Cat Tail Meanings & Signals – Why Do Cats Wag Their Tails?

November 06, 2019

Your cat has a language all his own - cat tail language! But with a little bit of time to learn and a little bit of effort, you easily can decode it. Cat tail meanings can give you insight into your cat's needs and thoughts, giving you the ability to meet his needs faster and with less confusion.

How Your Cat Communicates With You

Your furry friend has several ways of talking with you! Cat tail signals are one, but there are many others.

Your cat’s face is the first place to take your cues. If he blinks his eyes and his ears are pointed, he is feeling receptive to contact. If he looks away constantly, especially combined with licking his lips or flattening his ears, he is feeling threatened.

Vocalization is also a method your cat uses to convey his thoughts. Purring, for instance, is often taken as a sign of a contented cat, but it can also mean he does not feel well.

Growling, hissing, or snarling are universal signs of attack. Your cat makes these types of noises when he is threatened and feeling the need to defend himself.

As a point of interest, cats meow much more frequently in their conversations with humans than they do with other animals. It is a noise developed exclusively to get your attention!

Body language can help you decipher your cat's code, too! If his back is arched and he is laying low, your kitty is in fierce attack mode and may be facing a prey (or maybe even a predator). 

Rubbing his head against something- you, your furniture, or his toys- can be a sign of affection. It also deposits pheromones and marks his territory. Urine can accomplish the same effect.

Cat tail signalsare another way your cat ‘chats’ with you.

Your Cat’s Tail Signals And What They Mean

Paying close attention to cat tail meanings will help you form a more meaningful relationship with your pet. They are easy to spot, and you will never again be left wondering “why do cats wag their tails anyway?”

If your cat is prancing around with his head and his tail held high, he feels happy and confident in his space. He is master of his dominion. If you notice a small twitch in the tip of an outstretched tail, he is particularly happy.

If your kitty has his tail tucked underneath him, he needs a little extra encouragement: he is feeling nervous and anxious. You can help him by providing him with a cat tree full of small dark spaces to hide. Distractions like playing games and grooming him, or just snuggling up and stroking his head, can make a huge difference in an anxious cat.

If your cat’s tail is puffed up (like a cattail plant in a swamp, named for real-life cat tail signs) he is displaying his fear. The fur on his entire body may rise (piloerection) when he is attempting to convince a predator he is bigger than he really is. The adrenaline makes his muscles contract and his hair straightened away from the body. This is often referred to as having his hackles up.

If his tail is low against his hind legs or held straight out at a low angle, be advised: he is uncomfortable and likely to be aggressive. Other signs of a potentially aggressive cat include holding his ears flat against his head, restlessness or pacing, or hissing.

A hostile feline may bite, scratch, growl or shriek, or all of the above. If your cat is displaying these aggressive behaviors, you likely will not need his cat tail meanings decoded for you: it is fairly easy to interpret his anger!

A cat whipping his tail back and forth is both anxious and aggressive. This is the ultimate fighting stance, as it is defensive and offensive. He is assessing the world around him, waiting for an attack. His tail helps balance him in the event of a hit.

If his tail is gently swishing around, however, your cat is totally focused on whatever has his attention. Cats often display this behavior when they are stalking their prey!

Your kitty may on occasion allow his tail to wrap around your arm when he is near you, or he may wind his tail around another cat when they sit next to eat other. This is exactly like a human hug, and so is one of the easiest cat tail meanings to translate. He is feeling affectionate!

If your cat is holding his tail in a curved question mark shape, he is feeling playful. His playing is primarily going to be directed at a toy, which he may stalk, pounce on, and kick or bite.

Play is essential to keeping your indoor cat healthy and happy because it uses his natural predatory aggression in a non-destructive way. It is also good exercise, keeping him fit and trim. Goofing off with your kitty is also a great way of bonding!

You can enjoy playing with your cat by:

  • Setting paper bags or boxes on the ground near him
  • Letting him bat a cotton mouse on the end of a small toy fishing pole
  • Rolling balls across the floor, especially with bells or treats inside
  • Allowing him to chase lights on the walls by shining flashlights or laser pointers at them (but never in your cats face!)
  • Buying a tiered scratching post that allows him to jump and climb
  • Dragging a small toy feather duster on a string behind you as you walk across the room

By learning how to translate your cat's unspoken language you can make life easier for everyone!