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Why Do Cats Wag Their Tails?

Rachael Moshman
June 20, 2017

Here are 6 reasons why your cat may be wagging her tail!

It's a universally acknowledged truth that your dog is happy when his tail is wagging. But what about your cat? Have you ever asked yourself, "Why do cats wag their tails?" "Most owners and cat sitters are surprised to learn it often is not a sign of a happy kitty," says Dr. Blain Kennedy, a veterinarian at Florida Veterinary League in Vero Beach, Florida. In fact, there are several reasons why your cat may be moving her tail in this manner. Here's everything you need to know about your furry friend's tail wagging.

Why Do Cats Wag Their Tails?
Here are six reasons why your cat may be engaging in this behavior:

  1. She Feels Confident
    A confident, happy cat will walk around with her tail straight up, gently wagging at the tip. This is a playful stance that lets other cats -- and you! -- know that your pet is open for interaction.
     
  2. She's Frightened
    A cat who is feeling scared may wag her tail low to the ground. If your furry friend is extremely afraid, she may even tuck her tail between her legs in submission. This position indicates that she does not want to engage in conflict. On the other hand, if your cat has an erect tail, arched back and pushed-back ears, she is showing that she is scared but willing to fight the aggressor in question -- whether that be another animal or an innocent object that has spooked her, such as a leaf blowing in the wind.
     
  3. She's Excited
    If your cat's tail is upright and shaking from the base up, this typically means that she's excited. Perhaps you have whipped out the catnip or have just arrived home from a long day at work. Your cat might also exhibit this posture when she's urinating or marking her territory. If this is the case, she will typically be backed up against the edge of the litter box, a wall or a piece of furniture.
     
  4. She's Annoyed
    Unlike their canine companions, cats often wag their tails back and forth when they're annoyed. In fact, cats often engage in this tail behavior when they are on the vet's exam table. Similarly, an agitated cat will flick her tail. For instance, your cat may flick her tail if she wants you to stop petting her.
     
  5. She's in the Process of Hunting
    Cats swoosh their tails back and forth when they are in hunter mode as a way to mesmerize prey. If you see your pet's tail swooshing back and forth, you may see her leap into action soon afterward.
     
  6. She Feels Secure
    You might notice your sleeping cat's tail twitches slightly when you pet or talk to her. This is a sign of security! Just think of this gesture as your pet's way of saying, "I acknowledge you, but I feel safe enough to keep my eyes closed."

According to Dr. Kennedy, almost all cats wag their tails. "The exception would be a cat with an injured tail, of course," she adds. "Otherwise, moving their tail is an important part of feline body language. It's how they communicate with other cats."

But cats show their emotions through other types of body language, as well, explains Dr. Kennedy. For example, if your cat exposes her stomach or takes a long blink while looking at you, she's showing that she feels extremely comfortable with you. If an animal in the wild closed her eyes or exposed her stomach, this would open her up for attack. As such, this body language indicates feelings of trust.

For information on why your cat may engaging in another common behavior, check out Cat Purring: Why Does Your Pet Make This Noise?
 

Rachael Moshman is a writer and owner of four cats.

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