Why Do Cats Have Tails?

Why Do Cats Have Tails

If you think your cat is just acting playful and cute when you see her tail swishing back and forth, you better think twice! A cat’s its has many uses from providing balance to communication. 

Why do cats have tails?

Cats have tails for the following reasons:

1. To provide balance. 

Providing balance is considered the primary purpose of a cat’s tail. It is especially important if they are walking in elevated places like a roof or a fence. Humans usually balance by spreading their arms and what arms are to humans, for the cats it would be their tails. A cat’s tail also provides balance when they are running after prey.  

2. As a means of communication. 

Cats do not communicate solely through vocalization like purring, meowing and yowling. They also communicate in a non-verbal way with the use of their tails and body language. A cat’s voice can have high or low tones and a cat’s facial expressions can convey anger or happiness, and the same goes for their tails. Here are some basic tail positions and their meaning:

  • the tail is upright and held high – it means your cat is confident and happy and you should respond by offering playtime, cuddles and treats.
  • the tail is curled at the top like a question mark – it means your cat is in a friendly disposition and you should respond by offering your hand for petting and sniffing.
  • the tail is straight down – it means your cat is agitated or feeling aggressive and you should not pet her but try to neutralize what is upsetting her.
  • the tail is curved beneath the body – it means your cat is nervous or submissive and you should wait for her to come to you on her terms.
  • the tail is puffed – it means your cat is scared, angry or agitated so you should just leave her alone.
  • the tail is whipping back and forth – it means your cat is fearful, angry or aggressive and just like the earlier tail position, you should just leave your cat alone.
  • the tail is swaying slowly from side to side or twitching – it means your cat is focused so do not bother her and let her be.

3. It acts as a counterweight for a smooth landing. 

A cat’s tail is a masterpiece because it also serves as a counterweight and helps cats to flip over so they can land on their feet.  This helps prevent possible injuries and provides extra stability. 

4. It also enhances a cat’s sense of touch. 

A cat’s tail not only contains motoric nerves but also sensory nerves and helps cats to have a better understanding of their surroundings just like their whiskers.  It also makes up around 10% of a cat’s overall bone count and has 19 to 23 vertebrae. A cat’s tail is made up of an extensive group of muscles, ligaments and tendons and male cats have an average tail length of 12 inches while for females it’s 9.9 inches. However, because it is a sensitive area, most cats do not like having their tails stroked or touched. 

Other surprising facts about a cat’s tail 

Here are other surprising facts about a cat’s tail:

A cat can live without a tail. 

While their tails provide many purposes, cats can still function well without one. Manx cats are mostly born without tails and they are not much different from other healthy cats. 

Tail injuries may cause permanent nerve damage.

A pulled tail may cause permanent nerve damage and may affect the muscles that control a cat’s urination and defecation. You may also check an earlier article entitled I accidentally stepped on my cat for more details. 

Domestic cats can hold their tails in a vertical position like walking, unlike wild cats.  

While wild cats can hold their tails horizontally or tuck it between their legs they are unable to hold it in a vertical position while walking like domestic cats. 

The tailless gene is dominant but it needs a recessive tail gene. 

Breeders will usually breed a tailless cat with a tailed cat since breeding both tailless cats often results in an aborted fetus which is why a recessive tail gene is needed. Also, Manx cats suffer from a medical condition called Manx syndrome which happens when the tailless gene shortens the spine. It results in spinal cord damage, spina bifida or neural tube defect and problems with digestion, bladder and bowels. 

Conclusion 

Just looking at a cat’s tail can tell you a lot about your cat’s disposition and moods.  The tail is important for cats also because it provides balance, enhances their sense of touch and acts as a counterweight. It is also a means of communication and you can know whether your cat is happy, contented, agitated or angry by looking at her tail’s movement and position. 

Image: istockphoto.com / Antonio Batinic