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Understanding Cat Tail Movements

A cat uses body language to convey emotions and intentions.

A cat’s tail can tell you how the cat is feeling, or even when they have on ornery scheme planned. Cats and dogs differ in how they use their body language to express their feelings to their owners. Read below to find out more about cat tail movements and cat body language.

The meaning of cat tail movements

Your cat’s tail movements may help you understand the what your cat is feeling. These movements may include:

The straight up and quivering cat tail movement

When a cat is happy or pleased with themselves, they may hold their tail straight up. Sometimes if the cat is extremely happy, their tail may even quiver.

The cat tail hug

A tail hug is not unlike a human hug. It is the cat’s way of showing affection or friendship toward the owner, or another animal. Sometimes the tail hug accompanies a gentle head bunt, which is the cat’s way of saying “Hug me back, I love you.” 

The swishing cat tail movement

The swishing cat tail movement is generally a sign that the cat is about to attack someone or something playfully.  

The low extended or flicking cat tail movement

There is usually no misinterpreting these tail movements. When cats hold their tail straight out behind them, flicking it abruptly. This often means they are getting ready to pounce on something. Sometimes cat tail movements such as these mean they are hunting, but may also be a display of aggravation.

Fluffed up cat tail movement

Much like a human puffing up their chest during a conflict, cats often fluff their tails when faced with confrontation. The fluffed tail is a display of domination.

Cat tail hooked at the base

If your cat’s tail is hooked at the base or resembles a horseshoe, the cat could be in its end of the night crazy mood. This is often a sign that the cat feels feisty.

Cat tail hooked at the tip

A cat may display this tail movement when he or she is unsure of someone or something. This is not a sign of hostility, but more of a showing of the cat’s inquisitive nature.

Tucked cat tail movement

When a cat tucks its tail, it is often an unaggressive signal that he or she wants to be left alone. Cats tend to need their alone time to rest.

While cat tail movements tell a lot about their intentions and feelings, their body movements also signify their emotions.

Ear movements

Ears also play a significant role in showing a cat’s emotions. You can tell a lot about your cat’s emotions by watching the movement of their tail and ears. 

Laid flat back

When you see a cat’s ears in a laid back position, it usually means the cat feels ornery or aggressive. You may notice this with a cat at play or when near a rival cat.

Pointed forward

When a cat’s ears are slightly forward, it signifies a content or playful kitty. You may witness this ear movement when the cat naps, or receives affection.

Straight up

Cats ears are like little radars. Cats often hold their ears straight up to tune into a sound that caught their attention. 

Turned sideways

If a cat’s ears are turned to the sides, it may be a sign he or she is nervous or scared. You may witness a cat’s ears in this position when they see an approaching dog. 

Head movements

Extended head

When your cat extends its head, it probably means “pet me,” or it could be telling another cat it wants affection.

Lowered head

A lowered head can be a sign of submission, or aggression. The meaning of this head movement depends on what the cat is doing at the moment.

Elevated head

A cat raises their head high when feeling aggressive, as a sign of dominance.

Head bunt

Cats often give gently head bunts or nudges when greeting their owner, or another feline friend. They do this, to say hello; it is almost like a kiss or a handshake.

Eye movements

A cat’s eyes are the windows to their thoughts. When a cat is content, their pupils are normal size. Their eye may be slightly closed if they are relaxing. Another sign of contentment and ease is when a cat gazes as if they are daydreaming. If a cat feels ornery or aggravated, its pupils may dilate or constrict.

A fixed stare means your cat is ready to pounce on prey or wants to play. If a cat is scared, its eyes may move rapidly to keep all things in observation, or to find an escape route.

Reading your cat’s body language


When a cat feels relaxed and safe, their breathing is slow and easy, their claws will be retracted, and they move in a slow relaxed fashion. When a cat lays on their back, it means they are comfortable around you and want their belly rubbed. However, be careful of this, some cats may attack if you touch their bellies.

Attack position

A cat’s body becomes tense, the more stressed or stimulated they become. If a cat stands or crouches without movement, it may mean it is about to pounce or fight. A stressed cat moves much like stiff robots.

Scared Cat

A scared cat may drop low to the ground, and move very slow. The ground crawl may also mean the cat is about to attack. The ground crawl is often followed by a fast run to pounce on something.

A cat who is scared may arch their back or fluff their fur to appear bigger. You might see signs of excessive shedding, cowering, or curling up to hide if they are extremely scared.

Petting a cat

Each cat has its own personality. Some cats love being petted whileothers would rather be left alone. It is smart to know where and when to pet your cat.

If you are unsure about a new feline family member, try petting behind their ears, under their chin or around the base of the tail. Watch for signs of irritation. If you notice the cat’s tail lashing, stop; this could be a sign the cat is getting mad.

Once you get used to a cat, you will begin to figure out where he or she likes to be petted. However, even when a cat who like petted in certain areas, they may show signs of aggravation if you pet them too much. If their tail starts to wag, it is time to leave them alone. Their next move may be to scratch or bite to let you know enough is enough.

With patience, you can build trust with a skittish cat. Try not to approach them first, but instead let them come to you. If the cat starts to rub you, gently reach out a pet their ears, chin or tail. 

Holding a cat

Try to avoid picking a skittish cat up at first; this may cause them to lash out. Let them come to you. Once the cat allows you to hold them, make sure they feel safe. Support them by placing one hand underneath them and the other supporting their feet and legs.

Pay attention to your cat. Knowing how to translate cat tail movements and body language can help you understand his or her emotions and needs. 

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