How Does a Cat's Tail Relate to Its Size?

A cat's tail can be short or long, but always has attitude.
i Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

In addition to expressing her mood, you cat’s tail helps her balance and puts an exclamation point on her attitude. This wondrous piece of feline anatomy varies in lengths according to breed and size, and some cats don’t have one at all.

Anatomy of a Tail

A cat’s tail has about 20 vertebrae enclosed in muscles, and held together by ligaments and tendons. About 10 percent of a cat’s bones are in the tail. A cat can hold her tail vertically, move it from side to side, or pull it down between the legs. The average length of this incredibly mobile structure is 11 inches for males and 9.9 inches for females, which indicates tail length generally is relative to size of the cat.

Kitty uses her tail for communication as well as balancing. If Fluffy’s tail is lashing back and forth, you might want to leave her alone for now. If it’s held high and quivers at the tip, she’s happy to see you. If she walks along a fence and looks in one direction, you’ll notice her tail will move in the other direction, shifting her center of gravity.

Breed Standards

The Cat Fanciers’ Association doesn't specify tail length in inches in breeds, but in some breeds, the standard describes the tail in reference to body length. For instance, the American curl standard calls for a tail equal to body length, and the tail of a Birman must be medium in length, in “pleasing” proportion to the body. Breed standards do not always refer to the length of a tail, but when they do, length is relative to body length, or equal to body length from the shoulder blades to the base of the tail.

Mixed Breeds

Chances are your fabulous feline is mixed – most cats are. Her tail may or may not be the same length of her body, or her tail might seem extra long or short for her size. In general, however, a cat’s tail will be close to its body length. If you’re curious and Fluffy just won’t hold still for that measuring tape, you might try to stand her up on her hind legs and see if the tail still reaches the floor – that is, if it isn’t kinked, curled or bobbed. Many mixed breed cats carry genes that affect tail structure and length resulting in these various unusual-looking tails.

Tailless Cats

The Manx is most recognized for its lack of tail, but this breed's can tail actually be several lengths, ranging from a little bit of a bob to several inches long. The gene for taillessness in a Manx is different from the gene that produces the short, kinked tail of a Japanese bobtail. In mixed breeds, short tails, twisted pompoms, kinks and everything in between can be seen, and these cats can be any size. It’s interesting to note that tailless and short-tailed cats have no problem balancing, illustrating that if they don’t have a tail, their inner ear system serves just fine for those high-wire antics.

the nest