Unlike your puppy dog, when your cat wags her tail, it is not necessarily a good thing! The first thing to realize is that, unlike dogs, tail wagging has numerous different meanings as performed by your favorite feline. As with most things in the dog world, wagging the tail is quite straightforward and means the dog is happy. As you may have guessed, when you enter the cat world, everything becomes much more murky and indistinct. There are many subtleties to tail wagging and its place in feline communication.
Certified Cat Behavior Consultant Marilyn Krieger says, “Although tails are expressive, eyes, ears and body positions combined with the tail language paint a more complete picture of how cats feel.” As a cat owner, you might have already figured this out. But, when deciphering the various tail wags, there are some fairly good indicators as to the cat’s state of mind when she is performing each of the following particular actions.
The Swish. A quick back-and-forth thrashing of the tail means Kitty is quite bothered and would prefer to be left alone. This is the most misunderstood cat tail motion, since when you see it in dogs, it usually indicates that they are happy and playful. If the cat’s back and forth tail movement is slower, it signifies mild annoyance. You may have noticed a cat swishing her tail back and forth before pouncing on her toys--or her prey. This is leftover from her time in the wild. Whether slow or fast, tail swishing is not representative of a playful or happy cat.
The Twitch. Though this tail movement may resemble the Swish described above, this movement usually originates when Kitty is observing potential prey such as birds or rodents outside her window. The Twitch is more methodical and indicates that she is on high alert. Her eyes, ears, and vocalizations further serve to reinforce her heightened senses, with her tail movements indicating she wants to be left alone to retain her level of concentration.
The Quiver. This is a small and quick wagging action. With her tail in a vertical position, she shows she is happy to see you with a quivering motion from the top of her tail. It is usually accompanied by purring, face rubs against your legs, or other such happy touches and vocalizations.
The Sleepy Flick. You know how Kitty will not always come over every time you call her name? She goes by the WIIFM rule, or What’s In It For Me? If it’s a fresh meal or treat, she can move faster than the wind. But, if the payoff is not obvious, she may choose to ignore you. Instead of completely ignoring you, she does the sleepy tail flick. This means that she hears you, but she is not interested in getting up and seeing what you want at this time. Don’t forget, she is the boss (at least in her estimation). When she does the sleepy flick, she is communicating that all is good in her world and she will get back to you when she so chooses!
The Bottom Line on Tail Wagging (pun intended)…
Cat communication is a subtle yet rewarding subject of study. The cat’s tail is certainly an indicator of her feelings. However, her entire demeanor must be taken into consideration when trying to assess her complex moods. The more we can learn to read the subtle messages her body language conveys, the better we can understand and empathize with our favorite furry family member. When we do this, we will strenghten that mutual trust that is so important to any great relationship, be it human or otherwise!
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