1-4_Mar 6 2024
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Catster_Cat Tail Language_Negative Signs_Infographic_v1-4 FINAL_Mar 6 2024
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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 20–23 caudal vertebrae lining up from the tail base, dwindling in size as they near the tip. Cats control the position and movement of their tail, assisted by 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, wounds, 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.

Cat Skeletal System
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5. Tail Injuries Can Be Debilitating

Although the vertebrae extend into the tail, the spinal cord ends in the far back of the lumbar area, although the nerves extending from it in the tail are really just a continuation of the spinal cord. Many issues, like bites, cuts, and infections, can heal quickly with appropriate veterinary care without causing any neurological 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, lack of tail movement and sensation, urinary and fecal incontinence, lack of anal tone, and hind leg mobility issues. Cats may need a partial amputation following severe trauma, though many can lead normal lives afterward if the nerve damage isn’t permanent.

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Final Thoughts

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

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