Cats are expressive animals. They use their tails to convey a variety of messages. For instance, they may wag their tails when they see you come home or as a sign of happiness and excitement. A cat will also flick their tail in your face if they are angry with you for some reason. So what does it all mean? Why do cats wag their tails? How do we decipher cat tail language?
A cat’s tail movement can be used as an indicator as to what they’re feeling. It’s not always easy to tell exactly how they feel by just looking at them, but knowing what each type of tail movement means could help you understand them better and make sure your kitty is happy and healthy! Tail movements are more than just body language; combined with your cat’s posture, tail movements are a key aspect of feline communication.
What Does It Mean When Your Cat Wags Their Tail?
The normal position for a relaxed cat is with her body in an S shape and her legs hanging straight down from her hips. When she walks or runs, however, her spine will become straighter. When she is excited, her body will assume a C shape with the tail held up and slightly to the side at about 60 degrees above horizontal. A happy cat may also have her head and tail raised or “swung,” as if she’s saying hello to you! Cats’ tails will also wag when they are frightened, showing that they are fearful and nervous.
As much as cats will wag their tails when they’re happy, they also use tail movements to let you know when something is wrong. For example, your cat may vibrate their tail slowly from side to side or they might keep it straight out behind them (tail up means the cat is relaxed; a straight- out tail means she’s worried or upset). If your cat wags their tail, but keeps it in the upright position and also licks their lips a lot, they could be feeling threatened by something. Their tail is telling you that they feel uncomfortable.
Cats will use their tails to communicate with other cats as well. When a cat is afraid of another cat, they will keep their tail between her legs. This shows the other cat that they are afraid of it and do not wish to escalate the confrontation.
Most people do not even realise their cats use their tails for communication! Tail movements can be subtle, but looking out for them could possibly prevent a fight from breaking out with your cat. Do you have a feline at home? Practice paying attention to its tail movements and get acquainted with what your pet’s tail is trying to tell you!
A-Z of Cat Tail Positions and Their Meaning
Here are some of the interpretations of your cat’s behaviour which their tail may indicate.
Aggression (tail higher than normal, wagging in short movements)
Cats will also wag their tails when they are feeling aggressive. One way to spot this is by paying attention to the position of the tail. Cats typically carry their back straight, but when they feel aggressive, they will hold the tail higher than normal and move it in short movements. Their head and ears will also be held higher up than usual. Tail movements are one way to understand what a cat is feeling, but the accompanying body language needs to be observed as well.
Alertness or vigilance (tail held high with a slight sweep from one side to another; looks like “tension”)
Cats will also hold their tails in an alert or vigilant position. This is because they are watching for any possible predators or want to spot any prey that might walk past.
Anger (tail straight out with a slow, deliberate wag back and forth; may also be “thumping”)
Cats will also have a different type of wagging if they are feeling angry. This will include their tail moving back and forth slowly while being held straight out away from their body. The cat will usually move the tail back and forth in a deliberate manner for some time before stopping. Your cat may also deliberately thump their tail on the ground.
Contentment (tail flicking or still, low to the ground)
Cats will also wag their tails when they feel content. However, it is hard to tell whether a cat is just resting or is really happy with something! If the tail flickers from side to side gently while staying low against the body, it usually means that the feline is content. The “happy cat” dance is characterised by a sinuous movement of the body and frequent rubbing against objects with short rapid bursts of activity while the mouth remains closed.
Curiosity (tail still, may be moving slowly)
Interesting things can often capture your cat’s curiosity and make them want to investigate it. When the cat is interested in something, you may notice that the tail is not moving much at all aside from a slight movement back and forth. Look for their ears facing forward and a tilted head.
Disgust or dislike of something (tail held lower with a deep sweep from one side to another)
That being said, cats can also wag their tails when they feel disgusted or dislike something. If your cat has a strong feeling of dislike towards an item, pet or person, they will move their tail in a deep side-to-side sweep.
Displacement – getting attention not meant for the cat (tail held low sweeping from one side to the other in wide arcs)
Cats will also wag their tails when they are trying to get attention. However, this is usually not good because it means that the cat wants attention and you may be ignoring them! One way to tell if they really want your attention is by comparing the frequency of tail movement in response to your tone of voice when you address them. If you notice that your cat is wagging their tail more often and at a higher rate, this means that they want or need your attention.
Displeasure (tail low to the ground, still)
A cat’s tail can also be used to show displeasure. When a cat is displeased, the tail will lie low against the body and may not move at all.
Excitement or arousal (tail held high, sweeps in large arcs)
It is easiest to identify the reason for why a cat is wagging their tail by watching the accompanying body language. If the tail is held high and sweeping in large arcs, this usually means that they are excited or aroused. Cats will sometimes greet each other with their tails wagging in this way too.
Fear (tail held lower than usual may be tucked between legs)
When cats are frightened, their body language is much more noticeable than with other emotions. This is because scared cats will want to show that they’re afraid as a way of avoiding any potential aggression from another animal. When a cat wags their tail on the ground, this is often a sign of fear.
Cats will also sometimes hold their tails low if they are feeling threatened in any way. The cat may also keep its tail down and moving from side to side in a slow motion while moving forward slowly or stopping altogether.
Keep in mind that sometimes your pet may not be feeling nervous at all. A common example is that cats are often scared of loud noises, movements and objects. The tail will move slowly from side to side or it might be tucked between their legs as a way of protection.
Happiness, contentment or greeting (tail held high and sweeping from side to side)
The cat’s tail will also usually wag when they are feeling content, happy, or greeting someone. When this is the case, you may notice that it is held high and they are moving the tail from side to side.
Motivation/drive – explore or hunt for prey (tail held high, shallow side to side or up and down)
Cats will also wag their tails when they have a lot of motivation or are feeling driven to explore or hunt for prey outside. If you notice the tail swinging in a shallow side to side motion or up and down, this is usually a good sign that the feline is motivated and wants to explore. If they are hunting for prey, the tail will usually move in a deeper side to side motion.
Play or appeasement – sometimes with a “twitchy” wag (tail held high, sweeps from side to side in short movements)
Felines will also wag their tails when they are trying to appease other animals. This can be noticed when they have their tail held high and are moving it side to side in short movements. Cats use this as a form of play and can also use it to show that they are friendly or peaceful .
Cats will also wag their tails when they are excited and want to engage in play. This type of tail wagging usually includes their tail being held high and moving back and forth quickly. It is important to note that this type of tail movement does not mean that your cat is friendly or peaceful so it may be best to avoid petting them at this time.
Stressed (body posture changes/tail twitches)
Their tail will also be tucked away between their legs and their ears may be flat against the head. Cat owners should be aware of these symptoms and try to limit any stressful situations that they can. If your cat has been stressed for a while, you should make sure that they are getting enough food, water and sleep.
Submission (tail held low and tucks between hind legs)
Cats will tuck their tail between their hind legs when they are feeling very nervous or threatened. To help your cat feel more at ease, you can try to reassure them by gently stroking the back of the neck or telling them that everything is okay.
Cats are mysterious animals that often act without any warning or reason. Thankfully, we’ve been able to decipher some of the most common cat behaviours by studying their tail and body language, which can help us decode what they might be telling you. I hope these insights into feline behaviour helps you better understand your pet and makes them even more lovable than before!