Cats communicate in a variety of ways. Their purrs can have different meanings, but cats also communicate with body language.

For example, ear position is a good indicator of how a feline is feeling. Upward ears mean a cat is alert or happy, while backward or flat ears mean to steer clear because he's irritated or frightened.

But one of the best ways to get insight into your feline friend's mood is to look at her tail. Take a look below to learn all about the tales your cat's tail can tell.

How to translate cat tail language

1. Straight in the air

straight up cat tail, cat tail language The straight-up tail is a sign of good things. (Photo: Irish Typepad [CC BY-SA 2.0]/Flickr)

When a cat holds its tail high in the air, he's expressing confidence, excitement or contentment. Cats will often greet their owners with their tails straight in the air, which is a cat's way of saying he's happy to see you.

2. Curved like a question mark

cat with tail curved into question mark Like a question mark, this kitty is curious and happy. (Photo: Mauro [CC BY-SA 2.0]/Flickr)

An erect tail with a curve at the end that resembles a shepherd's crook or a question mark indicates friendliness or playfulness. Your cat is telling your it's a good time for some head scratches or to play with a favorite toy.

3. Low tail

cat with low tail, cat language This kitty isn't sure how the situation is going to play out. (Photo: Mattias [public domain]/Flickr)

When felines keep their tails low to the ground, this often means they're unsure of a situation and could be aggressive. However, some breeds, such as Persians and Scottish Folds, tend to carry their tails low even when they're in playful moods.

4. Swishing tail

Cat standing on the edge of a lake wearing a blue walking harness and swishing its tail, cat tail language A swishing tail means something is about to happen. (Photo: Todd Powell/Shutterstock)

Tails that move slowly from side to side are common when a cat is focused on a particular object, such as an insect or a toy. You'll often see this move right before the cat pounces.

5. Flicking tail

a cat flicks its tail on the carpet A cat flicks its tail on the carpet, meaning a storm is coming. (Photo: mtl2tky [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr)

A fast-moving tail that whips back and forth or slaps the ground means a cat is irritated or fearful and will likely exhibit aggression.

6. Puffy tail

frightened orange cat with bushy tail, cat language I'm scared, but I don't want you to know that so I'm making my tiny self big. (Photo: perezoo/Shutterstock)

When a feline's tail becomes spiky or fluffy, the animal is frightened and trying to appear larger to ward off something it perceives as a threat.

7. Tucked tail

cat in harness with tucked tail, scared cat, cat tail language Uncertainty is the name of the game for this kitty. (Photo: Traci Lawson [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr)

A tail tucked beneath the body indicates fear, uncertainty or submission and means something in the cat's environment is making it uneasy.

8. Wrapped around you or another animal

If your kitty wraps his tail around you or another pet in your household, this is the equivalent of placing an arm around a loved one and indicates companionship.

9. Shaking or vibrating tails

When cats hold their tails straight in the air and shake them rapidly, this typically means they're excited or are anticipating something good. Many cat owners report that their pets do this before being fed or receiving treats.

Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was published in January 2014.

Laura Moss writes about a variety of topics with a focus on animals, science, language and culture. But she mostly writes about cats.

What your cat's tail can tell you
Paying attention to a cat's tail language can give you insight into its mood and clue you in to what kind of behavior to expect.