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Feline Friday: Translating Kitty Ass-ets

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Today’s Ask Amy video addresses kitty tail talk, and I’ve had fun finding a variety of furry models to tell the tale–er, I mean, tail. So give it a shot–what do YOU think the tail semaphore means?  What does Sleepy-Seren’s tail (above) say about her c’attitude?


What about this Burmese beauty? Cats talk with their entire bodies, not just meows and airplane ears. What’s that tail semaphore mean when held on high? Happy? Agitated? Relaxed?

cat on railing

And here’s a couple tails held down instead of up–what’s the significance, or is there any? Do they mean the same thing? Seren’s tail rarely stops moving, but other kitties only flail tail when upset. Why should you care? Well…sometimes kitties lose their homes when there’s mis-communication.

July 15-17, is joining with over 1,500 rescue groups and shelters across North American for what could be the largest adoption event in history–in honor of 15th Birthday year! That sweet kitty above, with her tail wrapped around her body, is Bella Luna and she’s available–just click on her picture for a link to details. Betcha once she’s adopted her tail talk will transform into happy signals . . .

This Paw Nation article on understanding felinese includes some translation, but every cat has his own dialect. Just like people from different parts of the country have funny accents–unlike me, cuz I have no accent at-all, y’all.

Devon rex

How do your cats express themselves with their furry ass-ets? What have I missed in the video? And  what’s unique about your furry wonders? Please share!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions–and to stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!

About amyshojai

Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified animal behavior consultant (dogs/cats), award winning author of 30+ pet care titles and thrillers, and spokesperson to the pet industry.

20 responses »

  1. Amy,

    It’s a credit to your writing and your pictures that I LOVE your kitty articles! I’m horribly allergic to cats. 😦

    I like ’em but I need drugs to be in the same room with them.

    • Thank you! Sorry about the allergies. My sister in law has been allergic to cats forever and then suddenly–stray cat showed up and no allergies! Win-win, the cat got a new home and the family discovered kitty love. Doesn’t always work out that way, though.

  2. I have one cat, Dahlia, that actually “wags her tail” as a greeting and a request to get closer. Of course, my other cats, like most cats, use the thumping or twitching tail as a gesture of annoyance.

    I adopted Dahlia from a shelter when she was 4 months old, and I like to imagine that her unusual tail-talk comes from being raised by dogs. 🙂

    • Thanks for commenting! Yes, it’s important to know your individual cat’s foibles. Dahlia may indeed have been influenced by dogs if raised with them and away from other kitties.

  3. Of course, people often forget that the speed and fluidity of the tail-flailing makes a difference too. 🙂

    We have one cat that curls his tail under him like a monkey when he’s running through the house playing. Both of them do the question-mark tail either when they’re greeting you or they want something (or both… it’s usually both LOL).

    One of the two, my boyfriend’s cat Anubis, is part-wild (grandmommy was a barn cat, accidental breeding with a wild bobcat – so we have what looks like a maine coon with saberteeth, insane intelligence, and some interesting wildcat behaviors we have to try and work around – as a note to anybody reading I do NOT recommend trying to get this combination on purpose, unless you’ve dealt with wildlife before) has an amazing range of expressions that even regular cats don’t quite get. Between the fact that he seems to have more facial muscles to the whole-body language, he’s quite the character. He’s the one that does the monkey-tail.

    He will curl his tail over when he sees somebody he wants to say hello to – he holds his still. My cat, Simba, tends to wave hers back and forth so it does this undulating motion – the faster it moves, the more she wants something. Usually food.

    Rapid stiff twitching of just the end of the tail for both of them usually means they’re getting wound up and ready to play. Stiff waving of the whole tail (kept straight), agitation or playfighting. Loose waving that allows the tail to curve usually when they’re eyeing a toy they want to pounce. Then of course there’s the propeller-flail in a circle when they’ve lost their balance. 😉 That’s usually my fat-butt. Anubis is far more graceful.

    Something Anubis does that I’ve never seen another cat do… he curls his tongue. Sometimes he likes to play rough – he knows he only does this with “daddy”, though we’ve been trying to show him he can play with me too. He doesn’t buy it. But it’s sort of used as a healthy way to divert excess energy and some of the wild aggression (he’s neutered but some behaviors apparently didn’t go away). He leaps, he bites, he yowls like he’s ticked off – the only way you can really tell the difference between play and him being upset is to look in his mouth. If his tongue is curled, he’s playing. If not, he’s upset and acting out.

    I had to try and explain to someone once that yawning doesn’t always mean what you think it means for him either. There’s an actual yawn… then there’s showing his teeth if it’s someone he doesn’t want near him. Had somebody over that he started threat-yawning at, had to warn them to stay back because he wasn’t yawning, he was showing his teeth. He doesn’t like most strangers. Likes my mom, liked my dad until he heard me call him “dad” when my boyfriend wasn’t home. From then on he’s started giving my father dirty looks like he’s trying to replace the One True Daddy. We need to get my dad over here sometime when James is home to try and remedy this. LOL

    • HI Karyl, Thanks for the post–wow, what great insights! You’re obviously a dedicated kitty watcher. Fascinating about the differences between cats, in particular, the kitty with “wild” genes.

      • Yeah, he’s been rather an interesting case study. Would have been more so had I met him earlier – I’m told he has mellowed in his old age.

  4. All cats speak “tail”. Some cues are universal and some are unique as a signature. One of my favorites is the Siamese “curled around the feet” tail. Having enjoyed Siamese kitties for over forty years, that signal to me is, “I’m gorgeous. You may adore me now.” I’m currently fostering a little Siamese with emotional issues. When I work with cats, I use an approach combining the intuitive with the practical. Often, when I’m communicating non-verbally, the cat will use their tail to answer the question. It’s all about being tuned in and observant.

    • Being tuned in and observant, yes–most of us miss some of the cat-signals. *s* For me, that tail-wrapped-around is a distance-increasing signal and sort of the equivalent of humans crossing their arms in self protection. Yep, it could be, “I’m beautiful, admire me from the distance!” *s*

    • One of ours does it too – not Siamese though, so it seems it’s not just them. He knows he’s gorgeous. He also knows if he looks cute, he’s more likely to melt hearts and get a treat. LOL He seems to have learned how to dilate his eyes on cue to top it all off, so he’s got the perfect cutesy routine down to try and get tasty things.

  5. My favorite, even though it’s an insult, is when they flip the bird–you know, turn around, lift the tail straight up so the nether regions are in full view, bend the end of the tail and flick it at you while walking slowly away, perhaps look back over the shoulder to see if the point was taken. Okay, I am less than dirt.

    • LOL!!! Actually–that’s not really an insult, I don’t think. Cats present their ass-ets to us to sniff, sort of like humans offering a hand to shake in greeting. Okay, it’s not exactly the same thing but…*s* Kitty flicks the end of the high-held tail as a “howdy” and uncovers the butt to show they’ve nothing to hide. Sorta kinda in a way.

      To humans it does look pretty rude!

      • There is a certain nuanced version of that, though, where you’ve ticked them off. There’s a certain extra sharpness to it. Anubis has a habit of doing it if you tell him “no treat”. (But he’s such a CUTE brat)

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