What is the cat tail for?
The cat’s tail is an extension of the spine and helps the cat balance and communicate. Caudal (tail) vertebrae account for 10% of the bones in the cat’s body. The average number of bones in the tail is between 20 and 23.
Some breeds of cat are known for their short tail or even a complete absence of a tail. The Manx cat is probably the most famous cat to come to mind. Their tail or lack of comes in several forms.
- Rumpy with no tail
- Rumpy riser, with some vertebrae
- Stumpy with a longer but deformed tail
- Longie the tail is longer still but still shorter than the average cat’s tail
The tail is an important tool to help keep the cat balanced when it walks along a fence. The cat uses the tail as a counterweight; if the looks left, the tail will move in the opposite direction.
The tail can tell us (and other animals) a lot about the cat’s current mood.
- Swishing violently from side to side – Angry cat, possibly about to attack.
- Held to one side – Sexual invitation from a female cat in heat.
- Lowered and fluffed out – The cat is fearful.
- Lowered and tucked between the hind legs – A submissive and frightened cat.
- Held straight up and fully bristled – The cat is aggressive.
- Raised and softly curved – Friendly cat greeting you.
- Held still, tip twitching – Mild irritation.
- Lowered and curved upwards – Relaxed cat.
- Fuzzed or puffed up – Scared cat.
Some cats have a habit of sucking their tail. This is a throwback to infancy and is generally harmless unless done excessively, and then there may be some damage.
Some cats, especially Siamese and Burmese can be born with a kink in their tail. It’s harmless in itself and causes the cat no pain or discomfort, it is a disqualifying fault on the show bench, though. Purebred cats born with kinked tails are usually sold as pets, and not used to breed or exhibit.
It is said that the reason a Siamese cat’s tail is kinked is that a Princess of the Royal House of Siam would place her rings on the tail of the Siamese while she bathed. Some say the cat fell asleep and the rings fell off, so she tied the tail in a knot in the future. Others say the cat itself kinked his tail to stop the rings from falling off. Either way, it’s a lovely story of how the Siamese came to have a kinked tail. The reality is it’s a genetic trait inherited from the parents.
Injuries and diseases of the cat tail
- The tail can sustain injuries; the most common is a broken tail. Car accidents, being pulled or stepped on, and shut in the door are the most common causes of broken tails.
- Abscess is another injury that can occur on the cat and is usually caused by a cat bite.
- Stud tail (also known as supracaudal gland hyperplasia or tail gland hyperplasia) is caused by hypersecretion of the glands in the supracaudal organ (an organ on the base of the tail).
- Degloving injuries, in which the skin is torn off the underlying tissue usually the result of being hit or dragged by a car.
- Tail dislocation is where one or more bones dislocate (move) from their normal position. These types of injuries typically occur if the tail is stepped on or pulled.