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 ARTICLES > TTouch > Behaviour: What Does a Cat Tail Tell You?
  TTouch  Article:
Article By: Suzanne Hetts & Daniel Estep       

Tales Cat Tails Can Tell

From Animal Behavior Associates May 2008 Newsletter

One key to understanding the motivation and emotions of animals is their body language. Among the most expressive body parts of our four-legged friends are their tails.

In cats, the position and movement of the tail can help indicate mood and intentions. For example, cats that are fearful tend to hold their tails down and tuck them underneath their legs. Cats that are agitated and threatening will lash their tails back and forth. What does it mean when a cat holds his tail straight up when approaching another individual?

This tail-up posture is not only an indicator of friendliness, but also serves as a friendly social signal, according to research by Charlotte Cameron- Beaumont. She observed interactions among feral cats and found that the tail up posture tended to precede other friendly behaviors including sniffing and face rubbing

To show that it really was the tail position, and not other behaviors or postures that were signalling friendliness, she performed an experiment. Cameron- Beaumont presented cats with cardboard silhouettes of other cats that either had the tail up vertically or the tail down below the horizontal plane.

She found the cats exposed to the tail up models tended to raise their own tails and approach the silhouette more quickly than cats exposed to the tail down silhouettes. Cats exposed to the tail up model were also less likely to respond with tail lashing or tucking their tails. What the tail up posture probably signals is that the cat showing it isn’t a threat to other cats or people and intends to engage in friendly behavior.

An interesting application of this information involves introducing unfamiliar cats to each other, such as when a family brings home a new cat to join their resident cats. The initial interactions between cats are very important, and if the cats can be friendly and relaxed, it will reduce stress and make for a smoother introduction.

If both the new cat and the resident cat could be induced to raise their tails at the sight of the other cat, it might facilitate friendly interactions. It is certainly possible to train cats to engage in a variety of behaviors on cue and training cats to raising their tails should be possible. Using clicker training to teach the cat to raise his tail on cue would be one way to do this.

It may be difficult to get a fearful or threatening cat to raise his tail, because of the way that strong emotions influence behavior, but if the cat isn’t already fearful or threatening, having him show the tail up posture may facilitate further friendly interactions and make the introduction more successful. The alternative might be to strap a cardboard cut-out of a tail on the cat’s back and hope the other cat thinks it’s real (just kidding!)


Written by Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D., and Daniel Estep,

Ph.D. An edited version of this article first appeared in

the Rocky Mountain News. Reprinted with permission from

www.AnimalBehaviorAssociates.com where you can find more

articles, services and products, and subscribe to ?Pet

Behavior One Piece at a Time?, a free ezine.-----

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