Cat Tail Wagging: What Different Wags Mean

By: Cheryl Lock

ImageA tail can tell us so many things.

“Everyone has an image of a super friendly dog wagging his tail so hard he looks as though he might be able to take flight,” says Dr. Karyn Collier, DVM, Chief Medical Officer at Saint Francis Veterinary Center. “In this instance the message is clear—that dog is happy.”

There are times, though, Dr. Collier continued, where the message isn’t quite so obvious. “Especially when it comes to cats, tail posture and movement are not quite as easy to interpret,” she said. “They are still, however, sending a message.”

So just what does it mean when Penny’s tail starts thumping the second I begin to pet her? I was eager to find out…

“Behaviorists have logged many hours of research observing cats’ posture and body language during their interactions, both with other cats and with dogs,” says Dr. Collier. “The facial expression, position of the ears and the tail can tell a great deal about the state of mind of the cat. Although the tail position will be discussed, tail position is not relied upon as a single indicator of the cat’s state of mind.”

The Tail Flick

A cat that is holding its tail lower, extended rigidly and is flicking it back and forth is showing signs of offensive aggression. “This is not a happy cat,” says Dr. Collier. “This is encountered frequently during veterinary visits. The cat that is flicking its tail on the exam room table is letting everyone know it does not want to be there.” 

In contrast, a cat that is relaxed and simply surveying the environment may also have the tail lowered, but will leisurely move it and is generally much more content.

The Vertical Hold

A cat that is holding its tail in an upright, vertical position can be considered in a playful mood. “There may be motion back and forth that constitutes a greeting,” says Dr. Collier. “That cat is open to interaction.”

Other times, that upright tail that is quivering back and forth in a cat that has backed up to the wall or furniture could actually be spraying or urine marking. “And yes, female cats spray urine as well as male cats,” Dr. Collier confirms. “A tail that is held upright, but concave, is more of a defensive position or defensive aggression. That cat does not want to interact.”

And of course, a cat with her tail tucked between her legs is showing submission or fear.

The Arched Tail

Arched back. Pinned ears. Erect tail. “This cat is ready to react in either a defensive or offensive manner,” says Dr. Collier. “It will do whatever it deems is necessary, and is signaling to the other parties that he or she is ready to react.”

The takeaway? “Cats are very expressive creatures, and often use their body posture, the position of their ears, their facial expression and the position and movement of their tails to convey their feelings and intentions,” says Dr. Collier. “Unlike the aforementioned dog who is frantically wagging his tail, if a cat is ‘wagging’ his tail back and forth, it is very unlikely that the emotion he or she is expressing is joy.”


Reduce Your Pet’s Ricks of Overheating

ImageBe cautious on humid days – Humidity interferes with animals’ ability to rid themselves of excess body heat.

Short muzzled breeds – Bulldogs, Boxers, Pekinese, Pugs, Persian Cats, and other pets with flatter faces are not able to effectively cool themselves by panting and should not be outside for long periods of time.

Special needs pets – Puppies under 6 months, elderly and overweight pets and those with heart or lung diseases have a hard time regulating their body temperature and should be kept in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible.

Active animals – Limit intense exercise in the summer months. Exercise your pet in the early morning or late evening. Be alert for the possibility of overheating and over exertion, even in moderate temperatures. Many dogs will continue playing or running to keep up with their owner, to the point of exhaustion.

Grooming – A matted, or poorly maintained coat will retain heat.

Indoors and out – Pets need access to fresh, cool water

If you love them, leave them at home – Despite warnings not to leave animal in cares, every year there are reports of dogs dying after being left alone in vehicles, some for very short periods of time.

Although it may not seem very warm outside, the interior of a car can heat up to dangerous levels very quickly even with the windows cracked open.

Parking in the shade is not a safe alternative. The car can literally act as an oven, heating up hotter and hotter the longer it sits.

Before you put your pet in the car, ask yourself if you really need to take your pet with you. If your pet will be left unattended in the vehicle for any period of time, it is best to leave him safely at home.

How to Deal with Unwanted Chewing – Cesar’s Way

ImageDogs chew. It’s in their nature, and it’s totally normal behavior. If you try to stop them the only result will be that both you and your dog will become frustrated.

So what you should do is honor their instinct and direct them to something acceptable to chew. Chewing the right things can help strengthen and clean their teeth and provide an intellectual challenge.

What should you do if you come home to find that your best friend has gone through a pair of shoes or destroyed a piece of expensive furniture? The first thing to remember is that it will do no good to discipline the dog or lose your temper and start yelling. Your dog won’t associate your angry reaction with something that happened in the past.

Unless you catch him in the act, he’ll have no idea what you’re upset about. In fact, getting upset could even make matters worse, because your dog will become nervous — and one of the ways dogs calm their nerves is by chewing.

Of course, if you catch your pet in the act, then go ahead and correct the behavior. Stay calm, and lightly touch your pup on the neck or hindquarters to redirect his attention. Don’t try to pull the object away from him if he doesn’t drop it. Instead, try to redirect his attention to a more appropriate item, like a chew toy.

Once your dog has dropped the object, it is important for you to claim it as your own. Use your body language to make it clear that there’s a connection between you and the object. You can pick it up and hold it close to your body, or if it’s something bigger, place yourself close to it and imagine an invisible boundary around you and it. Show calm, assertive energy and make a physical statement that says mine!

Chewing the wrong things isn’t just annoying for you, it can be dangerous for pets. They can break things into pieces small enough to swallow, and they can bite through electric wires or power cords.

Why do dogs chew? Adult dogs do it to calm themselves. It is also something that engages their minds. This may be a habit they’ve had from the time they were puppies and teething. (Chewing helps relieve the pain in their gums as new teeth break through.)

Although it is thought that the memory of ending an unpleasant feeling from puppyhood may help make a dog calm again, you don’t want your dog’s peace of mind to come at the expense of your best furniture! Since we know that dogs want to chew, the smart approach is to make sure we direct them to things we want them to chew.

Give them safe chew toys or consult your vet about edible objects like bones, rawhide, or other chews. Do make sure that plastic and rubber toys are big enough that your dog can’t swallow them. And if it’s the kind of toy you can hide a treat in, make sure it has holes in both ends so air can flow through.

Dogs have 42 teeth — 10 more than humans — with much sharper ones in front and powerful molars in the back that are capable of snapping a bone in two. Because, psychologically, dogs find the action of chewing calming, make sure your best friend has appropriate things to chew.

From the August issue of Cesar’s Way magazine.

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