Why Do Cats Wag Their Tails When You Talk To Them?


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Why Do Cats Wag Their Tails When You Talk To Them

I’m sure most of us want to know everything about our cats. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve wondered what is going on inside their little heads.

Trying to figure out a cat is no easy task for sure- but it sure is fun! And the more we learn about our feline friends the stronger our bonds become.

While we can’t read their feline minds, with some practice we should be able to read their body language and answer questions like:

Why do cats wag their tails when you talk to them? The flicker or wag of your cat’s tail after hearing you talk to them is a sign of acknowledgment and an indication that they feel happy and safe. A rapidly vibrating or wagging tail means that your cat is excited and happy to be with you. 

But let’s dig a little deeper into the complex communication of our cats!

Why Do Cats Wag Their Tails?

The tail-wagging behavior isn’t usually associated with cats, but rather with dogs. Terms like twitching, swishing, or flicker are usually more commonly used to describe cats, but it doesn’t mean we can’t use wagging for cats as well. Still, it’s important to note that most veterinary and feline experts will use terms like twitching or flicker instead of wagging since a cat doesn’t typically wag their tail over a long period of time like a dog but instead they move it quickly for a short burst.

But what about the kitty tail rattle or the tail vibrations? Some folks might call this a wag and it looks like this:

The vibrating tail on that little orange cat tells us that’s he’s very happy and quite to content to be with his owner. Maybe he’s about to be fed or he just likes the attention but either way that vibrating (or wagging) tail tells us that this orange feline friend is very happy!

This is all assuming that your cat has been spayed or neutered. This kind of vibrating or wagging motion in cats that haven’t been spayed or neutered could actually be them spraying.

While most of us have probably been told and believed that cats twitch their tails when they’re angry or frustrated, but this isn’t always the case. Don’t get me wrong, a whipping tail can be a sign of irritation and annoyance in cats, but a cat’s tail can tell us so much more and it can express a multitude of feelings. As is often the case, we have to look at the body language of the entire cat to really understand what our feline friend is trying to tell us.

That means the best way to translate the meaning of your cat’s tail movement is to understand a few things about our kitty’s body language overall.

Feline Body Language

It can be hard to decipher our cat’s body language and even feline experts struggle when it comes to a universal understanding of feline body language. What makes it difficult isn’t only the fact that cats rely mostly on physical cues to be understood, but they also come with their own set of characteristics and personalities that may differ from cat to cat.

While the experts are scratching their heads in confusion, I’m sure most of us can confirm that we have our own personal language with our cats that only we understand! And that’s not exactly a far-fetched idea. According to John Bradshaw, the director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol in England, “many cats and their owners gradually develop an individual “language” that they both understand but that is not shared by other cats or owners.”

So, having a bond with your cat is a huge plus, but there are a few body language traits that most felines have in common that can help an inexperienced owner. For example, your cat’s ears can be great indicators of how they feel and help you make sense of any tail wagging, twitching, or flickers.

Cats use their super-hearing to survive in the wild, thanks to their ability to catch higher frequencies. But the position of their ears can also indicate their mood, if they’re flat against their head then it usually means they’re frustrated, and they want you to stop whatever you’re doing.

Your cat’s eyes also offer them a hunting advantage since they are sensitive to low light, but they can also show you their emotional state. According to some reports, “the eyes are important in signaling emotions, with the act of narrowing the eyes appearing to be associated with positive emotional communication in a range of species.”

Feline Tail Language

Vocalization and the overall stance of your cat’s body are things a cat owner should be observant of, but feline body language doesn’t end there. Our cats have one more tool, their tail, that’s capable of signaling their emotions, which along with the rest of their body, adds more complexity to their character.

Position Of The Tail

The understanding of a feline’s body language oftentimes begins with their tail and its position. When I come home, I usually find both of my cats waiting on me by the door. They usually meet me with their tails held upright, and the tip curled into a question mark shape. In the world of cats, this usually means “Hey, I’m happy to see you!”

The position of their tail can tell a lot about how they’re doing. A straight-up tail is usually a sign of happiness, while a tail tucked beneath their hind legs means they’re afraid. An angry kitty will usually have her tail standing up and fluffed out along with an arched back.

Motion Of The Tail

While the position of your cat’s tail could help decipher a few of their feline emotions it still not enough. The tail’s motion also plays a role. Pay attention to the speed of the movement. Are they moving the tip or the whole tail? It can be a relaxed and almost unnoticeable wave, or it can be fast and abrupt.

Your cat’s tail can have a multitude of different motions. Some might not even be qualified as a wag but a quivering movement. It could also be a combination, changing from one moment to another depending on their mood and the situation.

Timing Of The Tail Wag

Since we don’t speak “cat”, there’s so much we can do by observing their tail. Depending on their personality your kitty’s tail movements could be deceiving. So, before you draw any conclusions make sure you also understand the context.

Make sure you pay attention to what’s happening in your cat’s environment when you notice them wagging their tail. Is your cat greeting you back after hearing your voice? Have you been playing roughly, or did they saw a bird fly by the window? This way you’ll have more information to work with and come to a more accurate conclusion.

