Cat Tail Wagging: The Importance of Your Cat’s Different Tail Wagging

A gray and white cat with her tail up.

Humans usually associate the “tail wagging” action with dogs. Canines are pretty straightforward with their tail communication. However, cats are much more subtle in their body language and the wagging of their cat’s tail is very nuanced.

Connected: 6 ways to talk to your cat

Marilyn Krieger, certified consultant and writer on cat behavior, says, “Although tails are expressive, eye, ear and body positions combined with tail language paint a more complete picture of how cats are feeling.” Wagging a cat’s tail can mean many different things. Here’s how to decipher the messages wagging from cat’s tail!

A cat that flaps its tail means that it wants to be left alone. Photography © Alexmia | Thinkstock.

1. What “The Swish” means

Marilyn Krieger advises: “The direction and speed [with] Which cats move and swing their tails conveys their feelings. When cats flap their tails back and forth quickly, it indicates that they are unhappy and want to be left alone. Tails that move slowly from left to right often indicate that cats are easily annoyed. Sometimes cats that are playing will swing their tails from side to side before pouncing. “That said, we should be careful with the way our cats swing their tails and not make assumptions.

2. What “The Twitch” means in cat tail language

We’ve all seen this type of cat tail wag: a cat sits on a windowsill and focuses on nearby birds or rodents when its tail twitches. It’s not exactly the same movement as thrashing mentioned earlier, but it can look similar. Her ears, eyes, and vocalizations indicate whether she’s upset or just keeping the laser-sharp focus on a squirrel. As with knocking, the twitching carries the message: “Leave me alone.”

3. What “the quiver” means

A “quiver” is a quick, tiny action that the cat’s tail wags. If your cat is excited to see you, it may approach you with its tail in a vertical position, with only the tip making quick, small, trembling motions, similar to the tail of a rattlesnake. In contrast to the snake’s warning signal, a quivering kitten’s tail is a welcome sight and is usually accompanied by purring, rubbing the face, and sometimes even cheerful vocalizations. Return the greeting even if you can’t quite shake the tail.

4. What “The Sleepy Flick” means

Unlike dogs who like to come when someone calls them, cats like to think about the situation and decide whether we are worth their time right now. When it comes to food, there’s usually no question about it – all they need to hear is a can pop open and they run into the kitchen like a baseball player sliding into home base.

In other cases, when they are asleep, when we say their names, they like to play games. Instead of openly acknowledging us, they hit us with a single – sometimes very subtle – strip of a sleepy tail. This is a wagging cat tail that means, “Yes, I hear you – I just choose to ignore you.”

This type of wagging a cat’s tail is actually a sign of satisfaction because your cat is telling you that it is comfortable when you sleep in your company. The bottom line, however, is that cats will do anything on their terms, which should come as no surprise to anyone who shares their life with a kitten.

A gray and white cat with its tail raised.

Paying attention to the way your cat is wagging its tail will help you understand your kitten better. Photography © Nynke van Holten | Thinkstock.

The conclusion to the cat tail wagging

A cat’s tail is really a barometer of its emotions. Cat tail wagging is one way of communicating these feelings with us, but we need to consider the whole picture, including tailless body language and general behavior, before interpreting it accurately. As we learn to read the messages our cats send us, we will respond accordingly and develop trusting, respectful relationships with our beloved cats.

Top photo: GlobalP | Thinkstock.

This piece was originally released in 2017.

Continue reading: What do different cat meow sounds mean?