Black cat looking at camera and walking over to Blue Cross employee

What is your cat’s tail telling you?

Cats are notoriously hard to read. Their behaviour is still very close to their wild ancestors, which means we sometimes struggle to understand how they are feeling.

Tails are a great way to get an idea of your cat’s current mood and what might happen next – but, like all body language, it all needs to be taken in context to the situation and what the rest of their body is doing.

Claire Stallard - Behaviour and Training Development Manager at Blue Cross with white Staffordshire bull terrier
This advice has been approved by our Behaviour and Training Development Manager at Blue Cross

High tail

A high tail means that your cat is feeling confident and happy. This usually means they have friendly intentions and, if the tail is quivering a little, this can mean the cat is very excited to see you. 

Question mark

This is often a greeting sign when they see someone they know and like. Sociable cats tend to do this with anyone they meet. You can spot this tail position usually when they’re approaching you.

Puffed up tail

If their tail is high and puffed out, usually with the base of their tail and the ridge of hair along the spine fluffed up, this indicates fear.

If cats feel really threatened, they may become aggressive if pushed, so best to give a wide berth. Cats may be doing this to ‘look’ bigger and will instinctively do this if they’re startled by something potentially scary. 

Low tail

Some cat breeds can naturally carry their tails lower than others. But, in general, if your cat’s tail is straight down, this can be a sign of unease or fear.


If your cat’s tail is tucked underneath their body, they are feeling fearful or anxious.

Tail twitching

If your cat is twitching their tail, this usually means that they are experiencing some sort of conflict or are feeling agitated. If you are stroking them and this begins to happen, it’s best to stop what you’re doing, as this could be an early warning sign that they are not enjoying it. 

Another example of when they may tail twitch, is when they want to do something but they can’t - for instance, if they are stood by the door and want to go out but it won’t open. 

Tail whip

A tail that rapidly moves back and forth shows that your cat is very emotionally stimulated and there is the potential they may become aggressive. Cats will often do this when they have a disagreement with each other (usually around their territory outside of the home). This is often accompanied by lots of yowling, either before one runs away or a fight breaks out. If your cat does this to you, best to steer clear for a little while.

Swishing tail

This tail is most likely seen right before your cat jumps on a toy or if they’re hunting. It’s recognisable by the slow swaying from side to side.

Tail hug

This is the cutest of the tails – it does what it says on the tin and acts like a cat hug to other cats. Cats that have a close relationship will often do this.  It’s basically the same as humans popping their arm around someone they care about.

Remember that all cats are wonderfully different and some really do seem to have much more expressive tails than others. You’ll know your cat better than anyone, so take their tail in context to the situation and their personality too.

— Page last updated 30/05/2023