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The Social Function of Tail Up in Domestic Cats

The Social Function of Tail Up in Domestic Cats

The tail up position of the domestic cat is a signal to the other cat that the meeting is to be amicable. This position of the domestic cat's tail has evolved because the domestic cat has adapted to living in groups and being a social animal, whereas the domestic cat's wild ancestor is the African wildcat, which is a solitary creature.

The only other cat species that presents the tail up position is the lion because they are the only species of wild cat that live in groups called prides.  They lion's tail up position is very similar to the domestic cat's except that the tip of the tail droops forward.

So, the domestic cat's tail up position has evolved out of the hierarchical system that developed because they learned to live in groups.

In hierarchical systems you have dominant and submissive cats-we all know that.  And there will be a top cat in a group.  When a cat who is not at the top greets the top cat he wants to make sure that the greeting is amicable because he wants to avoid aggression towards himself.  The greeting cat needs to play his role within the hierarchal system within the group and ensure that his signal is clearly made to a cat higher up in the hierarchy.

So, the domestic cat tail up position is an example of cat body language.  Scientists are not exactly sure how it developed but may have developed from a newborn kitten greeting his mother with his tail up and then rubbing against his mother in a warm and friendly way with scent exchange.

With the tail up and with the warmth of the greeting the two aspects of that behaviour merged and the vertical tail position developed into an amicable greeting in adulthood and one which is designed to ensure friendship: an affiliative behaviour.

People should not be squeamish by the fact that the tail up position exposes the cat's bottom to them or someone else. That may sound like a silly remark to make but some people are a bit squeamish about this sort of thing but they should remind themselves that the fact that they are seeing their cat's bottom means that their cat's tail is in the air and therefore their domestic cat companion is content and happy to see them and furthermore is behaving in a way which infers that the person is at the top of the hierarchal tree.


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