Cats have become so intertwined in our everyday lives that it is easy to forget that they were once wild animals that had to hunt for their food and live out in the wild. Of the many features of a cat that have remained from their wild days, the tail is perhaps one of the most intriguing. It serves a variety of different purposes from assisting with balance to potentially even keeping the cat warm during colder months.
Below, we look at five of the reasons why cats have long tails and the purposes they serve, and we also take a look at some other interesting cat tail facts.
The 5 Reasons Why Cats’ Tails Are So Long
1. They Help Them Balance
In the same way that a person puts their hands up to balance if they feel themselves toppling or falling over, a cat uses its tail as a counterbalance. This doesn’t mean that cats with short tails or no tails are unable to balance because felines use a variety of body parts and features to aid in balance. Their inner ears act as a level so they know which way is up. They have articulated spines, too, which act like shock absorbers and allow them to enjoy a cushioned landing.
2. They Help with Urination and Defecation
If you’ve seen a cat shaking its tail when it wees, this is an indication that the tail is used during the urination and defecation process. When a cat has to have its tail amputated, difficulties going to the toilet can persist afterward and an operation may be required to help remedy this problem.
3. Tails Help Communicate
Cats’ tails can be a good indication of how your cat is feeling. Most domestic cats keep their tails in an upright position, and this is a sign that they are alert, lively, and not anxious. Wild cats actually keep their tails between their legs or lowered, which keeps them out of harm’s way. If you see a cat flicking its tail, it means that the cat is probably irritated by something. If it is swishing its tail, it might be playful or agitated.
4. Tails Act as Invitations
The use of the tail as a means of communication is also evident between cats. If a cat lifts its tail to another cat, this is essentially an invitation, and the tail cat is letting the other cat know that it is OK to smell their rear end. It might not seem that pleasant an invitation to us, but it is a sign of trust in cats.
5. They use Them for Warmth
When a cat really curls up into a tight ball to sleep, it is not just getting comfy, but it could be using its own body warmth to help stay warm, and the tail acts as part of this barrier against the cold. The tail will come up under or around the face and give an extra fluffy layer against intemperate conditions.
Other Facts About Cat Tails
Cat tails are incredible, but cats are surprisingly agile without them, as long as they don’t suffer a serious and long-lasting problem as a result of losing their tail.
1. Cats Can Get by Without Them
Unfortunately, plenty of cats do end up losing their tails. It can happen because of accidents involving doors and sharp objects, or because the tail becomes infected after a fight or other injury. Whatever the cause, a cat can typically survive just fine without a tail. Their other senses will adapt and make up for the loss of the tail and you may be hard-pressed to see any difference in a cat after it has had its tail removed, other than the obvious physical difference.
2. But Tail Injuries Can Be Serious
With that said, because there are muscles in the tail that are used to help control urination and defecation, and a host of other nerves, serious injury to the tail can have a lasting effect. Some cats that lose their tails need to have follow-up operations to minimize the impact of the lost tail.
3. Some Breeds Are Born with No Tails
Some breeds, like the Manx, are born with no tail. They don’t suffer any physical hardship for the lack of a tail. They are perfectly capable of running, jumping, balancing, and communicating with one another without ever having a tail.
Catts have a lot of tools at their disposal, from whiskers that let them know of gaps that are too small, to their incredible tails that assist in everything from balance to communication. As important as the tail is, though, most cats survive just fine if they have to have their tails removed and some species, such as the Manx, are born with no tail.
However, people should never grab a cat by the tail and certainly shouldn’t try to pull or carry a cat using this appendage.
Featured Image Credit: Vadim Tashbaev, Pixabay