Why Do Cats’ Tails Puff Up When They’re Scared?

The answer is much simpler than you think and there’s a word for it!

By Justyne Yuen-Lee

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Credit: Giphy / Reddit

If you’ve ever seen a cartoon kitty get scared, you can probably describe their body language easily– arched back, tail upright, and sometimes an extremely puffy tail! If you have a cat or watch cat videos frequently (who doesn’t?) then you’ve probably seen your fair share of kitties getting scared – usually by cucumbers. It happens often enough that artists enjoy incorporating it into TV shows, but is there a legitimate reason for the behavior?

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Humans get goosebumps when they’re afraid, experts say, because back when we were hairier, our hairs would stand on end to make us look bigger. And for the same reason cats’ tails puff up to appear bigger to whatever is scaring them.

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It might not always work – but it shows effort!

Dr. Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant who studied at the University of California says that cats with puffed tails detect a threat and try to ward that threat off by looking even more threatening!

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It’s a biological instinct that’s hardwired into most animals including birds! This “piloerection” is a phenomenon that animals use as a response to danger.

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