Why Do Cats Wag Their Tails When You Talk To Them?

Since we established that context is important, then finding out why your cat is wagging their tail specifically when you talk to them is part of the context. Of course, there are those who see cats as unresponsive and often times aloof individuals, but scientists are once again on our side. Researchers in Japan state that cats can quite possibly recognize different words, mostly related to food and their own name.

If you’re having a meaningful conversation with your cat, chances are they will not understand you, but they might understand the tone we’re using. Dr. Uri Burstyn, a veterinarian from Vancouver, British Columbia states that using a high-frequency tone to call our cats is more effective.

This means that if you start talking to your cat and you notice them wagging their tail, it’s quite possible that it’s a responsive action. But what can it mean?

1.Your Cat Wags Their Tail When Happy

If you notice your cat’s tail go upright as soon as you talk to them make sure to pay attention to the tip of their tail. If the tail’s tip is moving, then chances are they’re very excited to see you or with the attention you’ve given them. According to Carlo Siracusa, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, “on a calm cat a straight-up tail with a hooked tip is a friendly greeting.” Often times, cats will vibrate their tail (to the point of looking like it’s wagging) to really let us know that they’re happy.

This tail position is a clear indication of a confident kitty that wants to engage with you or another cat if you own more than one. This receptive stance can quickly turn into a playful attitude. Your kitty might be also hoping for some petting or some treats. My cats usually accompany this tail position and motion with some excited and loud meowing.

So, if you see your kitty wagging their straight tail up in the air make sure to give them some love and cuddly affection.

2.Your Cat Feels Safe Around You

The gentle tail waving is my favorite motion and it always makes me very happy, because it means that my kitty is calm and relaxed. If you call your cat’s name or talk to them while they’re lying around, and you notice their tail doing a gentle movement then it’s quite possible that they feel safe with you and that they trust you.

I always get a chirping meow from my kitty that I always receive an invitation to give them a few soft pets while they’re chilling. Other cats might meow or just blink softly- it depends on the feline and human language you’ve created!

3.Your Cat Is Marking Their Territory

If your kitty hasn’t been spayed or neutered you notice them straighten their tail up followed by a quivering motion, then they’re probably marking their territory. It may be triggered by your sudden attention like talking to them. Some cats might not spray a huge amount or at all when they first begin to mature so this action might go unnoticed.

Male cats can be more obsessed with territory and according to Dodman, author of The Cat Who Cried For Help, “cats mark with urine or phantom urine, often out of frustration or territorial concerns.” So, even a neutered cat could show a sign of spraying as a reaction to a new pet or human in the house.

4.Your Cat Is Afraid

There are cats that don’t fear a thing in this world and there are those who will run away with and without a real reason. This sentence basically describes both of my cats! Every time there’s a knock on the door, or something falls out of my hands, my oldest cat’s tail just goes down between his legs and he’s nowhere to be seen.

If your kitty heard you speak loudly, or if you’ve scolded them for scratching the sofa then chances are that you’ll see their tail touch the ground. It can happen even if your loud reaction had nothing to do with them. They could also be uncomfortable around a new pet or a stranger in the house.

Tucking their tail between their legs is in a way a sign of submission. But it could also be a sign of pain or discomfort physical and psychological alike. If you notice your kitty doing this motion with their tail too often perhaps you should find out what causes their stress, or you could visit a vet to make sure it’s nothing serious.

5.Your Cat Is Annoyed or Angry

While a dog wagging their tail this way and that indicates pleasure and enthusiasm this is not the same for cats. A fast swishing movement back and forth could be a sign of frustration and even anger. As Carlo Siracusa points out that, “a whipping tail on an alert cat can mean nervousness, potential aggression, and “Do not touch!”

If you were playing with your kitty and you notice their tail swishing, then it’s time to take a break. If on the other hand, your cats are acting this way against each other, try to defuse the situation before it escalates. While a straight-up tail oftentimes is a sign of a happy cat, a fluffed out tail with hissing could be a clear sign of agitation.

It’s important to remember, “a downward curve can mean defensiveness, while a relaxed cat will carry his tail in a neutral or low position,” suggests Siracusa. I’ve also noticed that some cats react this way when someone reaches for the belly, but no matter the reason it’s always advisable to notice your cat’s body cues and respect their boundaries.

6.Your Cats Is In Pain

Cats can be quite adept at hiding their pain so it’s important to always be extra observant around our feline companions. If your kitty isn’t feeling well and they’re experiencing some level of discomfort their tail might also be pointing it out.

A tail that’s not moving could be an indication of a neurological disorder. Your cat’s tail could also develop tumors that cause pain or discomfort. If your cat were in a fight they could have been bitten or scratched on their tail. These kinds of wounds could lead to serious infections.

According to some studies, “two behaviors, straining to urinate and tail flitching were considered sufficient to infer pain.” Of course, a tail by itself won’t tell you if your cat is sick, but it could be one of the signs you should beware of. Again, it all comes down to context.

