Do Cats Have Prehensile Tails? (How Cats Use Their Tails Explained!)

Do Cats Have Prehensile Tails

Cat’s do not have prehensile tails, no. Cats are very expressive with their tails and use them to communicate with other animals, balance, and get our attention – but cannot use their tails to grab things.

A cat’s tail is an interesting appendage, and they are of course instantly recognizable for having tails.

If you’ve ever wondered if cats have prehensile tails, or what exactly they use their tails for, I’m going to try and answer all of those questions for you!

What Is a Prehensile Tail?

The term prehensile comes from the Latin word prehendere and means “able to grasp”.

A prehensile tail is a tail that an animal can use to grasp or hold onto objects. The most obvious animal with such a tail is a monkey, for example.

The main use for a prehensile tail is to help an animal find and eat food. In the case of a monkey means being able to swing around in the trees and reach food sources.

Some animals are classified as ‘partially prehensile’, this means they are still able to use their tails to aid their balance, but not fully grasp things.

Do Cats Have Prehensile Tails?

Cats do not have prehensile tails, no. A cat is not able to use its tail to grasp or manipulate objects.

Cats do use their tails to aid balancing, but not to the point where they actually wrap it around something.

They do have full control over their tails for the range of motion that is possible. I’m sure you’ve seen a cat flicking its tail, sticking it up in the air, wrapping it around them as they curl up, etc.

But a cat definitely does not have a prehensile or partially prehensile tail.

Which Animals Have Prehensile Tails?

Some more examples of animals with prehensile tails are:

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but there isn’t a long list of animals with prehensile tails.

There are more animals with partially prehensile tails, some of the most commonly known are:

  • Rats
  • Possums
  • Tree porcupines
  • Snakes
  • Chameleons
  • Big-headed Turtles
  • Salamanders

Why Do Cats Have Tails?

Just because cats do not have prehensile tails, it doesn’t mean their tails do not perform an important role in their wellbeing.

There’s a lot more to a cat’s tail than you might expect – they use their tails to:

Communicate – You can tell a lot about a cat’s mood by how its tail is moving. Sometimes it’s passive, and other times a cat will be deliberate about how they’re moving their tails.

For example, when a cat is flicking or lashing its tail around, it’s likely they are agitated. If they stick their tail straight up, they’re happy, and if the end is crooked, there is some indecision.

Related More on why cats quiver their tails.

Balance/hunt – Cats cannot use their tail to grasp objects, but they do use their tails to help them balance when hunting and exploring.

They will move their tails around and shift their weight as needed, as well as tucking it out of the way if they’re trying to sneak up on some prey.

Scent marking – Cats have scent glands on several locations across their bodies; most notably on their cheeks, head, the base of their tails, and along their tails.

Cats use their scent glands to release pheromones. These are chemicals that basically send messages to other cats marking out their territory and signaling ‘ownership’ over areas.

Do Cats Like When You Grab Their Tail?

Most cats do not like it when someone grabs at their tail or tries to use their tail to pet them.

Some are more tolerant of it than others. If you grab a cat’s tail, you can experience reactions ranging from purring and playful nature to being attacked.

It’s important to be aware that a cat’s tail is very sensitive. Their tails are made up of vertebrae, flesh, muscles, and have lots of nerves running through them.

It’s hard for us to imagine what it feels like to have a tail, as we don’t have one. But if you think of it as a thin, fragile appendage, it kind of makes sense.

Cats use the nerves in their tails to pick up information around them. It’s assumed they can pick up changes in temperature, movement in the air, and some of those ‘sixth senses’.

In Summary

While cats may not have prehensile tails, as I explained, a cat’s tail performs several important roles.

The fact is, a cat doesn’t need to grasp things with its tail, as monkeys and some other animals do.

Instead, cats use their tails to make subtle communications, mark areas with their scents and aid their balance.

Cats are perfectly designed just the way they are, from their heads to the tips of their tails!


Image credits – Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash


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