One minute your cat is lounging around dreaming of catnip and the next he's awake and his tail is vibrating. But what do those tail movements mean and what is your cat trying to tell you? In addition to their adorable meows and other vocalizations, cats do most of their communication with body language, which includes their posture, eyes, ears, and — most importantly — their tails. So keep an eye on your feline's tail, because it has quite the tale to tell.
About to mark territory
Cats are territorial and will sometimes spray their turf with urine. If you notice that your cat's tail is vibrating and pointing straight up in the air, he may be about to mark his territory with a spray of urine, says the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. This behavior is most common in un-neutered cats who use their scent to attract a mate. The urine spray sends a clear message to potential rivals to buzz off.
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If your cat tends to spray urine around your home, you can try to redirect his behavior by putting him in the litter box when his tail is vibrating. Most importantly, get him neutered or get your female cat spayed. The majority of the time, this solves any unwanted marking behaviors, meaning you won't have to watch out for a vibrating tail.
You'll also want to visit the vet with your cat if he's suddenly started to spray and is already neutered. It could indicate that he's suffering from an illness. And, if he's just a bit stressed out, your vet can prescribe medication for him to calm him down.
Giving you good vibrations
A playful cat will usually be moving her tail a bit, back and forth, twitching it to signify that she's interested in something. She may be paying attention to you or maybe she's watching something engaging outside the window that she wants to hunt such as a bird or a bug.
Check out the rest of your cat's body language to determine if the movements are positive. If she's not hissing, her fur is not puffed up, and her vocalizations are her normal, everyday meows, then she's likely just excited or engaged with you or something else. You'll likely notice some good tail vibrations during playtime, when she twitches her tail just before attacking a toy, which shows you how happy she is, according to Vetstreet.
Avoid the rapid swish
If you're spending time with your cat and he starts to swish his tail around rapidly, it's time to give him a little space. That's because he's likely agitated by something or someone and a rapidly moving tail is the telltale sign of his upset, warns The Humane Society of the United States. The more rapidly that tail moves, the more agitated and anxious your cat may be.
You may also notice other signs that he's upset like flattened ears, puffed-up fur, and dilated pupils. He might also give you a warning hiss or growl, too, depending on how agitated or stimulated he is.
Don't worry, though, once you give your cat a little time alone, he should calm down and so should his tail. He'll be back to his usual purring self in no time.
Vibrating tail while snoozing
You may notice that when your cat is napping, her body — including her whiskers, feet, and tail — vibrate. This may mean that your cat is dreaming of something interesting like chasing a favorite toy or rolling in a bed of catnip, according to National Geographic.
A vibrating tail while snoozing could also mean that your cat isn't quite asleep and is simply relaxing but still aware of something that's caught her interest. You might notice this happens when your cat seems to be sleeping in the window but there's a bird chirping outside, or she hears some other interesting sound. She's using her tail to let you know that she's on the case of whatever is causing that sound and not quite off to dreamland just yet.
- The Humane Society of the United States: Cat Chat: Understanding Feline Language
- Vetstreet: 5 Keys to Decoding Your Cat’s Body Language
- Animal College of Veterinary Behaviorists: Behavior Tips -- Basic Feline Body Language
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Urine Marking in Cats
- National Geographic: Here’s What Your Cat’s Tail is Trying to Tell You