7.Your Cat Is hunting

Cats in the wild are not only prey but they’re also predators and in fact, they’re pretty good hunters. Domesticated cats on the other hand don’t have the freedom to explore their inner hunting skills, because our houses weren’t built for that. So, when you hear your cat suddenly run up and down the apartment remember that it’s, “probably outlets for accumulated arousal, frustration, fear or pent-up energy,” says Siracusa.

When you talk to your kitty and you see their tail twitching quickly especially if they’re laying low then your cat is out on the hunt. Perhaps it so happened that you passed in front of them with their favorite sleepers on. A wiggling butt and a twitching tail are a clear sign that your kitty is about to pounce and attack.

Why Do Cats Wag Their Tails While Lying Down?

There can be plenty of reasons why cats wag their tails while lying down. If they flop in front of you with their belly exposed then it’s quite possible that they want some petting. It could also be their way of greeting you if you’ve just returned home. Of course, this tail motion could be an invitation to play as well or just spend some time together.

A cat that shows signs of distress or is sick could wag their tail while they’re laying down. In some cases, they curl their tail tightly about them and move only the tip of the tail slightly. That’s why it’s always advisable to monitor our cats overall and not just their tail.

Then again if you don’t see any worrisome symptoms then wagging their tail could simply be their way of telling us that they’re resting, but they’re still vigilant to some extent. You may notice them do so, in front of a window, with their eyes intently watching the world outside and their ears twitching this way and that.

A cat swishing and thumping their tail this way and that could be their way of telling you that they had enough. My cats will always indicate that they don’t want more belly rubs with their sudden and rapid tail movement. A fidgety tail is similar to a human tapping their foot when they’re restless.

Why Do Cats Wag Their Tails When Sleeping?

Perhaps the question here should be, are they really sleeping? A cat that’s lying down with their eyes closed and a tapping tail could be, “relaxed overall but paying attention to something happening around him, a sound or movement,” as explained by Siracusa, who also points out the possibility that your kitty might be dreaming.

According to studies, Trends in Neuroscience, show that not only do cats dream, but they also relieve experiences of the day. Cats could be dreaming about the nice pets they received or a treat you gave them, and they might push the replay button on their best hunting game. So, seeing your kitty twitch their tail, or another part of their body might be their reaction to a dream.

If you’ve come into the room and found your kitty’s tail wagging while they’re sleeping, then perhaps they heard you come in. If you’ve called your cat’s name and saw only the sleepy flick of their tail, then it’s quite possible that it’s their way of acknowledging you without too much effort.

Just look at this kitty’s tail and the way it’s reacting to her owner’s voice!

Cats are light sleepers during the day and any sound can easily attract their attention. If that sound is not important or simply don’t pose any threat or doesn’t require their complete attention, then a simple wag of their tail will show you or your other cat that they’ve heard you.

This type of tail wagging is quite possibly the sign of a relaxed and contempt kitty. They feel safe in your presence, so safe that they’re actually having a nap. For an animal that’s used to being preyed upon this is when they’re most vulnerable. Be proud of yourself because it means that all your love is being met with a love nap and a relaxed wag of their tail!

What If Your Cat Doesn’t Have A Tail?

According to a study conducted by the Department of Neuroscience and University of Florida Brain Institute, “cats use their tails for balance adjustments during perturbed locomotion.” Another study that tried to find the social function of a cat’s tail showed that, “in the domestic cat, the tail up can be also observed when an adult individual meets another one and it signals the intention to interact amicably.”

Both of these studies show us how important a tail is to a cat’s wellbeing, but what does it mean for the cats that were born without a tail, or lost it because of an injury or disease? There are breeds such as the Manx or Asian Bobtail cats that don’t have tails or the tail is so small that they don’t function in the same way.

Just because these cats don’t have a tail doesn’t mean that they can’t express themselves or that there are no other ways that we can understand them. That’s why only observing your cat’s tail won’t offer you good results. Cats use their whole body and some of them their voices too, to tell us how they feel or what they need from us.

Your cat’s posture, the position, and movement of their ears and eyes as well as their meows are all part of your cat’s language. If you don’t pay attention to one, then you can’t have a full picture of your cat’s mental and physical state.

So, whether your kitty has a long and fluffy tail or no tail at all, make sure you pay attention to all their gestures. From a slow blink to a drown out meow in the next room, all of these small hints and signs are there for you to uncover and understand.

Closing Thoughts

Among people communication is key in a good relationship of any nature, so why would it be any different when it comes to our fluffy overlords? It’s true that they might ignore us sometimes and they might be quite unruly in their nature, but even these characteristics can tell us so much about their character.

Respect, patience, love, and some tail monitoring will go a long way in building good and working communication with our feline companions.

Let us know if you’ve ever wondered, why do cats wag their tails when you talk to them? Did you recognize your cat for some of the reasons, or do you have a theory that has never been discussed before?

Marina Titova

Marina was cat-struck 8 years ago. It was early autumn when Dante, her grey cat, found her and adopted her. They’ve been inseparable ever since. Dante has been a great cat-teacher and BetterWithCats.net seemed like the perfect place to share his cat-knowledge.

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