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Why Is My Cat’s Tail Always Erect? (Should I worry?)

If you have noticed that your cat’s tail is always erect, you may be worried, or just interested to know why… 

Why is my cat’s tail always erect?

This is sometimes a good sign, although it depends on how your cat is also holding their fur. When the fur on the tail is bristling out, then this indicates that they are stressed, worried, or even preparing for aggression.

So, now you know. But, should I be concerned about this? When should a cat tail be erect, normally? Why do cats even need a tail? Keep reading for these answers, and much more…

If my cat’s tail is erect through stress, what could happen?

A cat next to a wall with an erect tail.

A cat next to a wall with an erect tail.

If you see this, then be careful… a stressed cat might bolt, but you might also get nipped if they feel that you are pushing them into something that they don’t want.

If the tail simply looks perky, however, then your cat is excited in a happy way and they are confident that something good is about to happen. Look for the ‘question mark’ as well. This is when your cat has their tail up, but they are curling the tip slightly so that the tail is like a question mark or a shepherd’s crook.

This can mean that they aren’t sure what you are up to or in some cases, it’s the equivalent of your cat simply asking you for attention.

Should I be concerned if my cat’s tail is always erect?

If in doubt, contact your vet. But, be concerned if the tail is always up and bristling. This indicates that your cat is very stressed and may well lash if it feels ‘cornered’ or otherwise ‘pushed’. In a case like this, you want to pay close attention to the context of this behavior.

Does it occur when a particular person is around? Have you recently introduced another animal into the house? Cats are very particular about their surroundings and schedule… they don’t like change and it can take them a while to adjust.

If your cat has a constantly stiff, bristled tail of late then it might be good to use a ‘baby gate’ to separate off one room for your cat.

This way, they’ll have a safe place that they can go to get away from the source of their stress and if this happens to be a new person or animal in the house, it gives them a private spot they can flee to from time to time until they adjust to the changes in the house.

If this doesn’t help, consider a vet visit, as your cat’s trepidation might indicate that pain or another underlying condition is driving their severe response.

When should a cat’s tail be erect, normally?

Good examples of when you might see this behavior are times that you are feeding your cat and just coming home. In both cases, your cat is happy, they know what to expect, and they are a little excited about it. In response, their tail perks right up and they pad over to you in happy expectation.

You’ll also see the negative, ‘bristly tail’ from time to time in response to stressful stimuli. If a stray cat wanders in the backyard, for instance, or if you bring a new pet home and your cat isn’t sure about them, then in these cases the tail will also go right up and their fur will puff out.

This defensive move makes your cat look ‘bigger’ in an attempt to scare off the perceived threat. If your cat is curious or trying to prompt a particular response from you, such as petting or feeding them, then they might raise their tail and curl the tip slightly, either keeping it that way or curling and curling it.

Finally, when your cat is hunting something or thinking very hard about doing so, they will raise their tail and swish it slowly to and fro. If they do this when they are sitting, it may also indicate that they are stressed and considering an aggressive response to the problem.

Why do cats need a tail?

While cats that lose their tails will learn to adjust, these appendages are quite useful for cats. They provide communication cues, for one thing, but they are also an extension of your cat’s spine and they help to provide a little extra balance. They can also help your cat to stay warm, with that little bit of extra fur curling around them like a warm, fuzzy scarf.

Why is my cat’s tail puffed up all the time?

In cartoons, a surprised and stressed cat puff-up and their fur sticks out in all directions, with their tail straight-up in the air and a surprised screech. This is exaggerated, but only a little – this is something that a cat really does when they are stressed and startled.

If your cat is puffing their tail up all of the time, then they are under a lot of stress, so consider if anything has changed in the house very recently. If the behavior seems out of the blue and you can’t find anything in the house, keep an eye on the porch for strays.

Cats are very territorial and if a stray is spending time in the backyard then your cat will be on edge. If you don’t find any obvious reasons for your cat’s stress, then it’s time for a vet checkup as your cat should not be stressed all of the time and a health condition is a possibility at this point.

How do you read a cat’s tail?

A person touching an orange cat.

A person touching an orange cat.

Your cat’s tail can tell you a lot if you know what to watch for. Here is a ‘mini primer’ to give you examples of some common cues as to what your cat is feeling based on the position of their tail:

  • Straight up/perky – Your cat is happy and confident.
  • Straight up/fur puffed – Your cat is frightened and trying to look big and scary.
  • Tucked between legs – Your cat is frightened and showing submission.
  • Whipping back and forth – Your cat is preparing to pounce, out of fear or simple aggression.
  • Lowered tail – Your cat Is about to react aggressively. Be careful.
  • Tail curled around your arm or another animal – Your cat is showing affection or being possessive.
  • Tip of tail curved slightly – Your cat is curious or asking for attention.

Do cats wag their tails when they’re happy?

Yes, they do, but it’s more of a ‘play’ happy than a ‘general’ happy. If you have more than one cat and you’ve seen them wrestle and ‘play-fight’, take a look at their tails. You’ll notice that they are wagging back and forth.

 If things get too rough, then the fur on the tails will bristle up – this is how you can tell a real fight from a play fight.

Your cat will commonly wag their tail when they are looking at a new toy and thinking about all the fun things that they are about to do to it. So, wagging the tail is happy, but it’s a ‘predatory’ sort of happy!

What does it mean when cats wag their tail while lying down?

This is your cat’s way of showing frustration. Essentially, they are saying ‘I’m irritated… but I’m tolerating this for now’. If your cat is doing this, now is not a good time to pet them, as you might get nipped for your troubles.

You might be able to change their mood with the offer of a treat, but it’s probably best just to give your cat a little space for now.

Why is my cat’s tail hard?

Your cat’s tail should be quite flexible and expressive and if it seems to be limp or ‘stuck’ in a certain way, then it could be a sign of nerve damage, a tail fracture, or another underlying condition that is preventing or discouraging your cat from moving it.

If you are seeing this, then you should take your cat in to see the vet. X-rays and other testing may be required to determine the cause of your cat’s limited mobility in their tail – this is definitely abnormal.

Does my cat hit me with his tail on purpose?

Sometimes, yes. Depending on the context and the force behind it, your cat might be expecting something, happy with you, or irritated with you. A quick tail-slap to the face after quickly turning around is a sign of annoyance, just as a heavy tail-slap on the arm when your cat is next to you can indicate displeasure.

A softer touch of the tail, especially if it is curling a little around you is a happy touch and a way that your cat is showing expression. If your cat is hitting you lightly with a wagging tail and looking up at you expectantly, then this means that they expect something from you – likely petting or something that you do every day at this time.

Remember, cats like things to be ordered and scheduled, so consider the context, the force being used behind the tail, and your usual daily routine and you should be able to interpret exactly what your kitty is trying to say.

Lindsey Browlingdon