Why Do Cat Tails Shake Or Quiver?

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Cats are the masters of subtle communication. From gentle tail swishes to a slow blink, from flattened ears to dilated pupils … when it comes to cats, you really have to be paying attention to understand what they are thinking and communicating. Cats’ tails are an important part of their body language. They can puff up when scared or angry, twitch at the tip when stalking prey, or stand up straight when friendly.

Tail shaking and quivering can have a few different meanings depending on other body signals and on the context, so read on for more.

Cat Body Language

Cats can communicate in a variety of ways, including vocal sounds such as hissing or growling, scent cues such as urination and pheromones, and body language, including posture and facial expressions. Body language is a hugely important form of communication for cats, and being able to read their mood by looking at their posture and non-verbal cues can be helpful to owners.

The tail is one of the most used body parts by cats to convey emotions, as are the eyes, ears, fur, and posture. Cats can convey a large range of emotions with these, such as friendliness, happiness, anxiety, aggression, pain, and play.

Here are some common examples of cat body language.

#1 Tail Position

A tail held straight up, especially with a hooked tip, means the cat is feeling curious and friendly.

The tail can be a huge giveaway into what your cat is thinking. Usually, if the tail is held up, perpendicular to the ground, this signals friendly curiosity toward whatever they are approaching, be it another cat or a human. Their posture is usually relaxed, and the ears are pricked up.

Also Read: 10 Causes Of Aggression In Cats And How To Help

In contrast, a thrashing tail from side to side, or a “bushy” tail where the hair is all standing on end, is extremely negative and can be a precursor to aggressive behavior. If the tail is tucked between the legs, this indicates nervousness or submissive behavior.

#2 Facial Expressions

The movement of the eyes, ears, and mouth can also be very telling as to the mood your cat is in. Relaxed cats have normal eye positions and ears facing forward in their usual position. An angry cat may have erect and outwardly facing ears, with narrowed eyes. Ears flattened down against the head and large, dilated pupils are signs of a fearful cat.

#3 Eye Contact

As well as eye position, the level of eye contact is important. Staring without blinking is a challenging and confrontational sign. A relaxed stare with plenty of slow blinking is friendly and implies a good level of comfort and relaxation.

#4 Body Posture

Cats have a very classic posture when they are feeling defensive: cringing down low to the ground, with an arched back and tail beating on the ground. Cats lying with their body stretched out are fully relaxed and comfortable. However, if the cat is crouching with stretched body and tense posture this can indicate readiness to pounce, usually during hunting or play.

What Does It Mean When A Cat Quivers Its Tail?

Some cat body language is easy to read; these two friends appear very relaxed and friendly with each other.

As we have learned, the tail is a very important communicator of a cat’s mood and intentions. So, what does it actually mean when that tail shakes or quivers? Well, it can mean a variety of things, depending on the context and other cues. Here are the common reasons:

#1 Toward A Human

If you come home after a long day at work to find your cat coming toward you with tail upright and quivering, then smile! Your cat is pleased to see you home and is giving you their best friendly greeting. It is also a common sight in some of our feline friends when a new pack of cat treats is opened!

On the other hand, if you are petting or playing with your cat, and it starts to shake the upper part of its tail, you might want to give your furry friend a rest. A shaking tail can indicate irritability or anxiety, especially if this progresses to a fluffed-up or thrashing tail. This screams “leave me alone” and the warning should be heeded to avoid aggression.

#2 Toward Another Cat

Your cat’s tail signals toward other cats are similar as those toward humans. A straight-up, quivering tail indicates curiosity and a friendly greeting. A twitching tail tip implies vigilance or insecurity and a thrashing tail is bad news as it indicates anger or aggression.

#3 While Urinating

If you have noticed your cat urinating with their tail up and quivering, you may be confused as to why this is. Typically, cats usually squat to urinate on a horizontal surface if they are urinating to void their bladder. However, if they are urine spraying, they will stand, with their back end against a vertical surface and their tail will quiver as they spray a small amount of urine backward.

Also Read: 8 Tips To Stop A Cat From Spraying

Urine spraying is a normal behavior in cats. It is a form of scent communication, most often used to mark out territory boundaries. If you have seen your cat spraying outside, this is perfectly fine. However, if your cat has started urine spraying inside, you may be less pleased with this development!

If your cat is showing classic urine spraying behavior (standing, with tail quivering, passing a small amount of urine onto a vertical surface), here are some common reasons why.

If your cat starts urine spraying suddenly when they didn’t do this before, head to the vet for a checkup.

  • Pain or discomfort: Cats with urinary problems such as urinary tract infections may change from their usual squatting posture and instead urinate standing up, which can be confused with spraying. This is why a check-over by a veterinarian to rule out urinary disease is a good first step if you see your cat spraying.
  • Territorial disputes: If you have more than one cat, there may be some squabbling over their territories, and you may find they spray urine to try and warn each other away. Try making sure that each cat has their own food bowl, water bowl, litter tray, toys, and bed in a safe place for each cat, which may lessen the competition.
  • Stress: If something is making your cat anxious, such as building work, firework displays, or a new baby, they may start to urine spray. This is because they are leaving scent signals to themselves to reassure themselves of their safe spaces. Try making sure they have plenty of hiding spaces, and a pheromone diffuser may help to calm them.

Conclusion

Cats’ tails are an insight into their mood and behaviors. A quivering tail can be good or bad, depending on the context. Learning to read your cat’s body signals can be really helpful to better understand your feline friend.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it normal for a cat’s tail to shake?

Yes, cats use their tails, along with other body parts and their posture, to communicate. A shaking tail can indicate anything from aggression to a friendly greeting, depending on the context.

Why does my cat’s tail quiver when I talk to him?

Cats love attention, and an upright quivering tail as you interact with them indicates pleasure and a friendly response to your chat.

What does a quivering cat tail mean?

It can mean a few things depending on the context. If your cat's tail quivers as they approach you, this is a friendly greeting. A swishing tail can mean irritability, however. A quivering tail while urinating indicates your cat is urine spraying as a form of scent communication.

About Dr. Joanna Woodnutt, MRCVS

Dr. Joanna Woodnutt (MRCVS) is a small animal veterinarian and writer who is passionate about helping owners to learn more about their pets in order to improve animal welfare. She loves to write and wants to empower owners to make the best decisions for their pets by giving them all the information they need. In her spare time, she takes consultations on the small island of Guernsey.

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