What Does it Mean When a Cat Flicks Its Tail

Cat flicks its tail infographic

Cats use their tail to communicate. Different tail wags mean very different things in cat language. Cat tail wags are used with a complex sequence of body language and postures to express their intentions. 

In the human mind, a wagging tail is usually first associated with canine behavior. Whilst a wagging tail is a sign of greeting and excitement in dogs, it means very different things in the feline world. Cats are not small dogs. There are subtle differences in cat tail language which is an expression of different intentions. It’s important to consider your cat’s body language as a whole to give you an overall picture of its emotional state. Here’s how to recognize the cues that your kitty cat is giving you in order to better understand him.

The elevated vertical tail

Elevated Tail Flick

An elevated vertical tail (in an upright position) is used as a greeting and often precedes face rubbing and purring. It’s often accompanied by a little tail quiver, where the tip of the tail is making quick quivering movements, a bit like a rattlesnake’s tail. If your cat has an upright tail with little quivering motions when he sees you, then he is happy and content.

The downwards tail flick

Downwards Tail Flick

Unlike the upright quivering tail, the tail flick is a tail with an arch at the base but held downwards, that flaps back rapidly back and forth. It means that your cat is indicating displeasure. He could be fearful and feeling aggressive so stay away. If your cat starts flicking its tail when you are petting him, stop giving him a fuss.

The question mark tail 

Question tail flick

A tail with an upward hook-shape, like a question mark, means that your cat is in a playful mood. This is a friendly gesture and also shows curiosity. It can be accompanied by a gentle, slow, side to side swish that can be seen while your cat is playing with a feather duster or toys.

Swishing tail 

Swishing tail flick

A tail that sways slowly from side to side means that your cat is deeply concentrating. You might notice you cat swishing its tail while “window hunting”, looking outside at a bird.

A bottle-brush, pilo erect tail

brush tail flick

A pilo erect tail with hair standing upright on your cat’s spine is a response to fear and is a sign of defensive aggression. It is a threatening behavior so it’s definitely best to stay away. This is usually a final warning for another cat to keep his distance or else an imminent strike will follow. The puffed up tail makes your cat to look bigger than he is and should act as a deterrent.

Tucked away tail

Tucked away tail

The tucked away tail means that your cat’s tail is curved beneath the body and signals fear or submission.

Tail wrapped 

Wrapped tail

Tail wrapped around your arm or leg means that your cat loves you and wants to show you affection. They can also wrap their tail around another cat which is overtly showing that they are friends.

Upward tail and shaking from the base up

Shaking tail flick

Your cat may rapidly shake its tail from the base up holding it upwards when he is urinating or marking his territory, positioned in the litter tray, or against a wall or a bush. It can also mean that your cat is excited.

Waving tail and lying down

Cat flicks tail lying down

If your cat is waving its tail while lying down, it may indicate that he is unwell or in pain. Cats are very good at hiding their pain, but if you see this behavior from your cat, look out for other signs of pain such as if he stops eating or behaving oddly. If unsure, call your veterinarian professional for advice.

What Your Cats Tail Says About Her Mood (Video)


Cats use their tails to communicate their feelings, but you should always consider the  overall body language. It’s important to take into consideration his posture, his facial expression (eyes, ears, whiskers, mouth, visibility of teeth) and vocalizations to get a clear picture. Facial expressions can change more rapidly than body posture and can be more subtle.

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