a ginger cat wags its tail while creeping across a lawn

Why Do Cats Wag Their Tails? A Guide To Understanding Your Cat’s Tail

Ever wondered why cats wag their tails? Did you ever wish you could know exactly what your cat was trying to tell you when she smacks you in the face at 5:30AM?

We’ve compiled the latest veterinary research into this guide on the exotic language of your cat. By the time you finish it, you’ll know what every one of her tail movements means and a whole lot more, including some findings that even surprised us!

Dogs? Easy. They’re always happy to see you.

Cats? It’s hard to tell if they are happy to see you or are contemplating stabbing you in your sleep.

As a cat owner, you are well aware that your cats tail movements mean something….it’s just hard to tell exactly what. The problem is that there are a TON of different reasons why they wag their tails, flick their tails, purr, etc.

Here’s everything you need to know …….

Why It’s Important To Know Why Your Cat’s Tail Is Wagging

cat swaying it's tail as it walks across a harbour wall

If you’ve got a dog, life is easy. His brain is set on “love” 24/7. And if he’s ever angry, he lets you know openly.

Cats on the other hand are a bit harder to read.

They can be angry, upset, frustrated, needy, hungry, territorial, or in the mood to destroy literally anything you hold near and dear. Sometimes, on rare occasions, they can even be happy to see you.

Knowing how to decipher their body language will help you wait on their beck and call, and it’ll save you a lot of frustration.

Contrary to popular opinion cats do have complete control of their own tail so learning how to read their tails is key to fully understanding your cat.

It might even help you earn more nights cuddling on the couch watching Friends together as opposed to your regular nights sitting in the proverbial doghouse while your cat struts about the place wondering why you didn’t get her favourite cat food.

Basically, this guide is trying to make you a better cat owner.

Your cat’s claws can do serious damage. Pay special attention to these clues and make sure your kids know them too. You don’t want your toddler’s arms covered in scratches!

What Your Cat Means When She Wags Her Tail

Translations based on the most recent research from the world’s foremost cat linguists (AKA veterinarians).

Tail Straight Up (and curled at the end) | Translation: “You’re a sufficient servant and I’m loving life”

Well done. Your behaviour has been satisfactory. Expect your cats head to rub against your leg quite a bit (we cover some pretty interesting cat-to-leg behaviours after this section!).

a cat standinf against a wall and peering through a window

According to researchers at the Animal Medical Center (how do we get jobs there?), this means they are happy and could mean they are in the mood to play or cuddle up.

Tail Straight Back | Translation: “I’m angry. Don’t mess with me”

We wish this were easier to spot but it isn’t. To make matters worse, truly aggressive cats are masters of concealing their killer intentions. This is your kitty’s ancient ancestors channelling their inner hunter into your modern day fluff ball.

Be sure to tell the kids to get out of her way if you spot this. This tail position is normally coupled with crouching low to the ground. On a positive note, if you whip out a new toy mouse, this position means she’s going along with the game!

Know The Difference:
If the tail is straight back but bent slightly like an “N” shape AND your cat is crouching, it’s a sign of extreme aggression. If it’s only slightly bent and they aren’t fully crouched, they are mildly frightened or only slightly aggressive. If the latter, you might be able to calm them down with petting.

Tail Between the Legs | Translation: I’m sorry (kind of). You win”

Believe it or not, your stone-faced, cold-blooded cat actually has a softer side. And they can even feel remorse or fear from time to time (though they’d never admit it). A tail between the legs is the feline equivalent of a white flag. This could mean that they are guilty or that she’s somewhat afraid of you or another cat.

This most likely means your cat has done “something” naughty. We think you know what we mean…time to get some paper towels and spray cleaner. Just remember, they aren’t really sorry. They are just manipulating you.

Tail Straight Up and Shaking/Vibrating | Translation: “I’m SO EXCITED”

She’s so excited and she just can’t hide it. You’ll most likely see this when you break out some cat treats or a toy. If you walk in the door to a cat with a shaking tail, they are super excited to see you. Congrats, you’ve got the mother/cat relationship we all dream of. Do whatever you can to keep this relationship going.

Flicking the Tail | Translation: “Leave me alone, you peasant”

When she’s through with you, she’ll wag her tail back and forth to let you know you’ve reached your allotment of time with the queen (queen is actually the correct name for a female cat in some circumstances). In fact, vets say that this is the most common behaviour they see when cats are on the table at the clinic.

A more aggressive flick of the tail means “leave me alone, now!”.

Make sure your kids know this one well. She’s giving you fair warning that she’s had it up to here with you, and you’re this close to feeling her wrath. So if you’re petting your cat and she begins whipping you with her tail, you’ve been warned….

Tail Twitching Slightly With Closed Eyes | Translation: “Continue petting me”

There’s a fine line between the kind of flicking that means leave me alone and the kind of twitching that means “don’t you dare leave me alone or else…”. Nobody ever said cats were easy to read…

If your walking hairball’s eyes are closed but they continue to twitch their tail, it means they are actually comfortable….we know, it’s confusing.

What they are trying to communicate is that they are acknowledging the good job you are doing while still keeping their eyes closed (showing they feel safe).

More Cat Body Language Translations

Cat body language goes past the tail. You know how your cat constantly dances around your feet at the most inopportune times? They’re trying to tell you something!

  • They Rub Up Against You With A Raised Back | Translation: “I own you. You are my property”
  • They Poke Their Head Into You | Translation: “I feel comfortable around you”
  • Butting You or Rubbing its Tail on You | Translation: “Hey, what’s up?”
  • Licking You | Translation: “I trust you to be my servant”
  • Tongue Stuck Out | Translation: “I’m having anxiety issues!”
  • Head Raised and Thrown Slightly | Translation: “What are you doing up there?”

Cat’s can be difficult to read. It’s a widely recognized fact that they are impossible to understand…not anymore.

Now that you know exactly what your furry owner is trying to tell you when she wags her tail, you can be the best cat servant in the world and keep your job a bit longer.

Have you noticed any other strange habits your cat has? Let us know and we’ll get to the bottom of it!

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