Cat tails can be a bit mysterious. Sometimes it seems like our cats are in complete control of them and other times it can seem like the feline tail has a mind of its own. I’ve also learned that whenever I run my fingers along my cat’s back, the petting journey had to stop at the base of their tail, or else I got a stern look and an annoyed meow. While not true of every cat, there are certainly more than a few cats that can’t stand having their tail touched.
So, why don’t cats like their tails touched? A cat’s tail is very sensitive as it’s made of many ligaments, tendons, and nerves. While it’s an essential body part that helps cats with their balance, movement, and communication it’s also one of the more vulnerable parts of our cats and many felines have a natural urge to protect it.
If you want to learn more about why don’t cats like their tails touched, and the overall importance of your cat’s tail then keep on reading!
What Is The Function Of A Cat’s Tail?
The research and studies done on domestic cats have been significantly increased over the years, especially in the areas of neuroscience and behavior, but the tail has never been a part of that discussion until fairly recently, despite its importance.
Before we can really understand why some cats aren’t happy with their tail being touched, we need to figure out the role this body part plays in our cats’ day-to-day life.
Cats are known for their acrobatic skills when it comes to climbing, chasing stealthily after prey, and most importantly jumping down from tall heights and landing back on their feet. While their whole body is designed to give them amazing balancing abilities, their tail also plays a crucial role in it.
“Their flexible backs and lack of a true collarbone helps them turn, so they’re in a position to land on their feet,” says Dr. Cottrell, DMV, a veterinarian at the Cat Hospital at Town in Baltimore, Maryland. “The tail helps realign their legs and body as they fall, keeping the cat level,” she adds. Their tail also serves as a counterbalance when they’re walking on narrow spaces, such as tree branches and fences.
This ability to right themselves in mid-air before landing is something cats develop as they mature during their kittenhood. Their inner ear also lets them know when they’re off balance and, at that moment, they start righting themselves starting from their heads, then to their front paws, back, and finally their tail.
Not only does your cat’s tail serves them while they hunt stuffed mice around the house, but it’s also an important communication tool. The feline body and tail language is part of the visual signals that a cat uses to communicate with their own species.
But what happens when they need to communicate with their owners? Well, according to research, cats use visual and vocal signals to communicate with us, and they meow mainly to get our attention.
While their vocalization has been developed for us, they still use the same physical cues to let us know how they feel. For instance, seeing your kitty wagging their tail when they hear your voice can be a sign of acknowledgment and happiness. By studying your cat’s tail language you’ll find better ways to understand them and watch for signals that indicate your cat’s mood.
It’s also important to note that while their tail might reveal their inner state, taking this signal out of context could also be misleading, that’s why Carlo Siracusa, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, suggests that the tail alone isn’t enough and taking the whole body into account is more effective.
Do Cats Have Feeling In Their Tails?
Our cats send visual, vocal, and olfactory signals towards us and their environment, but touch can also be a way of communication. The way they react to our touch can depend on a few variables, like their personality, the human-cat bonding, and how sensitive an area is, which can lead to a positive or negative reaction.
The reason why a cat’s tail is so sensitive has to do with the simple fact that it’s part of the spinal cord which like the brain are included in the central nervous system. There are billions of cells known as neurons that are connected with each other and they transmit information through electrical signals.
I know it might sound a bit confusing, but it’s important to understand that the information these nerves and specifically sensory nerves send to your kitty’s brain includes sensations of pain, touch, temperature, taste, hearing, balance, vision, and smell.
So, it comes as no surprise that your cat’s reaction when their tails are touched is more intense, compared to other areas like their legs for example.
Why Don’t Cats Like Their Tails Touched?
We all have sensitive areas on our bodies, and they may differ from person to person as well as the reaction we have when we’re being touched there and the same goes for cats. Many owners claim that their cats hate being petted along the tail, so what do all these kitties have in common and what might trigger such negative reaction?
1. Their Tails Are Sensitive
There are some parts on a cat’s body that make them go “purr” like a chin scratch, while others can even lead to an aggressive retaliation, like the tail. These areas are both sensitive so why do they lead to such opposite reactions?
As we mentioned above a cat’s tail is the extension of their spine making it a very sensitive area. This sensitivity isn’t only in regard to physical touch, but it’s also a sign of vulnerability. So many nerves, muscles, and small bones are intertwined there, thus, making it a very fragile area.
For this reason, cats can be very protective of their tail, making sure that no damage will come to it, and just a simple touch can easily annoy them and evoke a defensive reaction.
2. It Causes Stress
Unless you’re lucky enough to have the coolest and most tolerant cat, I think many of us will admit that our cats can be easily stressed out. It could be because of a necessary visit to the vet, or the simple fact that you took their favorite blanket because it was finally time to give it a good wash before the accumulated fur transformed into another cat!
While stressful situations can arise it’s our job to create an environment where our kitties can thrive and that’s usually a safe and stress-free environment. Touching your cat’s tail might easily stress them because this seemingly innocent action might make them feel unsafe.
