Critter Culture
Your Cat's Tail Decoded: Here's What It Means

Your Cat's Tail Decoded: Here's What It Means

Critter Culture Staff



Cats sometimes seem to be mysterious creatures, but they communicate loud and clear with their body language. Purrs and hisses are easy to understand. But why do cats wag their tails? Tail wagging is one of their primary methods of communication. In fact, you can get a pretty good understanding of what your cat is feeling by watching its tail.


To greet you

A long haired brown tabby cat is sitting on a hardwood floor and looking up straight to the camera with tail raised Svetlana Popova / Getty Images

When your cat approaches you with its tail held high, and the tail is quivering from base to tip, your cat is saying hello and showing it's excited to see you. Cats also greet other cats that it knows and likes with this tail-shaking welcome. You might notice your cat showing this behavior at feeding time, tail all a quiver as if to encourage you to fill their bowl with food.


To show confidence

A blue-eyed seal lynx colourpoint patterned Ragdoll cat looking at the camera with his tail raised. Alex Barlow / Getty Images

When a confident cat struts through its territory, a.k.a. your home, it holds its tail up in a "question mark" position. The tail goes straight up in the air, and the tip is curled forward toward the cat's head. This is the ultimate "I'm the boss of this place" tail posture, and seeing it in your feline is a very good thing. Most unwanted behavior, like peeing outside the litterbox or scratching furniture, happens because a cat doesn't feel like they own the space.


To show annoyance

A red cat sits by an old abandoned house Aliza Tlenchieva / Getty Images

If you see the tip of a cat's tail start to flick, that usually means the cat is annoyed. If whatever is annoying the cat doesn't stop (maybe it's you, petting just a little too much!), its tail movement will amp up into anger mode. Cat behavior expert Jackson Galaxy says that the movement of the tail reflects the buildup of energy in the cat. Once that energy moves past a certain level, reflected in the cat's tail, the cat acts out to release that pent-up energy.


To indicate anger

Angry calico cat lying on edge of bed wagging tail krblokhin / Getty Images

One of the main differences between cat and dog body language is that cats don't wag their tails back and forth when they're happy. While an angry cat's tail movement can start with a twitch, when a sitting or lying cat's tail starts to strike the ground so hard it makes a thumping sound, you know it's truly angry. If an angry cat is standing up, its tail swings aggressively and quickly from side to side. If you see that tail movement combined with ears lying flat, give that kitty some space!


To show impatience

Impatient cat asking to go outdoors marieclaudelemay / Getty Images

A cat that's feeling annoyed or impatient typically holds its tail at medium height and moves the tail in a kind of twirling motion. You might see this tail movement when your cat is sitting in front of a door or window that it wants you to open. Once you've obeyed the cat's command, its tail will move into relaxed mode or another position that indicates what the cat is up to next.


To help with hunting

Domestic cat hunting for mice in the garden Daugirdas Tomas Racys / Getty Images

A hunting cat tends to swish its tail back and forth; some people believe it's a way that cats try to mesmerize their prey. Other cat experts theorize that a hunting cat swishes its tail from side to side to help it maintain perfect balance as it stalks its intended target. A little butt wiggle often follows this swish before the cat pounces. The cat wiggles its hind legs to make sure it's on solid footing before making a leap.


To show fear

Domestic cat looking under chair ninode / Getty Images

A cat that's afraid holds its tail low to the ground, usually not moving the tail at all. It's most common to see this tail position when a cat is introduced to a new home and isn't yet sure that it's safe. Once the cat's had time to sniff out its surroundings and assure itself that there aren't any threats, you'll see a change in the way it holds its tail. Strange or unexpected noises could also trigger the cat to hold its tail like that.


To display playfulness

Cute British cat playing and having fun on the floor at home NiseriN / Getty Images

When the cat's tail is swishing quickly, side to side, but not thumping, it's probably in a playful mood. When you see that, it's a great time to get out some interactive toys and help your cat burn off some energy (and calories). You can tell your cat is really into the game when its pupils are dilated, and its ears are up and aimed forward.


To show focus

Tabby cat sitting on a table and looking outside Linda Raymond / Getty Images

If your cat is intensely focused on something, like a bird it sees through a window, you'll often see a quick twitch of its tail. This tail movement is a way to tell you, "Not now, human, I'm busy!" Cats enjoy being engaged like this, and to them, it's very important business, so leave the cat alone unless there's a pressing reason you need to interact with it.


To show they feel calm and secure

cat lying on the floor in a bright room Kroshanosha / Getty Images

A cat that feels relaxed and secure often holds its tail straight out behind it, whether it's standing, sitting, or lying down. It's not indicating aggression or excitement, and it's not wrapping the tail around or under its body for protection. A cat with this tail position pretty much has no worries at that moment. That is one content kitty!


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