Why do cats have tails?
Tails may look weird or even weird-looking, but there is a logic to their design. And as to why they're so ubiquitous in cat species, their origins have a story too.
The Cat Tail by David E. Shibley
We asked ourselves the same question when we first saw them: Why do cats have tails?
We knew it was a question as old as the cat family itself, but the deeper answer is probably older than the cat family itself.
Cats didn't evolve in a forest-filled, ice-age world. The first cats were born around 35 million years ago (million = 10 to the power 6 years) on the warm, fertile plains and deserts of Africa, the place we now call the Great Rift Valley. From that beginning, cats radiated across the globe, and the reason for tails has traveled with them.
We humans are so accustomed to living with tails, we forget there once were times when they didn't exist. And as we've learned in the last decade, they're not just decorative appendages. Without a tail, cats are slower than many small mammals and can't walk as well as other cats. (Tails help balance them while walking.) They move slower on all fours and climb more awkwardly on trees and cliffs. Cats with tails are also more likely to live to be over ten years old.
So tails are critical. They give a cat a fighting chance in a world that used to be filled with saber-toothed tigers and other predators that had big teeth. In that old world, a cat could use a tail to balance while walking, as well as for the simple reason that it's easier to move while walking on all fours if the cat has a tail. On the bright side, cats with tails live longer, and cats with tails are better at walking. In fact, a cat's tail isn't all tail.
You'll learn the whole story of a cat's tail in more detail in the next few chapters. And you'll see how all cats in the wild have tails. But for now, the bottom line is that whether or not a cat's tail is an essential appendage to survival, and whether or not its tail helps balance and propel the cat, the truth is that our domestic cats have tails. But why do they have tails?
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**THE DIRTY LITTLE SECRET**
**FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS**
**Q:** Why does a cat need a tail?
**A:** A cat's tail keeps it balanced while it's walking. It has the same job as a dog's tail and is used to control its balance.
**Q:** Why do cats in the wild have tails?
**A:** Without a tail, a cat can't get around. Its tail helps it walk and balance, and that makes it a better hunter.
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A WORD ABOUT TIGERS
**T** egor, in his book _Tiger Man_ , tells a story about seeing two tigers together at the Bronx Zoo in New York. "They were the same age, and were about the same size, both big and powerful. They played together, as if they were brothers, and seemed very happy. The two tigers spent a lot of time together, playing and wrestling, even getting a bit excited.
"Finally, the female gave birth to a third tiger cub, whom she looked after well. After a while she seemed content to lie in the sun and relax. The cub was growing rapidly, though, and became more active.
"Now, to me it seemed she was getting restless, probably just bored with lying around the den. So one day, when she was alone and still a little bit hungry, the mother tiger picked up her cub and carried it off, probably to get some food for it."
If the tiger has no tail to balance it and protect it, it could roll over, making it easy to swallow.
Tigers are the only cat in the world that can stand completely upright on its hind legs.
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_T_ HE _F_ URBAN _P_ UBER
**F** rom ancient times to the present, the cat has been considered the royal animal. Egyptian statues of cats show them in the role of king or queen of the home, as their pictures show us. In the Middle Ages, cats were considered to be the guardian of castles and were respected as such. When the German emperor, Friedrich Barbarossa, captured the Holy Land from the Muslims, he brought with him cats to feed the crocodiles in his palace. The emperor himself considered cats to be "gentle and noble, and the most beautiful of all animals."
Tigers were once among the most feared animals of the world. When European explorers arrived in Asia, the tiger was still considered dangerous enough to be portrayed in pictures in the _Book of Animals_ , a book that contained the most revered zoological knowledge of the Middle Ages. The illustration on the previous page shows an illustration from that book. Its caption describes the Tiger of the Amboas as a wild cat with large eyes and a sharp and terrible tooth.
Today, as humans become more civilized, the image of the tiger changes, especially when it becomes a pet.
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_T_ HE _K_ AT _W_ AR
**I** magining the cat as a "cat-wolf" is, of course, rather an exaggeration. There is evidence that cats used to hunt in packs of up to fifty. The evidence comes from the archaeological digs that have been performed in Britain, which have revealed the remains of a prehistoric pack of about twelve cats. In contrast, most cats live alone today. This does not mean, however, that a cat's life is all alone, lonely, and dull. According to _Merriam-Webster's Dictionary_ , cat-charming comes from the Greek word for cat, _kattos_. It means to "please, please, charm, delight."
The expression "He's a cat in the sack," meaning that a person is a bad time to get involved with, comes from the Old French word _katte_ , which was used for the cats that were used for the hunt. "He's a cat on hot bricks" is an expression for a person who seems to always be in a bad mood, someone who always seems to be in the mood to complain, someone who seems to never have a good time. The idea comes from the French, _cat d'échasses_ , which was used for the heavy trap used to catch rabbits and other small prey. When used as a reference to a person, the expression means that the person is "tough," that he or she does not play the victim, but will stand up for himself or herself and not let anything get to him or her.
One of the reasons that cats are not domesticated is that they are wild animals, and even though they live on a domestic scale, they are not domesticated. _Domesticated_ , meaning having a life free of external control, comes from the Latin word _dominare_ , meaning to "dominate." If you want your cat to be domesticated, it has to have external control. When cats are "domesticated" they lose their natural wild behavior, their hunting instincts, and much of their hunting skills.