A cat's tail isn't just for decoration -- in fact, it's actually very practical. Cats use their tails for balance, but also for communication, meaning that tail movement is as voluntary as waving your arms. While the way you cat uses his tail varies, it's always thanks to his anatomy.
Inside the Tail
Your cat's tail may look simple, but inside, there's a lot going on. The cat's tail is structured around vertebrae from base to tip, and it's fortified with muscles, tendons and ligaments -- it's basically another limb. The muscles inside the tail are perfectly voluntary, too, meaning that your cat makes a conscious choice to move his tail around -- while sometimes it's reflexive, he generally manipulates it at will.
Obviously, a cat suffering from a fractured tail has vertebrae damage -- but that's not the only type of trouble your cat can encounter when he has a tail injury. The tail is chock full of nerve endings, so if your cat has a tail injury, it can affect his bladder, bowel movements and hind leg coordination. If a cat never uses his tail -- for example, always letting it drag on the ground -- he likely has suffered a tail injury that can present itself with these other symptoms.
A cat moves his tail as a method of silent communication -- cats aren't always big talkers, but that doesn't mean they won't try to tell you something with their tails. For example, if your cat's tail is pointed up with a slight bend at the tip, that's his way of telling you he's really happy. If you're holding him in your lap and petting him, on the other hand, he may swish his tail slowly from side to side -- that's his way of telling you his patience is wearing thin. If you know how to read your cat's tail language, you can eliminate some of the guesswork in your relationship.
Just like a tightrope walker carries a balancing pole on the high wire, your cat uses his tail as a way of maintaining his balance on a daily basis. Along with his whiskers, his tail helps him manage his equilibrium when he's trotting along a windowsill, tree branch or particularly treacherous kitchen counter. If your cat takes a tumble, he actually uses his tail to help correct himself in midair, which is why cats "always land on their feet."
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.