Have you ever tried petting a cat with a wagging tail, but instead of being greeted with love and affection, you ended up being greeted with a bunch of scratches? And so you wonder, if the tail wagging doesn’t mean “come pet me,” then why do cats wag their tails?
Often, we equate tail wagging to a friendly greeting. However, this isn’t always the case. In the realm of cats (or even dogs), tail wagging isn’t really an open invitation for you to pet your furry friend. In fact, it may mean just the opposite.
So, if you’re a fur parent who tends to misread your cat’s body language, read on. Here, you’ll discover what those tail twitching, quivering, swishing, and wagging all mean.
After all, Feline Living and its team of cat-doting geeks just love to uncover any pet food- or cat-related behavior, your cat’s tail language included.
Benefits Of Understanding Feline Body Language
Cats are truly mysterious creatures. One minute, they’re approaching you with their tails wagging with delight, then the next minute, they’re already looking irritated. It’s crazy! But maybe you’re just reading their body language all wrong.
As kids, we’ve been taught how to read emotions by looking at another person’s face – their eyes, eyebrows, and lips included.
When it comes to reading your cat’s emotions, you’ll realize how paying attention to your cat’s tail wagging motion will help you understand your pet cat better.
Your cat’s eyes (whether it’s dilated or constricted), ears (if it’s flat or perked up), and the movement and position of their tails tell a lot about their emotions.
However, cats’ tails, which seem to have a life of their own, can tell you a lot about how your cat is feeling.
Once you know what your cat’s tail movements and positions mean, you’d be able to:
- Know what your cat is feeling in a particular situation
- Identify the situations that make your cat feel stressed, fearful, playful, or happy
- Determine if your cat is feeling unwell or in pain
Cat Tail Language 101: Why Do Cats Wag Their Tails?
Same with your pet dog, cats wag their tails for various reasons. It can mean that your cat is feeling annoyed, or that they’re in the mood for playing, or that your cat is ready to pounce.
As a cat owner, you want to know exactly what your cat wants. Petting them at an inappropriate time is just something you’d like to avoid. After all, cats also have this I’ll-do-what-I-want attitude that’s hard to break.
To ensure that your timing is all right, you need to know how to differentiate a happy, relaxed cat from an excited cat and a fearful cat.
Good thing, most cats wag their tails (unless they have a tail injury), and your pet cat’s tail movement and tail position can tell a lot.
So, if you want to understand your cat, pay attention to your cat and let your cat’s tail do all the talking. Once you’re done with that, check the list below to determine what the tail wags and tail position mean.
Straight Up, Flagpole-like Tail
When your cat is approaching you with a tail straight up like a flagpole, he or she’s happy to see you. Your happy cat might also be feeling confident and content and might also be up for some loving.
Upright, Quivering Tail
At times, your cat may also approach you or other cats with their quivering tails high up in the air. The upright position and quivering movement can mean that he or she’s excited to see you or to see other cats.
On the other hand, if your pets are not neutered or spayed, the quivering tail of your cat may not mean that you have an excited cat in front of you. It might just mean that they’re about to mark their territory by spraying or urine marking.
Straight Up, Hook-shaped Tail
There are instances when you’ll see your cat’s tail high in the air with only the tip curling gently like a question mark or a hook. This means that he or she’s ready to interact and is open to being pet.
When attempting to pet your cat, make sure to do it gently. Although cats have a playful attitude, they are not like dogs who don’t mind being rubbed in their bellies and tails.
Most cats prefer their tummies and tails to be left untouched and take pleasure in face rubs (think chin, cheeks, and ears).
Another type of tail wag that most fur parents like is the wrapping tail wag. A cat that is in a good mood would sometimes greet you by wrapping its tails around your legs. Similar to a hug, tails wraps signify that your cat is ready to interact with you.
Slow Swishing Tail
When your cat’s tail slowly swishes from left to right, they may just be in the mood for play and are intently focused on something like an animal or a toy. If this is the case, you might as well engage your cat in playful activities like “catch the prey” or “hide and seek.”
Twitching Tail End
Predatory behavior is typical in all cats (your domestic cat included). One way to know if your indoor cat is in hunting mode is through its tail.
You may observe this behavior from hunting cats intent on watching birds or a dog’s tail. Just the tip of their tails will twitch or wag to distract or mesmerize prey. A quick twitch also indicates that your cat is trying to concentrate and are ready to pounce.
Other times, a cat wags or twitches the tip of their tail when they’re slightly annoyed. So, if you don’t see any possible prey, then look for something that might be irritating your cat.
Thrashing, Thumping Tail
Cat tail wagging or tail swishing can also mean that your cats feel irritated, annoyed, or angry.
The slow swish can suddenly turn into thrashing, wagging, or whole tail swishing back and forth (like a whip) while sitting or lying down. Other times, they thump it on the ground.
When your cat wags their tail like this, you can make your cat feel safe by checking your cat’s environment and removing the things that are stressing them out.
Otherwise, keep your distance because, more often than not, this type of tail movement of tail swishes is followed by aggressive behavior (think hissing, biting, scratching, and swatting).
If the presence of another cat is the reason behind your cat’s negative emotion, your cat might be getting ready to pounce on that other cat.
Puffed Up Tail
Whether low to ground or straight up, if your cat’s tail is all puffed up and its body is arched back, this means that you ought to back off. Your cat is feeling scared and threatened and is ready to lash out at any time.
Also known as piloerection, a cat’s fur standing on its end serves as a defensive reaction. This makes your kitty appear larger and more intimidating. It’s also their way of telling everyone to “leave me alone.”
Wags Their Tail Low To The Ground
Just like a scared dog that wags its tail in a low position, cats wag their tails low or parallel to the ground when they’re feeling anxious or fearful.
Tail Is Tucked In Between The Legs Or Curled Around Their Bodies
You’ll know when your feline friend is really frightened or scared when you see your kitty trying their best to look small.
Their tails will also be tucked in between their hind legs or curled around their bodies. Cats that hold this position will also be too frightened to move when attacked.
If there’s no reason for them to feel scared, this may also be a sign that they’re in pain or sick. If this is the case, and you also see other signs of illnesses like lack of appetite or lethargy, make sure to contact your vet right away.
Gentle, Waving Tail
When a cat’s lying down with its tail straight out and gently waving, your cat feels secure and relaxed around you.
Although cats tend to sleep a lot, they’re light sleepers who would react to the faintest of sounds. At times, you’ll notice their tail flick at the sound of your voice while they’re sleeping. This is your cats’ way of saying that they heard you.
Food For Thought
As a feline owner, it’s a good sign that you asked the question: Why do cats wag their tails? This just shows your desire to fully understand your cat – a trait that most loving cat owners possess.
However, your journey to understanding the whats and whys behind your cat’s behavior does not stop in knowing the common reasons cats wag their tails. The truth is, understanding the reason why your cats wag their tails is only the beginning.
Since every cat is unique, cats’ reactions may vary in different ways. Whether you have a dog or a cat for a pet, it’s always a great idea to keep a watchful eye on their body language – not just its tail wag, but its eyes, ears, and body as a whole.
This way, you’d know what your dog or your cat might be feeling or thinking. Once you have a deeper understanding of your pets’ body language, a deeper dog/cat-human bond will soon follow.
Frequently Asked Questions
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