Why Do Cats Wag Their Tails?

It's a common misconception that cats will only wag their tails when they're angry, but there's actually loads of reasons why they may do this. Find out everything you need to know about cat tail language in this article.
tabby cat ready to pounce
tabby cat ready to pounce
tabby cat ready to pounce

A cat’s body language can often be hard to decipher. Cats are very complex and the way they tell you how they feel isn’t always obvious. It’s really easy to misread your cat’s behaviour, which can often result in being swatted away by an unhappy kitty when you go in for a pet at the wrong time.

One thing in particular that can help you understand how your furry friend is feeling is their tail. Contrary to popular belief, a cat’s tail is actually really expressive and can give you an invaluable insight into if they’re feeling playful, happy or scared. Keep reading to discover the secrets behind cat tail language and discover more about your cat’s emotions.

Why do cats wag their tails?

Unlike dogs, cats often wag their tails when they are angry or upset, but it’s not always the case. Cat tail language is really sophisticated and can be an excellent indicator to your kitty’s emotions. By paying attention to the direction and speed of your cat’s wagging tail, as well as the rest of their body, you can usually get a good grasp as to how they’re feeling. See our list of possible explanations as to why your cat is wagging their tail.

Low flick

The low flick tail wagging will be displayed as a quick back and forth action. If you notice this cat tail swishing, give them space as this means that they’re unhappy and want to be left alone. You’ll probably see this cat tail language when they’re put in a situation they’re not pleased about, such as going to the vets.

kittens wagging their tails

Low wagging

If your cat’s wagging tail is low, it’s generally an indicator that they’re scared. Their ears may also be pinned back, their body crouched low to the ground and if they’re really scared, they might tuck their tail between their legs too.

Slow swish

When their tail slowly swishes from left to right, this tells you that they’re feeling mildly annoyed. It’s a good idea to give your cat space if you see this as it could quickly transform into the angry low flick.

Quick swish

Sometimes this cat tail swishing can be confused with the angry low flick, however it couldn’t be further from how they’re feeling. The quick side to side swish occurs when your cat is feeling playful and will often be followed by a pounce. This behaviour is most commonly seen when playing with toys or another cat and will be coupled with dilated pupils and forward pointing ears.

Quick twitch

If you notice your cat’s tail doing a short, quick twitch, it usually implies concentration. You’re most likely to see this cat tail language when they’re window watching a small critter or bird, and they may even display strange cat sounds like chirping or chattering.

The quiver

The tail quiver is quite possibly the cutest tail action, as it means that they’re excited to see you! Your cat will approach you with their tail high up in the air and the tip will do a little quivering movement, similar to how a rattlesnake shakes their tail. They use this cat tail language to signal to you or other cats that they’re ready for interaction and will usually purr, rub their face on you and sometimes might also meow happily.

cat wrapping tail

Wrapping tail

Occasionally when your cat wants to show you affection, they may wrap their tail around your hand, arm or even neck. However, this is less common as most cats tend to display their love for you in the form of head butts instead.

Fluffed up tail

When your cat’s tail gets really fluffed up, it’s because they feel as though they’re in danger. They generally do this during a confrontation, whether with another dog, cat or maybe with your super scary hoover. According to The Nest, they fluff up to try and make themselves look larger and scarier to their foe, which is why they’ll arch their back too.

Sleep twitch

Sometimes when your cat’s sleeping and you pet or talk to them, they might twitch their tail. This cat tail language is their way of saying, “I know you’re there, but I feel safe enough to carry on snoozing anyway.”

Waving tail while lying down

Dr. Ernie Ward also suggests that sometimes cat tail wagging may indicate that they’re in pain or feeling unwell. If your cat’s lying down and waving their tail whilst also behaving out of sorts – such as going off their food or spending a lot of time in hiding – they may be feeling under the weather. If you’re concerned about your cat’s health, take them to the vet as soon as possible for a diagnosis.

Now you know all the reasons why cats wag their tails! Don’t forget to pay attention to your cat’s tail language the next time you go in for a cuddle – it’ll help to avoid surprise whacks or nips!

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Related: Why do dogs wag their tails?