Why Do Cats Wag Their Tails?

Observing tail position and movement is one of the best ways to gauge how your cat is feeling. Like dogs, cats use their tails to convey all kinds of emotions.

But in contrast to their canine tormentors, feline tail language is a little more complex. Let’s begin our article by looking at some of the main reasons why cats wag their tails.

What Does it Mean When a Cat Wags its Tail

You might have assumed that cats only wag their tails when angry or upset. But actually, our feline friends wag their tails for all kinds of reasons, ranging from depression to happiness and affection.

A lot depends on context, not to mention tail position. We’ll now explore some of the most common tail-wagging scenarios before going into a bit more depth.

Why Cats Wag Their Tails When Being Petted

As you’ve probably noticed, your cat will at times wag his tail when you pet him. If the wagging is slow and leisurely, it’s likely that he feels secure and approves of your affections.

Other positive signals include purring and leaning into your touch.

However, sharp, irregular tail movements accompanied by growling during petting means that you should probably keep your hands to yourself!

Sometimes a cat will wag its tail after you’ve petted him too. This could be a sign of overstimulation.

Cat Resting

Why Cats Wag Their Tails When Lying Down

A cat that gently wags his tail when lying down is most likely relaxed and contented. But one that moves his tail in wide arches is probably feeling frustrated.

Like human beings, there are all kinds of reasons why cats agitated. Regardless of the cause, give you cat some space if he’s exhibiting this kind of behavior.

Keep in mind though, that any sort of dramatic tail movement that seems involuntary, demands attention. It’s possible that your cat is in pain or discomfort.

Look out for accompanying signs including unusual aggression, changes in appetite and hiding. Be sure to contact your vet if you encounter any of these signals.

Why Cats Wag Their Tails When Playing

Cats often wag their tails from side to side during play. A lot of owners get the wrong idea here and assume that their cat is becoming annoyed.

But the opposite is often true. It’s quite possible that the cat is being stimulated and enjoys the physical exertion.

When two cats are playing, they’ll often wag their tails at each other. This is a positive sign, suggesting that both cats feel relaxed and happy.

Puffed up tails however may be a warning sign that they feel threatened by one and other. This is something to look out for when introducing two cats for the first time.

Why Cats Wag Their Tails When Sick

Cats can also wag their tails when sick. Sometimes the tail movement is involuntary – other times the cat’s tail will twitch. If you’re concerned, look for other signs that your cat is feeling under the weather.

These may include staying in one position for an extended period, purring (a form of self soothing), lack of energy and drawn back whiskers. Observe any of these symptoms and you should contact your vet immediately.

Why Cats Wag Their Tails When You Talk to Them

Most of us talk to our cats at some point in the day. In fact, some of the stuff that comes out of our mouths might be called drivel by non animal lovers. But they’re crazy so who cares.

Anyway, when you cat’s tail wages back and forth in an angled position, he’s acknowledging your presence and feels contented.

Cat with Tail Straight Up

Why Cats Tails Go Up When You Call Them

When you call for your cat and he appears with a straight-up tail, chances are that he’s happy and excited to see you. This position is indicative of a confident cat.

Why Cats Wag Their Tails in Your Face

If your cat slaps or wags his tail against your face or body he’s probably showing affection and/or seeking attention. He make also be marking his territory.

All things considered, ‘wagging’ is a pretty generic term that’s used to describe a cat’s tail movement. As you’ll now see, there’s a lot more to this kind of feline communication.

Decoding Cat Tail Movements

Like their canine antagonists, cats’ tails are like emotional barometers. In other words, they offer plenty of hints about how they’re feeling. So as owners, it’s helpful to gain a true understanding of the motives behind their tail movements.

Things can get complicated though, given the subtleties and nuances inherent in this kind of feline expression. What follows is a more specific guide to what cats are saying with their tails.