It’s also important to remember that it’s an unusual area for them to be touched since that’s not something cats cultivate between them. Grabbing their tail will most likely lead to a self-defensive reaction, and can even cause serious friction in your relationship.
3. Their Tail Is In Danger
If cats don’t like to be stressed they definitely don’t want to feel that they’re in danger, and since their tails are more vulnerable than the rest of their body they can perceive anything that approaches it as a threat.
If you’ve ever been in the unfortunate position of accidentally stepping on your kitty’s tail then you’ve probably seen how quickly they go into fight or flight mode. Even with a simple touch to that body part, some cats will attack or run away from you in an effort to defend their tail.
No matter what history is hidden behind your cat’s tail defensiveness it’s important to respect this boundary they’ve set.
4. They Don’t Trust You (Sorry)
Cats are known to be more distant, but most cat parents will tell you that to gain their love and trust you need to work a bit harder and not simply expect them to like you. This is one of the reasons I love cats so much, and I think the relationships they build with humans are based on consent and personal space.
If you’re a stranger to a cat, naturally, the last place they’d let you pet them is their tail, simply because there was no trust established between you. If you’re a new owner, or you’re simply taking care of a kitty for someone else, there are ways to gain a cat’s trust and it might require some work on your part.
The first step is to learn how to approach a cat and being observant of what their body language is telling you, especially during the initial process. Let the cat approach you first, you can extend your fingers and let them smell them, if they rub their face against them that’s a sign you can pet their head.
When you pet a cat it’s not a good idea to start from their tail and focalize on that area. Going for the tail first might be off-putting even for a kitty that doesn’t mind their tail being petted, and it can make the process of bonding difficult.
The best approach would be to work on your trust and make sure they accept your petting in more “common” areas first. Perhaps with time when you find yourself stroking your kitty along their body, and slowly test the waters on their tail. they’ll accept it, but that’s still not a given.
While not wanting to be touched can be an indication of their level of trust in you, I’d like to point out that even if your cat has been your companion for a long time they still can hate it when you touch their tail, and that’s perfectly fine!
5. They’ve Got An Injury (Old or New)
There are many explanations as to why your kitty doesn’t like it when you touch their tail, and in most cases, it’s not something that should worry you, unless it’s a sign of injury. If your cat is overly protective of their tail, trying to tide it, or they’re too aggressive when you touch it, maybe they’re hurting.
Because most tails are long and they’re a protruding body part, they can be more open to trauma and damage from accidents. That’s why it’s important to be observant of your kitty’s tail movement. Does it appear unusually bent? Does it look like your cat is dragging it behind them? Perhaps you’ve noticed that your cat has a hard time moving it.
In that case, a trip to the vet is necessary.
In other cases, your cat might have an old injury that makes them nervous about having their tail touched. In these cases, you can feel a “kink” in the tail where an old fracture likely healed. These areas can still be uncomfortable for cats long after they’ve healed!
6. They Don’t Enjoy It
Sometimes the answer can be the most obvious one and while we’ve tried to figure out the possible reasons as to, why don’t cats like their tails touched, there doesn’t have to be one.
Whether it’s because of their survival instincts, biological reasons or simply their petting preference, the best you can do as a loving cat parent is to respect your kitty’s ways. Instead of trying to figure out why your kitty doesn’t enjoy this kind of approach try figuring out what they do like!
Why Some Cats Like Their Tail Petted?
As we all know there’s always an exception to the rule and while most of us may wonder why don’t cats like their tails to be touched, there are those who can’t relate.
Cats are unique in their own way and their individual preferences sip into the way they want to be petted. For example, one of my cats likes it when I stroke the base of his tail and the other one will flop on the ground in front of me demanding belly rubs, without attacking me!
If your kitty enjoys having their tail touched that’s completely fine, and it could be a sign of trust! It’s one of the most vulnerable areas on their body so you can consider access to it a privilege. it’s also possible that the sensitivity of this certain area creates a more pleasant sensation for some cats, while for others it might feel more like being tickled.
Whatever the case might be, the important thing is that you’ve got more areas to display your love for your kitty!
How To Know If Your Cat Likes It Or Hates It?
For some cat parents, it’s easy to know whether their precious fluff-lord loves to be petted on their tail or hates it, and there are those who aren’t sure and are too afraid to explore this area. The best way to figure it out is by trying, but it’s important to keep a light hand and remember to not overdo it.
If your kitty’s mood changes for the worse, it can be a clear indication that you’re trespassing. They might hiss at you, give you an angry look, and even try to bite you. But what if the messages they’re sending you are mixed? Well, the answer might be in their tails!
Tail And Body Language
When it comes to understanding your cat’s body language being observant, and patient can be a huge plus. Most importantly with time, you’ll be able to develop a mutual understanding of each other, as John Bradshaw, the director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol in England supports, “many cats and their owners gradually develop an individual “language” that they both understand but that is not shared by other cats or owners.”
But as a new cat parent that’s looking to win over their cat’s heart, tail signals can be very useful!
