Cats can sometimes be a little harder to understand than our canine friends, and their tails are no exception. So what does it mean when my cat wags its tail back and forth?

Tail signals

Much like understanding a dog's tail, there are various tail positions that you might notice if you hang around your cat for long enough.

It is true that a cat’s tail is primarily used for balance, but despite this, human owners can get an insight into a cat’s mood if they know how to decode tail movements. This is why it's important to ensure your cat's tail remains in good health and to have it seen to should it experience trauma.

Carlo Siracusa, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, told National Geographic that you can get a better insight into your cat’s overall mood by taking their wider body language into account, not just their tail. However, understanding tail movements will also help you and your cat bond more closely.

With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of the most common tail positions to help you understand your cat’s behaviour.

The tail wag

Slow flicks: If your cat’s tail is batting back and forth at a slow rate whilst they are seated, they may simply be checking what or if anything is behind them.

Swishing: Your cat is likely focused on a specific object, it could be food or a toy for instance. Also check if their eyes are secured on one spot.

Tapping: Your cat may be feeling conflicted, perhaps deciding between two options. It can also be a sign of irritation about their current circumstances.

Whipping: This shows an alert, nervous or even aggressive state of mind in a cat. Avoid aggravating your cat further.

Movement whilst asleep: If your cat is in a deep sleep, they may be dreaming if their tail is moving. If they are simply snoozing, they are likely to be keeping alert of their surroundings.

cat-tail-question-mark

Other tail positions

Question mark in the air: This is often referred to as a cat’s neutral tail position as they go about their normal activity in a neutral, if not contented state of mind.

Straight in the air: There are several theories on what this means. It could be that your cat is greeting you or another cat, and is happy to be doing so, or perhaps they are requesting food (resembling the way they would act with their mothers). Another situation in which you might see a straight tail is when your cat arches their back. This is a sign of defensiveness or aggression and you should avoid provoking them.

Tight against the body: This is either a hunting stance, or a defensive position where they are highly alert of what's in front of them.

Underneath them: This is a sign of submission and can sometimes be seen during cat fights, or if you need to administer medication to your cat.

Low and loosely swinging whilst seated: Your cat is relaxed whilst still remaining aware of their surroundings!

cat-napping-on-the-floor

Does your cat wag its tail?

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