Why do cats wag their tails? What does it mean when a cat wags its tail? Well, when a cat wags his tail, they are sending a strong message. We’re going to help you understand cat tail language.
Cats like to communicate with each other and with people using body language. And a cat’s tail has a language all of its own!
Cats use their tails to tell those around them how they are feeling — just like dogs do! But cat tail messages are often different from those of dogs.
From swishing or wagging their tails from side to side, or raising them high in the air, cats are sending signals to anyone who is watching.
Understanding the signals cats give us helps to improve the way we get along. So let’s take a closer look at why do cats wag their tails.
What Are Cats Tails For?
To answer “why do cats wag their tails?” we need to see what they’re used for! Many animals have long tails. Some use their tails for swishing away insects, some for balance, while some even have tails that can grip and hold on.
Every mammal’s tail is an extension of their spine. Tails consist of a long column of tiny bones called vertebrae.
The way the bones are connected and the structure of the muscles that wrap around the bony column are what gives the tail its ability to bend and curve.
A cat has around twenty vertebrae inside his furry tail. These can be up to twelve inches long in total. And like kangaroos, cats use their tails to help them balance.
But the cat’s tail has another purpose. It enables the cat to signal to other cats and people in a very useful manner.
Why Do Cats Wag Their Tails? Your Cat’s Tail Language
So why do cats wag their tails? Different types of tail signals in cats mean different things. Here are some of the ways in which your cat’s tail can communicate how they feel.
- Wagging or lashing tail
- Bottle brush tail
- Relaxed twitch
- Predatory twitch
- Wrapped tail
- Vertical tail
- Quivering tail
- Cat swishing tail
Let’s look at each of those in turn.
Cat Tail Language: Lashing Tail Wag
Why do cats wag their tails hard from side to side? A cat who is wagging their tail fast and hard, lashing it from side to side, is sending a clear signal.
It is the nearest approximation to the way in which a dog wags their tail.
But it the meaning of the wagging tail in cats could not be more different.
What Does It Mean When a Cat Wags Its Tail?
Why do cats wag their tail violently?
As a general rule, the harder a cat wags his tail, the more upset they are. Violent tail lashing is a clear warning of impending aggression from a cat.
Cats tend to assume that everyone knows what this means.
They use this warning system in their interactions with other cats, other pets such as dogs, and even with people. Anyone interacting with a cat needs to be able to read this important signal.
It means “back off now or face the consequences.” If you persist in trying to handle a cat in this state, you are highly likely to be bitten or scratched.
Other Signs of Cat Aggression
Like dogs, cats will often give a low warning growl before they attack. Typically, the lashing tail may precede or accompany this.
Cat Tail Language: Bottle Brush Tail
An angry, or frightened cat may also flatten their ears. And fluff up their tail so that it resembles a bottle brush.
If the threat doesn’t go away, they may throw a few angry “spits” into the mix. A cat spitting sounds a bit like a small explosion and just like tail lashing is a sign they may be about to bite or scratch.
So, if a wagging tail lashing from side to side means a cat wants you to back off, what does the tail do when they are pleased to see you?
Your Cat’s Happy Tail Is Vertical
The cat who is pleased to see you carries their tail high in the air.
It may go straight up, pointing at the ceiling, or it might turn over at the tip
When you come home from work in the evening, the chances are your cat will greet you by twining himself around your legs with his tail held high in the air. Feel free to pet your kitty and give it some warm cuddles at this point — while it still likes you.
Why do cats wag their tails when hunting? Cats are skilled predators. If you watch your cat stalking a bird or insect, or playing with a toy, you’ll see the predatory tail twitch.
Unlike the fully wagging tail, the twitch doesn’t involve the whole tail, just the upper part of it
The cat will often twitch the tip of his tail just before he pounces.
The purpose of the twitch may lie in mesmerizing prey or in attracting the prey’s attention to encourage movement. Then the cat can target his strike more accurately.
Still, this may happen at other times. For example, sometimes a relaxed cat will gently twitch his tail when looking out of the window or watching something going on around him.
A Cat’s Wrapped Tail: Cat Body Language
A cat may wrap his tail around him when sleeping. This usually signifies a relaxed and contented cat.
It may even help your cat keep himself snug and warm
Some cats wrap their tails around your limbs when greeting you or being carried. This too signifies contentment and affection.
A Cat’s Quivering Tail: Cat Body Language
The cat who is backing up, with his bottom in the air and a strongly quivering tail is about to spray urine.
But if your cat is moving towards you tail held high and quivering very gently, you don’t need to panic. This is just an extra-friendly greeting.
Cat Swishing Tail
Many cat-owners who wonder “what does it mean when a cat wags its tail?” do so because they’ve seen a cat swishing tail when lying on the floor. This is fairly common. Generally, it happens when you’re playing with your cat and they’re trying to pounce on something. This could be a toy or your hand.
Cats could also swish their tails slowly when they sleep or while relaxing. This is generally a reflection of a good mood and means your cat is ready to chill or play.
Why Do Cats Wag Their Tails? – Summary
So what does it mean when a cat wags its tail? Your cat’s tail is an excellent barometer of how much they are enjoying the attention they are getting.
It tells you when they are pleased to see you and when they are feeling irritable.
Understanding cat tail language and cat body language, in general, can be useful. It helps small children learn when a cat is ready to be petted and when he wants to be left alone.
Plus, it helps all of us to get along better with our beautiful four-legged friends.
How about you? When does your cat wag his or her tail? Do they have any other ways of showing their displeasure?
References and Further Reading
- Wheaton Animal Hospital. Kitty Communication: What Is Your Cat’s Tail Trying to Tell You?
- Paws Chicago. Translating Feline Body Language.
- Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center. What is Your Cat’s Tail Trying to Tell You?
Why Do Cats Wag Their Tails has been extensively updated for 2019.
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