Position Of The Tail
The understanding of a feline’s body language oftentimes begins with their tail and its position, which can tell a lot about how they’re doing. If your feline companion is walking with a straight-up tail and a curved tip, that’s usually a sign of happiness. In these situations, I sometimes will run my fingers along my cats’ spine and then their tail. I always keep it light and short, as I’ve noticed that they don’t seem to mind a brief tail petting.
Cats that are afraid will usually keep their tails low or tuck them between their hind legs. If this happens because you’ve stroked that area, then you should try to avoid it. An angry kitty on the other hand will usually have their tail standing up and fluffed out along with an arched back. This is another sign you should definitely stop and give your kitty some space.
Motion Of The Tail
While the position of your cat’s tail could help untangle a few of their emotions the tail’s motion also plays a key role. Pay attention to the speed and intensity of the movement. Are they moving the tip or the whole tail? It can be a relaxed and almost unnoticeable wave, or it can be fast and abrupt.
When one of my cats sleeps on my lap I tend to give him a few random strokes here and there, but I’ve noticed that when I do the same to his tail, he will try to move it out of my hands. The thumping motion that follows tells me that I should stay clear of that area.
Your cat’s tail can have a multitude of different motions there can be different combinations, changing from one moment to another depending on their mood and the situation. With time and effort, you’ll be able to understand what they mean.
Movement and position alone can sometimes be misleading, that’s why it’s important to understand the context. For example, while your cat might be enjoying the way you pet them and even like their tail to be touched most of the time, it can be a false move while they’re eating or sleeping.
That’s why before going for the tail stroke make sure your kitty feels safe, they’re relaxed and ready to receive your displays of affection.
How To Groom A Cat That Doesn’t Like Their Tail Touched?
It might sound like a silly question to some because most cats are quite capable of grooming their own tail, but long-haired breeds like the Maine Coon or cats that are a bit “lazy” can face a few obstacles.
The most important thing you should do is ease your cat into it. Find moments that your kitty is completely relaxed and make them comfortable with the idea of grooming altogether before moving to their tail. When you reach the tail, avoid squeezing or pulling on the tail and fur, instead use soft strokes to see how much of a touch they can tolerate.
Buying a good-quality brush can really change your kitty’s perception of grooming. If your cat is uncomfortable with conventional grooming brushes, a great alternative would be for a more gentle approach.
Remember to be patient, praise your kitty and give them a few treats while you brush their tail, and turn this process into a positive one!
Can Cats Live Without Tails?
While we’re still on the subject of tails I think it’s important to mention cats that have extremely short tails or no tails at all, whether it’s the characteristic of their breed or the result of an injury.
Tailless Cat Breeds
One of the most popular breeds that don’t have a tail is the Manx cat from Scotland’s Isle of Man. The reason this breed’s main characteristic is a missing tail lies in a four, unique to this specific breed, mutations.
According to Leslie Lyons, a cat expert and geneticist at the University of Missouri – Columbia, “The mutations were present there, meaning all Manx cats must have come from tailless cats on the island, which has lived there for hundreds of years.”
While tailless breeds can lead a mostly normal life, these genes aren’t beneficial to this breed since cats need their tails and the only way it can be passed down is if both parents are tailless. Despite this little quirkiness, the Manx owners love this breed and claim that they’ve lost other cat characteristics too, “A Manx cat will go for a walk with you,” as well as, “most cats hate water but Manx cats like swimming.”
Another tailless breed is the Japanese Bobtail, which seems to have less potential for health problems than the Manx breed. According to research, “the cat’s short tail stems from a natural genetic mutation. The trait is recessive; if two cats with short tails mate, their kittens will have them as well.”
While both breeds or similar breeds are considered tailless they still have a small hump where the tails should be and that spot is highly sensitive. A few years back my parents were lucky enough to adopt a beautiful Mekong Bobtail cat, and one thing was sure from day one, he doesn’t like anyone touching his tail.
Cats That Lost Their Tails
It’s very unfortunate when a kitty loses their tail, but it’s something that can happen. You might have a cat that lost its tail before it was adopted, or it happened during your care. Accidents happen and cats that are free to go outside are even more likely to sustain an injury or an infection which can lead to a tail loss.
Damage to your kitty’s tail can cause serious nerve damage. According to vets, “because the spinal cord ends so high up, nerves exiting the cord to provide control and sensation to the tail, hind legs, urinary bladder, large intestine, and anus must extend long branches to reach their destination.”
What’s important to remember that no matter how small the trauma, if you notice your cat’s tail hanging, or if the movement seems abnormal you should take them to the vet.
Some injuries might heal all on their own, and you’ll simply have to keep an eye on your kitty and keep it safe from their cat-mates during the healing process. Whatever the course of action might be, it’s important to keep your kitty safe!
It’s incredible how intricately cats are built and even something as seemingly simple as a tail has truly complex structure and functions!
As a cat parent, I think it’s important to appreciate their fluffy tails, knowing that every tail-flick can be a meaningful gesture, that when they jump it helps them stay balanced, and remember that if you have to touch it be gentle.
Now tell us, have you ever asked yourself, why don’t cats like their tails touched and how do your cats feel about their tail being petted?