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Ask the Doctor November 2016 Issue

Dear Doctor - The flexible nature of the tail

The flexible feline tail

Dreamstime.com

A lot of feline body language is contained in the catís tail ó so much so that it can sometimes appear to have a life of its own!

Q Our two cats are siblings, and have long, handsome tails, which are mostly held straight up. However, the last three to four inches seem to be independent of the rest of the tail. When the tail is straight up, the end of it wags gently back and forth. But when they are stalking something, the majority of the tail is held down, but the end remains up.

My question is: Does the end of the tail have a different innervation than the rest of the tail? Does it operate more autonomously?
Jane Coryell

A Dear Jane: Actually, the end of the tail is not separately innervated. However, a cat does have the ability to position and move the tail in a variety of ways that are expressive of his or her emotional state. For example, a tail that is twitching just at the tip generally is seen in an angry or irritated cat. A high but not stiff tail is curious and friendly. A tail that is drops abruptly from the base (but is not tucked) is an aggressive signal.
Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM
Clinical Instructor
Cummings School of Veterinary
Medicine at Tufts University

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