For many cat parents, the feline tail can be pretty mysterious.
While the meaning and movements behind a dog’s tail are mostly straightforward, a cat’s tail can be a bit more confusing. Not only are cat behavior cues often more subtle when compared to canines but cats have a huge range of tail movements they can make. Cats can bend their tail into an almost perfect question mark, point it straight up, flicker individual parts, and everything in between.
How the heck are cats able to pull off such a wide range of unique movements? What’s the anatomy behind a cat’s tail that makes this possible?
Keep reading for the answers!
1. What Is A Cat’s Tail Made Of?
A cat’s tail is actually made of a series of small bones called vertebrae (the plural form of vertebra) which are the same type of bones that make up the spinal column. These bones extend all the way to the end of the tail and get progressively smaller as they get close to the end of the tail.
These bones are held together by ligaments and tendons with muscles further supporting the structure. Because there are so many small bones, with small spaces between them, tails are very flexible which allows cats to move them in incredible ways.
2. How Many Bones Do Cats Have In Their Tails?
Not all cats have the same number of bones in their tails and the exact number can vary between breed and the individual feline. But most cats have between 19 and 21 bones in their tail.
Most cats also have around 250 bones in their body (it can vary because of the bones in the tail) which means that almost 10% of a cat’s bones are in the tail alone!
The most notable example of cats with an unusual number of bones in their tails would have to be Manx cats which are famous for their short or completely non-existent tails. Even amongst Manx cats, there is a wide range of tail lengths with some having no tail and others having half the normal tail length- along with everything in between.
3. Do Cats Have Cartilage In Their Tails?
Yes, they do! While the most famous examples of cartilage for most people are the nose and ear, cartilage is a very common type of connective tissue that’s found not only throughout our own body but also in our cats- including the tail!
The flexible cartilage is one of the several factors that allow cats to have such variety in their tail movements.
4. Do Cats Feel Pain In Their Tails?
Yes! While it might seem somehow detached from their body a cat’s tail is extremely sensitive and contains several nerves that extend from the spinal column. These nerves not only control the precise movements of the tail but also functions related to the bladder, hind legs, and even the intestine!
Sometimes it can seem like cats are completely cavalier with their tails. I know I’ve had to brush my cat’s tail through the doorway with my foot as she seems completely unconcerned about the closing door.
But in reality, cats do care very much care about their tail, and injury to the tail can cause a whole range of problems including incontinence and issues defecating.
5. Can Cats Live Without Tails?
Yes, cats can live without tails! While tails help our cats balance by acting as a counterweight, felines can adapt and learn to live without them. Whether that’s a result of amputation or simply being born without a tail, most cats have no problem living without their tail.
6. Do Cats Control Their Tails?
Yes, cats do have full control of their tails but some movements may be made involuntarily- or at least without conscious effort. When a cat is jumping and navigating the world around them, their tail may naturally react to their movements and help them balance. Just as your eyelids will close when an object is coming towards your eye, your cat’s tail adjusts based on the movements of your cat.
We have full control of our eyelids and our cats have full control of their tail but in both cases, there are moments that occur without conscious effort or control.
7. How Long Is A Cat’s Tail?
On average, a domestic cat’s tail is 12 inches long. But what sometimes makes the cat’s tail look so impressive is the fact that their bodies are only 18 inches on average (without their tail). That means their tail is more than half the length of their entire body!
The internet is full of cats with extra long tails but none are longer than the very handsome Maine Coon that goes by the name Cygnus Regulus Powers. He holds the record for the longest cat tail with an impressive length of 17.58 inches.
You can see his cat tail in all its glory here:
8. Does Pulling A Cat’s Tail Hurt Them?
Yes, pulling on a cat’s tail will not only cause pain to the cat but could also result in a severe, and even life-threatening, injury. That’s because the nerves of the tail branch out from the spinal column and control critical functions like defecation, urination, and even movement in the hind limbs.
Cat’s that have suffered a severe tail pull injury may no longer be able to hold their tail up and in some cases will dribble urine or feces after losing full control of these functions. While a tail pull injury might make you think only of a person pulling a tail, these types of injuries can also occur if cats get into a fight with other animals or if their tail gets stuck in a door.
9. How Many Muscles Are In A Cat’s Tail?
Cats have 6 distinct muscles in their tails and these all work together to give cats a huge range of movements. Of course, these muscles are just part of the picture and it’s the entire system of small bones, muscles, and connective tissue that gives cats their unique tail.
Both expressive and extremely functional, our cat’s tails are amazing!
What did you find most interesting or surprising about the anatomy of your cat’s tail?