Thrashing/Swishing or Thumping

A thrashing or thumping tail often indicates a level of frustration and even aggression. But cats will sometimes thump their tails while lying down – this is often a sign that your cat is relaxed.

To tell the difference, observe the speed at which he thumps his tail. Fast tail thumping is a major hint that you should leave well alone, especially if his ears are pointed back.

Swaying from Side to Side

Your cat’s tail swaying slowly from side to side means that he’s focusing very carefully on something. It could be that he’s got his eye on potential prey.

Whatever the reason, try not to interrupt this intense concentration.

Twitching Tip

You’ll often see a cat twitch the end of its tail during a hunting session or when playing. This kind of tail movement may also hint at frustration or mild irritation. The position of the tail is key, here.

If the tail is low and straight, the twitching is a typical sign of stalking behavior. But if you’re petting your cat and his tail twitches slightly, this could be a sign that he’s being over-stimulated. So move away from the feline!

Quivering Tail

If your cat’s tail is in a straight-up position, he’s most likely excited and happy. Make a note of the activity or context in which the quivering occurs to be sure.

Often, a cat will quiver its tail when greeting the owner or after returning home. It’s been said, especially online, that a quivering tail indicates annoyance.

This simply isn’t true. Tail quivering is a positive feline communication.

Cat with Wrapped Tail

Tail Wrapping

Tail wrapping (when the tail is around you) is a sign of affection and friendship. You should therefore be very pleased if your cat takes to wrapping his tail around your leg(s).

It’s his way of showing appreciation and love.

Bear in mind though, that not all cats exhibit this kind of behavior. A lot depends on breed and temperament.

In addition, cats sometimes wrap their tails around their bodies, usually when they’re in a sitting position. This is a sign that they might be nervous. So leave well alone.

Decoding Cat Tail Positions

OK, we’ve pretty much covered all there is to know about tail movement. So what about position? Here’s a quick primer.

Straight Up

A straight-up tails indicate confidence and contentment. Cats often hold their tales high when patrolling their territory.

For the owner, this position communicates receptiveness. A slight hook at the tip means that the cat is in a very happy place.

Straight Down

Conversely, a straight down tail position signals stress which could lead to aggression. This signals that a cat is not at all happy about its situation.

Should you’re cat show this tail position, try to identify and neutralise the cause of agitation.

Straight Back (Horizontal to Spine)

This tends to be a neutral tail position and suggests that a cat is in his natural state. He’s probably not averse to any attention, nor is he seeking any.

Cat with Tail Hooked Upwards

Up at Angle

Cats position their tails at an angle (around 45 degrees) when they’re feeling uncertain about their surroundings or situation.

Puffed Up

A puffed up tail is a sign of fear and possibly aggression. Cats do this to appear larger and more threatening to potential predators or other animals.

It can occur at various times but is most often seen when a cat encounters a rival feline or dog. The cat’s tail may also puff up if it is scared, but this is less common.

Question Mark

A tail in a hooked or question mark position aptly indicates that a cat is feeling uncertain and/or inquisitive.

However, don’t be confused with the hooked tip position that often accompanies an erect tail. Some online sources describe this as a question mark shape. It is not.

Tucked Between Legs

A cat will tuck his tail between his hind legs when feeling anxiety or stress. It’s a submissive tail position which could mean that the cat feels intimidated, either by you, an object or another animal.

In cases like this, give the cat some space and provide him with an escape route.

Cat With Tail Downwards

Low to the Ground

Your cat will lower his tail if he feels anxious or scared. He’ll likely be in defensive mode and won’t be all that keen about being noticed.

Sometimes, his ears will point forward too. If you ever try introducing your cat to a new house or home, there’s a good chance that you’ll see this tail position.

Final Thoughts

There’s quite a lot to remember when it comes to reading cat tail language.

But gaining a better understanding of this important feline communication means that you’ll gain a better understanding of your cat.

In turn, you’ll be able to improve his home environment and ensure he can enjoy a stress-free happy existence.

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