Can Cats Control Their Tails?

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Cats are curious creatures and, as any cat owner will know. One of the most distinctive features of any feline is their tail, and this is one of the main ways that your furry friend will try and communicate with you.

Can cats control their tails? Learning to understand your cat’s tail, and when they are controlling it voluntarily versus involuntarily, will help you to communicate with your kitty, and allow you to maintain a calm, harmonious household.

» You might like How to Bond with Your Cat and How to Stop a Cat From Spraying in the House.

Can Cats Control Their Tails

Can Cats Control Their Tails?

The first thing to understand is that your cat’s tail is an extension of the spinal column, and is formed by a number of vertebrae, as well as other elements including muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves.

Working together, these elements allow your feline friend a full range of motion through the tail and allow cats to move their tail. The movement of their tail can be either voluntarily, or involuntarily.

A black and white cat laying down

When Do Cats Involuntarily Move Their Tails?

The first thing to examine is how to tell the difference between your cat voluntarily or involuntarily moving its tail. That will help you understand when your cat might be trying to communicate versus when something else is happening.

During Sleep

A cat curled up asleep

The main circumstance during which your cat involuntarily moves its tail is during sleep. You might notice that your cat’s tail twitches or swishes while they’re sleeping. This is controlled by the nervous system that causes random reflexes or twitches, just as it does to you while you sleep.

When Injured

When a cat is injured, it might lose control of its tail, due to the injury or nerve damage. If your cat is injured and is no longer moving its tail freely, you should take it to the veterinarian to have it examined.


Some environmental factors can affect the movement of a cat’s tail, such as humidity or extreme heat, or cold. If the cat becomes debilitated in any way because of extreme weather, it can affect its ability to control its tail.

Why Do Cats Move Their Tails?

An outside cat

Cats have feelings in their tails and can use them to express a range of emotions, including happiness and panic, as well as to give a greeting.

There are many reasons why your cat may want to move its tail, and the most common include:

As A Means To Communicate With You

Your cat’s tail is used to communicate with you. Think of it as a form of speech. Since you can’t use language to communicate with your cat, you might want to learn the non-verbal ways your cat chooses to speak.

They will also attempt to show affection towards you with their tails. When your cat wants to play with you, they will often playfully tap at your legs and waggle their tail playfully.

If they want to be petted, they may even arch their back and stretch their neck upwards, just so you can scratch behind their ears.

As A Warning

Scared cat with a poofy tail

If your feline friend feels threatened by something, such as another animal, or a human being, they will often flick their tail up and down.

This is not only a clear indication that they feel in danger, or somehow threatened, but also serves as a warning to stay back. If you get too close, you may get a nasty nip!

As An Indicator Of Interest

Cats will often wag their tails if they are interested in what is going on around them.

If your cat is happy, relaxed, and content, they will usually keep their tail still; However, if your feline friend is anxious, stressed out, or upset, they might start to wiggle their tail back and forth.

As A Sign Of Approval

Cats love attention, and will often wag their tail when they see something that they like.

For example, if you give your feline friend a treat, they will often wag their entire body, including their tail.

They are showing you how pleased they are with the food you have given them.

What Do My Cats’ Tail Movements Mean?

Can Cats Control Their Tails

In case you’re interested in learning more about your cat’s form of communication, and you definitely should be, different tail movements can mean different things.

The most common include:

Wagging The Tail Up And Down

This is a very friendly sign and means that your feline friend is happy and relaxed. It is also a good indicator that they are communicating with you, and want to interact with you.

Flicking The Tail Back And Forth

When your cat flickers their tail back and forth, it indicates that they are nervous, or agitated.

However, if your feline pal starts to do this more frequently, it could indicate that they are feeling scared, or distressed. You shouldn’t ignore this type of behavior, as it might be your cat’s only way to tell you they are in distress.

A black cat sitting and looking up

Twitching The Tail

When your cat twitches their tail, it shows that they are unhappy, or angry. Your feline friend may twitch their tail when they feel threatened, or when they are trying to tell you something.

Arching The Tail

When your feline friend arches their tail, it shows they are excited about something.

When your cat does this, they are usually doing it while looking at you, which means they want to interact with you and enjoy spending time with you.

A cat outside with an arched tail

Quivering Tail

When your cat quivers their tail, it shows excitement, or a greeting – if your cat is quivering their tail as they approach you, then they are pleased to see you and uses this as a greeting.

A quivering tail may be accompanied by a meow as a hello.

Splaying The Tail

When your cat’s tail sways side-to-side, it shows that they don’t know where to go. This is an instinctual response, and your feline friend is simply following their instincts.

In some cases, your cat may move their tail involuntarily – and this is usually a sign that they may be injured or in pain, so take the time to check carefully.

Final Thoughts

Learning the cues of your cat’s tail movement can help you understand them better.

Knowing what your cat is saying can make life easier for both you and your feline friend, and allows you both to maintain a loving, friendly relationship.

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