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Cat tail wagging

Health & Wellness

6 ways cats communicate with their tails

Talk to the cat tail!

Did you know that how your cat waves their tail communicates emotions beyond happiness, including playfulness, concentration and even agitation? Veterinarian and pet health advocate Dr. Aliya McCullough shares six common ways cats express themselves through tail wags, so you can better understand your best friend. 

What does it mean when a cat wags its tail? 

01: Greetings

When cats say hello, their tail is often extended high into the air and sways back and forth. If they’re greeting another cat, this wag can be accompanied by mutual head rubbing. ‍

Tip: Cuddling or petting them is the perfect “Hello” back. 

02: Scaredy-cat‍

If the hairs along your cat’s tail are upright and their spine is arched, they’re probably frightened. This tail wag shouldn’t be confused with aggression — your cat is just a little spooked.‍

Tip: Move slowly to help your cat calm down‍.

03: Agitation

You can spot your cat’s agitation if their tail is arched upwards at the base, and then curls down towards the legs. ‍

Tip: Give your pet some space.‍

05: Focused

When a cat’s tail is twitching, it’s a sign that they’re concentrating. If they spot something outside that catches their attention, they’ll usually show this wag. ‍

Tip: Watch out for the pounce.

06: An invitation to play‍

Why do cats flick their tails? A slow, side-to-side swish means your pet is feeling playful.‍ 

Tip: Grab their favorite toy.

Why do cats wag their tails while lying down? 

Cats are good at hiding pain, so it’s important to look out for changes in their tail behavior. If your cat is waving their tail while laying down, they could be signaling discomfort. ‍

Tip: It may be best to contact your vet‍.

Why do cats chase their tails? 

It’s a completely normal play behavior for a cat to chase their tail — especially kittens who are practicing their hunting skills. However, it can also signal a medical condition like pain, itchiness or Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome (when a cat scratches themself for an unknown reason). Reach out to your veterinarian if you think your cat may be in pain. 

Can cats control their tail wags? 

Cats can actually control their tail wags (some movements are involuntary, though). The next time your cat flicks their tail, know that the invitation to play is intentional. On the other hand, if you’ve ever wondered why your cat slaps you with their tail, that’s probably on purpose, too. Cats slap their tails against people to show affection, irritation or because they want attention. 

Understanding what your cat is saying through their tail wags will ensure your cat gets the care that they need and will also make your bond so much stronger.

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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