What does it mean when your cat wags or swishes its tail? One of the more subtle cat communications are the ones cats give through their tail movements. You will need to connect a swishing tail with other physical signs of communication to make sure you understand what your cat is trying to say. Cat tail wagging can mean anything from “get away from me” to “I’m scared” or “I’m happy to see you” and everything in between. Once you understand cat tail language, you will be able to interpret what your cat is communicating through its wagging tail and be able to respond appropriately.
Your cat is angry or annoyed
Unlike a dog’s wag, a cat vigorously wagging its tail usually doesn’t mean they are happy. Quite the opposite. If you notice your cat swishing its tail quickly, it is very likely your cat is feeling annoyed. Tail swishing like this is your cat’s way of warning you (or another pet or family member) to back off or to give some space. If you don’t, your cat may resort to more aggressive means of defence such as scratching, hissing, and biting.
Other body language to look out for which could indicate that your cat is annoyed includes growling, flattened ears, and eyes that are either unusually constricted or dilated. If you suspect that your cat’s thrashing tail means it is feeling frustrated or upset, respect its space and leave it alone for a while. Do not try to calm it down by picking it up or petting it. Make sure other family members or pets leave your cat alone too to prevent any attacks.
Your cat is focused
If your cat’s tail is twitching more slowly from side to side, particularly if just the tip is swatting around erratically, it might be that your cat is just super focused on something. When cats are hunting and stalking something, their tail will often twitch and swat as they focus in on their prey, whether that is a special toy, a bird they see out the window, or a fellow feline friend. This cat behaviour is normal and even healthy and is not to be discouraged.
Other body signals that indicate that your cat is in stalking mode include an obvious focus on an object or movement, dilated eyes, small birdlike vocalisations, and even that classic butt wiggle right before your cat goes in for the pounce. Allow your cat to continue playing and stalking in this predatory style as long as they are causing no harm to themselves or any other pets.
Your cat is excited and happy to see you
Sometimes when your cat is particularly excited to see you, you will notice that its tail seems to quiver. Usually, a cats tail is upright and it quivers from the base. This is a great time to pet or cuddle your cat as this tail movement signals that your cat is feeling safe, happy, and seeking your attention.
Other signs that your cat is happy to see you include your cat coming up and rubbing up against your legs, or curling its tail around your body in a kind of cat hug. A happy cat will have an alert but relaxed posture and they may purr when pet or cuddled.
Your cat is frightened or startled
If your cat is startled by something, its tail could do one of a few things. Some cats will tuck their tails when they are frightened, particularly when they feel they have nowhere to escape. They may crouch down and wrap their tails around their bodies or run away with their tail low to the ground. Their ears are likely to be flat and their pupils may be dilated.
Another way cats show fear or unpleasant surprise is by puffing up their tails. This is so that they look bigger and may be accompanied by an arching back, hissing, flattened ears, and growling. If your cat is startled or feels threatened, you should give it space to calm down. If you can, try to eliminate the stressors or provide a safe escape for your cat to retreat to when they feel scared. Approaching a scared cat can result in scratching and biting so it is best to leave your cat alone until they calm down.
Your cat is saying hello and feeling social
Sometimes your cat’s tail will be upright and hooked over and looks like a question mark. This is usually the way cats greet each other and is a sign your cat is feeling social and up for some playtime. They will seem relaxed and attentive and will readily engage in play either with you or with another cat in the home. An upright tail that is gently swaying says your cat is glad to see you and would be receptive to cuddles. Most cats enjoy being pet on their faces, especially on their cheeks, behind the ears, under their chin, and on top of their forehead.
Your cat may be in pain
In rare cases, a cat wagging its tail may be a sign that it is in pain. If your cat is wagging its tail while it is lying down or constantly wraps its tail around its body in a crouched position, your cat may be in pain or discomfort. You should look for other behavioural changes in your cat as well such as lethargy, weight loss or gain, excessive grooming, itchiness, any change in appetite, or sudden moodiness.
If you suspect your cat may be in pain you should take it to your veterinarian as soon as possible to check for any illness, injury or health conditions.
Why do cats wag their tails when sleeping?
Have you ever noticed your cat’s tail twitching in its sleep? This is normal feline behaviour and can either be the involuntary spasm and relaxation of your cat’s tail muscles or the effects of your cat reacting to what it sees or hears while it dreams.
Cats wag their tails for many reasons from fear to anger or excitement. By observing a cat’s tail position and understanding what this non-verbal language means, you can enhance your connection and ensure you have a happy and harmonious relationship with your cat.