September 19, 2018 3 min read

When stroking their pets’ fluffy hair, owners rarely wonder, what so cats need a tail for? You might imagine that it plays no significant role in the cat’s life. Perhaps, kittens can chase their own tails for entertainment, but that’s it. However, you would be wrong to think like that. It turns out that this body part is essential to the animal’s social behavior and movement.

Body Structure

Anatomically, the answer to the question of what cats need a tail for is quite simple. It’s an integral part of their body, a continuation of the spine. The cat’s tail is comprised of several spinal bones. Five of them are part of the spinal cord, and the smaller ones aren’t. The tip of the tail is a special pointed bone.

All spinal bones are movably connected to each other and separated by intervertebral disks. Depending on the breed, the tail can have from 20 to 27 bones in it. Norwegian Forest cats have the longest tail amongst all breeds: their tails are up to 40 cm in length. In addition to that, their tails are exceptionally fluffy and voluminous.

Cats are known for their flexibility, and their tails are no exception. This is why breeders were able to create a breed with a tail in the shape of a ring. The breed is actually called a Ringtail.

        The breeders didn’t stop on that, and now we have Manx and Bobtail cats with a short tail or without a tail at all.

If you came for scientific answers to the question of what cats need a tail for, we’ve got you covered:

  • It’s a tool that allows the animal to maintain balance when jumping or falling. It plays a significant role in every cat’s trademark ability, which is landing on all four legs. During the “flight”, the tail works as a counterbalance and a lever, so that the cat can turn its body in mid-air and safely land on all four legs.
  • Also, cats need a tail to move quickly and hit their targets. All felines, even the biggest ones, hit themselves in the back by the tail and move the back of the body before jumping on their target. This is how they “take aim”. It’s because of the tail cats miss their prey so rarely.
  • At last, cats use a tail as a steering gear. It prevents them from “drifting” and turning over during sharp turns at full speed. 

Tail as a Mean of Communication

However, cats need a tail not only for jumping, running, balancing and hunting. This body part is an important means of expressing their emotional state. If the tail twitches nervously, it means that the cat is confused. If the cat is waving its tail and lays back its ears, it’s likely that you’re about to be attacked. A tucked tail is an obvious sign of fear and obedience.

The highly raised fluffy tail tells that the cat is in a good mood and is ready to play. Also, it may mean that the cat is asking you to follow it. All in all, an upset animal may look indifferent, but its tail will tell you everything about its emotional state.

Even the sleeping or fully relaxed cat can wave its tail from time to time. By doing so the cat shows that it’s aware of its surroundings and reacts to everything that’s going on. This body part is essential for communication not only with humans but also with other cats and animals. If the cat’s tail and fur are standing up, it means that it’s trying to make itself look bigger and intimidate the opponent.

Very often these independent beauties don’t let anyone come close to their tails. It’s a symbol of the cat’s dignity, and any attempts to touch it will be prevented, sometimes even with shouts and scratching.

Also, every cat's strong feelings about their tails can be explained by the heavy innervation of the body part, which makes it very sensitive. You should never try to grab or pull the cat by its tail. You will not only insult its dignity but will also cause it a great deal of pain and discomfort. Nature does everything for a reason, and cats have a tail for a pretty good reason too.

Kawaii Meow
Lover of Japanese culture, cats, and self-help hacks. The biggest cat online store.


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