Why Do Cats Wiggle Their Butts Before They Pounce?

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Pouncing should be a pretty intimidating thing, right? It's the thing a cat does before it catches and, in the wild, often kills its prey. But it's hard to take kitty pounces seriously when they wiggle their butts just before they do the deed. So why do cats wiggle before they pounce? Here's what you need to know about this odd-but-adorable cat behavior.

Why do cats pounce?

So why do cats pounce in the first place? The short answer is: It's in their nature.

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The longer answer delves into why cats pounce in the wild, and it comes down to their size and speed. While a lion or a cheetah might be able to chase their dinner down, the smaller house cat is usually much slower than the animals it might want to catch (like rabbits, for example). Yes, cats are pretty quick, but they aren't distance runners and they would never keep up with, let alone catch, most of what they might want to hunt. As a result, they have much better luck when they sneak up on their prey, pounce, and bite it in the neck (yuck).

And, if there's any doubt as to just how ingrained the behavior is, know that even kittens who are raised in isolation pounce as soon as they're exposed to prey for the first time, which suggests that it's an instinct and not something they just copy from older cats.

Why do cats pounce at their owners?

If you own a cat, you might have noticed that they will, from time to time, pounce on you. Does that mean they consider you prey? That they're secretly plotting to murder you in your sleep?

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Here's the good news: No, it doesn't. Usually, if a cat pounces at its owner, it's a playful move, meant to get some attention. This is totally cool as long as you're okay with it—but, since cats have things like sharp teeth and claws, their play can sometimes be a bit rough for us wimpy humans.

Pouncing as play

When it comes to playing with each other, cats don't have to be nearly as gentle as they would need to be with humans. Yes, pouncing is primarily something cats do to catch prey, but it's also something they engage in for play. Remember that pouncing is a totally normal and healthy form of play among cats, as long as it doesn't escalate into something more aggressive.

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Why do cats wiggle their tails?

Before we get to the main event, let's delve into the other part of this odd pouncing behavior: the tail wiggle.

Cats use their tails to communicate how they're feeling. They wiggle their tails for several reasons. Here are some of the most common tail wiggle types and what they mean.

  • A high straight tail with a slight wiggle: Your cat is feeling confident and it's safe to approach her.
  • A low wiggle: Your cat is afraid.
  • A between-the-legs shake: Your cat is TERRIFIED.
  • A totally upright shake: Your cat is excited.
  • A back and forth flicking: Your cat is annoyed. Stand down.
  • A slow, hypnotic swish: Your cat is hunting and looking to entrance its prey.
  • A slight twitch: Your cat is comfortable and secure. You'll usually see this kind of wiggle when you're sitting around, petting your cat and she's actually into it.

Why do cats wiggle their butts before pouncing?

So, does all of this knowledge add up to why cats wiggle their butts before pouncing? Not exactly. The pre-pounce butt wiggle is still largely a mystery, and experts have different theories as to why cats do it.

Some think it's a way to make sure the pounce is a success, to set up their balance and propulsion.

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"Basically, when cats pounce, they need to propel themselves using both hind limbs for full takeoff. Usually when cats walk, they alternate their back legs, but when jumping or pouncing they use both together," Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM, told PetMD.

Others, like Marilyn Krieger, also known as "The Cat Coach," a certified cat behavior consultant, author, and blogger from San Francisco, think it might be a result of the joy that cats feel right as they're about to strike—kind of like a kitty version of a happy dance.

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"When cats hunt and play, there is a release of dopamine into their system, and that may influence it a little," Krieger told PetMD.