As one of the most mysterious pets, figuring out what cats need and want can be a challenge. So, where do you even start? Body language is important in understanding what cats are trying to tell us, specifically the tail. But how much can truly be communicated with the movement of a single body part? The answer may surprise you.
First, it is important to note that while some cats may wag their tails when they are happy, that is not always the case. In fact, cats do not simply wag their tails. In addition to the tail, you also need to keep an eye on what their body looks like while the tail wags, when the tail wags, and how it wags. These all carry meaning and can help you decipher what your cat is communicating.
Deciphering Your Cat’s Tail Wag
One of the myths surrounding the meaning of a cat’s wagging tail are that the cat is angry. That can be the case, but a cat’s tail is very expressive, and can tell you if they are feeling happy, or playful, or even fearful.
Here are some of the common cat tail movements you may see, and what they mean.
1. Low Flick
If you notice that your cat’s tail is quickly moving back and forth, it might be best to give them some space. Typically, a low tail flick indicates that the cat is not happy and wants to be left alone. You may see this in situations that make your cat uncomfortable.
2. Low Wag
A sign that your cat is scared, is a low wagging motion with their tail. The wag is slower than the flick, and you may also notice that your cat’s ears are pinned back, or that they are holding their body low to the ground. If your cat is fearful, they may even tuck their tail between their legs.
3. Slow Swish
Knowing when it is ok to approach your cat is important, and if you notice that their tail is doing a slow swish it is probably not the best time to try to play. A slow swish, from left to right, signifies that your cat is annoyed. Just back off and give your cat some time to relax. The slow swish can quickly go to a low flick if the cat feels overwhelmed.
4. Quick Swish
Deciphering a cat’s communication can be complicated. A quick swish is often confused for the low flick. A quick side to side swish, which is a smoother, means your cat is in a playful mood. Often, the quick swish is followed by a pounce. You will likely notice this type of behavior when your cat is playing with toys. Other body language that accompanies this behavior are dilated pupils and ears that point forward.
5. Quick Twitch
Have you ever watched your cat stalking another animal? Even if it is through a window, you are likely to see the tail doing a quick twitch. This means your cat is trying to focus on something and may not want to be interrupted. You may also hear your cat making chirping or chattering sounds, while their tail is doing the quick twitch.
If you saw the quiver from another animal, like a rattlesnake, it would be a warning that you are in danger. When it comes to cats, however, it is a good thing. It means they are happy to see you. You will see the quiver when your cat approaches you with its tail straight up in the air, and the tip of its tail will quiver. This is also an expressive motion to other cats, letting them know that your cat wants to interact. The quiver is also sometimes accompanied by purring, rubbing against humans, and even a friendly meow.
7. Tail Wrapping
Despite popular believe, cats are affectionate animals, and they have their own ways of showing how much they care about you. Usually, a cat will gently butt heads with you as a display of love. But sometimes, when they want you to know that they care about you, they will wrap their tails around you. They may wrap around your hand, arm, sometimes even your neck.
8. Tail Fluffed
Many of us have seen a cat fluff up its tail. Think of this as a defense mechanism. If a cat is confronted by another animal, whether it be a dog or a strange cat, fluffing its tail will make it appear larger than whatever it fears. The fluffed-up tail typically means your cat feels like it is in danger. In this situation it is also not uncommon to see a cat arch its back, another way of appearing larger to its foe.
9. Twitch While Sleeping
Cats can be moody and may not obviously acknowledge your presence, even while they are sleeping. If you do catch your pet taking a little cat nap and speak, you may see their tail twitch. Even if they do not open their eyes to look at you, in a way they are telling you that they know you are there. The twitch while they are sleeping simply means they are comfortable enough around you to continue sleeping.
10. Tail Waving While Laying Down
In some instances, you may observe your cat laying down and waving its tail. This may be an indicator that they are not feeling well or that they are in pain. Other signs may be a lack of interest in food, or even spending a lot of time by themselves. If notice this movement and realize that your cat has not been acting like its usual self, you may want to contact your Country Club Animal Hospital veterinarian to have your cat checked out and ensure that everything is ok with their health.
While these are a few of the cat tail wags that have been deciphered, there is still much to learn about cats and how they communicate. Getting to know your cat, and observing them in everyday situations, is the only way you can truly decipher what they are trying to tell you. Try to bond and keep the lines of communication open between you and your cat.