Why Do Cats Flick Their Tails?
Cats can be very complicated individuals and it can be very hard to work out what they are feeling. Changes in their behavior can indicate that they are stressed or unhappy in some way and this should be a cause for concern to their owners. It is sensible for you to learn the subtle changes in cat body language that can tell you so much about what is going inside your cat’s head. Perhaps your kitty is trying to tell you something but you just haven’t learned how to tell what that is! Once you learn how to read them, it could prevent you from making painful mistakes and save you getting a paw pat on your hand.
Cat body language can be very difficult to interpret. It can seem as if your kitty is being deliberately mysterious. However, if you know what to look for, there are lots of tell-tale signs that will indicate what kind of mood they are in and what they are thinking about.
Felines use a combination of methods to communicate. Remember that these methods developed over thousands of years and are used by cats to communicate with each other and not with humans. Therefore, to understand them, you have to spend some time observing your cat and watching how they react in different situations. Some are more obvious than others.
It is common for cats to use vocalization. They use this when communicating with humans more than when they are communicating with other cats. More often than not, it is a demand for care, often in the form of food but they may also simply want some attention! Physical contact is another method. Nose touching and head rubbing are typical examples and are a form of greeting. You cat may do this to greet you when you get home from work. They use chemical signals to communicate too and they do this using oil from scent glands on their face or by using urine – which is not so pleasant!
Finally, they use posture and physical clues and this is where the interpretation of tail flicking becomes very important. Along with lip licking, crouching and positioning of the ears, the tail can tell you a lot about what your cat is thinking and may even help you to predict what they are about to do.
Tail Flicking and What It Means
Just like humans, cats can have a wide range of emotions. They can feel happy and joyous or they can feel sad, frustrated and afraid. There are times when your cat will want you to interact with them and times when it is best to leave them alone. Their tail will tell you a lot about how they are feeling.
Tail flicks can take many different forms and can mean different things. Here are the main examples of what your cat is trying to tell you by flicking their tail.
- Tail flicks that mean they want to play
Cats are very playful creatures. Even senior cats can be kittens at heart and like nothing more than a good game with their owners using a piece of string or a toy. If your cat is languidly flicking their tail from side to side, it probably means that they are excited and are in the mood for some fun.
Perhaps they have spotted a favorite toy or you have inadvertently dangled some string near them. Cats are hunters and in the wild they need to be able to spot small mammals running around. Therefore, what looks like a piece of string to you, is potential prey for your kitty and their instincts will be telling them to chase it and catch it. Experts now think that a steady tail flick is designed to mesmerize prey so that they forget to run away and a cat can pounce on them. In the wild this is an invaluable skill.
The whole tail may flick but usually the tail is bent and just the tip will flick back and for in a rhythmic manner. This could signal that it is time for a game. Nevertheless, be aware that this type of mood can soon spill over into anger and the claws could come out! This type of flicking can quickly escalate and change to that of an annoyed cat.
- Tail flicks that mean they are agitated
Have you spotted (or heard) your cat repeatedly thumping their tail on the floor or on a chair? This type of tail flick is usually a sign of agitation. It looks very similar to the playful cat tail flick but it is not as regular and tends to come in bursts. It’s a bit like an agitated human tapping their foot on the floor or drumming their fingers on a table.
You need to understand that this means that your cat is very stimulated and agitated – in fact they are pretty annoyed about something! You may or may not get to the bottom of what is causing the problem. It should be interpreted as a warning – if you carry on doing what you are doing, they are quite likely to bat at you with their paw. The worst case scenario is that you’ll get a nasty scratch if they decide to present those sharp claws.
Look out for other accompanying signs of agitation such as wide eyes, dilated pupils and ears turned forward. They will also probably be crouching or tensing their body. Often, a cat in this sort of agitated mood will have their front paws raised ready to defend themselves from whatever is annoying or threatening them.
- Tail flicks that mean they are feeling aggressive
This is the one type of tail flick that you need to look out for. Your cat will flick and wag their tail quickly and with a lot of force when they are feeling aggressive. This is a particular type of tail flick that has some special characteristics. It starts right at the base, near their body. All of the tail is involved and every one of the bones in the tail (there are about 20 vertebrae in total) will be involved in the movement.
Whilst they are flicking their tail in this way, your cat will hold their tail low to the ground and you may even hear it swishing around. It may be flexed and it will almost certainly be puffed. All of the hairs will stand upright so that it looks bigger. At the same time, there will be other changes to your cat’s body. You may notice that their pupils are narrow and their ears will be turned around to face towards the front as they are very alert and not at all relaxed. Their body will directly face the thing or person that is triggering their aggression, they will be baring their teeth to make themselves look fierce and they will probably be hissing.
If your cat is behaving like this, you need to be very cautious when you are approaching them. Your cat is very likely to lash out and they are also likely to bolt so if you need to keep them in the house it is time to shut all the doors and windows. At this time, your cat is clearly distressed so, if possible, try to remove the thing that is causing the problem, for example a person or an animal.
- Tail flicks that mean they are chilling out
Some types of tail flicks don’t indicate that there is a problem at all. In fact, they indicate that your cat is just chilling out and is having an idle time. They may be quite happy alone and do not require any interaction from you. If you approach them and their body language changes to an aggressive or agitate tail flick, it may be time to back off and leave them alone. This is not the time when they want to play.
When your cat is idle, they may seem to be relaxing but they will be monitoring the environment around them. An idle flick means that they are content and some cats even flick their tail when they are asleep. Some experts believe that cats are dreaming when they flick their tails in their sleep.
At this time, their eyes will be open but they may also be closed. They may adopt a neutral body position and they may be standing up or lying down.
Now that you know how to interpret the feline tail flick, you have made a lot of progress towards understanding your cat’s behavior. You’ll know when they want to play, when they want to rest and when they are feeling distressed. This will make life a lot easier for both of you!
- Cat Facts: What Does it Mean When a Cat Wags Its Tail? – Pet MD
- Why Do Cats Flick Their Tails? – Cuteness