Behavior
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Cat Tail Wagging: The Meaning of Your Cat’s Different Tail Wags

Cat tail wagging is far more complicated than dog tail wagging. There are different cat tail wags that mean very different things in cat language.

Angie Bailey  |  Jun 21st 2018


Humans usually associate the action of “tail wagging” with dogs. Canines are fairly straightforward with their tail communication. Cats, however, are way more subtle in their body language and cat tail wagging is very nuanced.

Marilyn Krieger, Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and author, says, “Although tails are expressive, eyes, ears and body positions combined with the tail language paint a more complete picture of how cats feel.” Cat tail wagging can mean many different things. Here’s how to decipher the messages sent by your cat’s wagging tail.

1. What “The Swish” Means in Cat Tail Language

A closeup of a cat tail.

A cat thrashing his tail means he wants to be left alone. Photography ©Alexmia | Thinkstock.

Marilyn Krieger advises, “The direction and speed [with] which cats move and swish their tails conveys their feelings. When felines thrash their tails quickly back and forth, 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 mildly annoyed. Sometimes, cats who are playing will swish their tails from side to side before pouncing.” This means we should pay attention to the way our cats swish their tails and not make assumptions.

2. What “The Twitch” Means in Cat Tail Language

We’ve all seen it: A cat is sitting on a windowsill concentrating on nearby birds or rodents, when her tail begins twitching. It’s not the exactly the same movement as the previously mentioned “thrashing,” but it may look similar. Her ears, eyes and vocalizations will indicate if she’s upset or simply maintaining laser-sharp focus on a squirrel. As with the thumping, the twitch also carries the message, “leave me alone.”

3. What “The Quiver” Means in Cat Tail Language

A “quiver” is a quick, tiny tail wag. When your cat is excited to see you, she may approach you with her tail in a vertical position, with just the tip of it making quick, little quivering motions, similar to a rattlesnake’s tail. Unlike the snake’s warning signal, a quivering kitty tail is a welcome sight and is typically accompanied by purring, face rubbing and sometimes even happy vocalizations. Return the greeting, even if you can’t quite do the tail-shaking thing.

4. What “The Sleepy Flick” Means in Cat Tail Language

Unlike dogs, who are more than happy to come when called, cats like to mull over the situation and decide if we’re worth their time at that exact moment. When food is involved, there’s typically no question — all they have to hear is the pop-top of a can and they race into the kitchen like a baseball player sliding into home base.

Other times, if they’re sleeping when we call their names, they like to play games. Instead of blatantly acknowledging us, they choose to meet us with a single — sometimes ever-so-subtle —  flick of a sleepy tail. This is a cat’s way of saying, “Yeah, I hear you — I’m just choosing to ignore you.” This type of tail wagging is actually a sign of contentment because your cat is telling you that she feels comfortable remaining asleep in your presence. The bottom line, however, is that cats are going to do everything on their terms, which is no surprise to anyone who shares their lives with a kitty.

The Bottom Line on Cat Tail Wagging

A gray and white cat with his tail raised.

Paying attention to how your cat wags her tail will help you better understand your kitty. Photography ©Nynke van Holten | Thinkstock.

A cat’s tail is really a barometer for her feelings. Cat tail wagging is a way to communicate those feelings with us, but we must consider the entire picture, including non-tail body language and overall demeanor, before accurately interpreting it. When we learn to read the messages our cats are sending us, we will respond accordingly and develop a trusting, respectful relationship with our beloved felines.

Thumbnail: Photography ©GlobalP | Thinkstock. 

This piece was originally published on December 11, 2017.

Read more about how cats communicate with us on Catster.com: