Tuesday, July 25, 2017

How to Pull your Cat's Tail

A few days ago, I was wandering around a used bookstore, one with cats on staff, perhaps to calm the customers into reading. 

As I knelt down to browse a lower shelf, the local grey, one I'm very familiar with, walked between me and the shelf.  I reached out and scratched his head, then under the chin.  As he passed by, I rubbed his back and then wrapped my fingers around his tail to give him a nice back stretch. He pulled slowly and when the tail released, he came back for another round. We had met before. I rubbed under his chin, but he seemed distracted by that. As he passed, I touched his back and again took his tail.  He pulled slowly, stretching his back, and then, just as his tail released, a staff member came out of an office door.

"Please don't pull the cat's tail!" she admonished.

To be honest, I was at a loss for words. There was little to be said. She has three cats, but evidently never pulls their tails.  Pity.  I was guilty.  The cat, as cats do, strolled away unaware of any issue.  I bought a book and left. And then I wondered... how many people don't know how to pull a cat's tail?

Cats vs Dogs 

Maybe you've seen the internet image of How to Pet a Dog - everywhere is good, and How to Pet a Cat - lots of forbidden territory.  It's  cute image, but not very accurate.

Not every dog likes to be touched, and not every dog likes to be touched everywhere. Dogs can be dangerous. When in Peru, I walk a Dalmatian, every day.  He's not fond of touch - and deaf in one ear.  If I touch his left ear, he will snap, bark, and bite. Even if I only pretend to touch that ear - he will snap. The other ear? No problem.

Dogs are Babies, Children

Although many dogs love attention, love to be touched, even carried, every dog is in individual. Dogs are social animals. Domesticated dogs are babies, or immature children, never attaining adulthood, but even children can be touchy, angry, or dangerous.

Cats are Adults

Cats, on the other hand, are independent adult animals, with independent adult behaviors.  Cat's don't care if you care about them. They have little desire to please you, unless it brings them some reward. For dogs, attention is their reward. Your cat? meh.

Cats like to be touched, rubbed, caressed, on their own terms. Cats will snuggle up, even rub, lick, or bite your hand it they want to be petted.  But sometimes, when you reach to pet them - they change their minds and walk away.  Sometimes, they decide to play - to attack your hand. Sometimes, they want you to pet them, but just so. And sometimes not. Cats have boundaries.

As an adult, when a cat decides it's time to leave, to do something else, even to do nothing else, they go. Cats have boundaries. Attempting to pet them when they don't want to be petted, is crossing the boundary, and can lead to trouble. Cats have claws.

Many cat's don't like people touching their tummy - ours is usually just fine with that, but she's been around us for 18 years.

And then there's the tail.

The Tail of A Cat

A cat's tail is complex. It often seems the cat is not conscious of their tail. Most of the time, it follows them around. Sometimes it gets stuck in doorways, as the cat decides to go in, or out, or to take time to decide. 

When a cat is hunting, the tail is interesting.  Maybe you seen the hunter's tail, flicking as the cat stalks a real or imaginary prey, and thought "doesn't that warn the prey?" There are several human attempts to explain this behavior - but the simplest is that it works. Somehow, it helps the cat to hunt.

Cats, and tails, and children, on the other hand, don't mix well. Children see the cat, and would like to touch, hold, pet, eg. control, the cat. Cat's don't want to be controlled. They leave, and their tail trails behind.  The child grabs the cat - by the tail of course, and a battle ensues.

This is what we usually envision as "pulling the cat's tail".

It leaves the impression that cat's don't like to have their tails pulled.  Cats love having their tails pulled - on their own terms. They just don't want to be pulled by their tails. That's crossing their boundary - unless they decide to like it, which sometimes they do.

How to Pet a Cat's Tail

When you pet a cat along the back, they raise up their hind legs, to rub the tailbone against your hand. Often the cat will circle back for more. The spine, the tail is wanting attention.

It's easy to pet a cat.  It's harder to pet the cat's tail.  But you can learn. It's the first step to successfully pulling a cat's tail. Pet the cat's back and as it passes by, or lies there, or does whatever your cat does, extend the petting action to the tail. Almost all cats cat will tolerate this. Most will enjoy and circle back for more. Or just purr....

How to Pull a Cat's Tail

Once you learn to pet the cat's tail, you can advance to the next stage. As the cat passes under your hand, you gently hold the tail - and let the cat pull. Now you are petting the entire tail, not just the top. Your cat might arch their back in satisfaction, and circle back for more, or leave. Cats are like that.

As you build confidence in yourself, and in your cat, you can grasp tighter.  As your grasp tightens, the petting action becomes a massage, stretching the cat's spine.  Cats quickly learn to love this, even more than being petted.  And then they get tired of it. And go away.


If the cat has spent some time with young children, any attempt to grab the tail can bring back bad memories - and the cat might fight or flee.  If you try too hard, the cat will take offence. If you relax, the most cats can learn to relax as well.

Pulling Cat's Tails, for the Health of It

I practice pulling tails on many cats, and I often see cats in conflict. Some love it. Some want to flee, to protect themselves, but they want their back rubbed, or stretched, by having their tail pulled.  They move away, and circle back for more.  Gradually, as they learn to trust. I am not pulling them by their tail. They are pulling. They are in charge, they enjoy the stretch. If they pull a bit harder, in enjoyment, I help them.  If they show distress, I release and they escape. They understand that they are in control. Often, they come back.

Cats like to be in control. Cat's like to have their back stretched.  But they can't do it themselves. As they learn, and their 'person' learns, both can enjoy a new perspective on "how to pull a cat's tail", for the health of it.

I know one cat, a large male, that loves, loves, loves to have his tail pulled. He lets me grasp his tail and then pulls himself away by his claws on the carpet. The first day we first met, his owner exclaimed in total surprise - "He likes having his tail pulled?", watching him coming back for more, and more, and more. Rubbing up against my leg, purring loudly.

The cat in the bookstore?  It enjoyed having it's tail pulled. It wasn't scared, or offended. I crossed no cat boundaries. The boundary I crossed was in the perception of the clerk. The cat returned for a second round, and then - off to attend to other cat matters. Cats are independent.

to your health, tracy
gentle cat-tail-puller