Why Does a Cat Flick Its Tail?

by Nicholas DeMarino, Demand Media
    Cats flick their tails for many reasons. It's usually because they're excited.

    Cats flick their tails for many reasons. It's usually because they're excited.

    Flick flick flick. Your cat is up to something. See his tail? Flick flick flick. It could mean he's feeling playful. Or maybe he's agitated. Flick flick flick. Cats twitch their tails for lots of reasons. Sometimes they just do that. Flick flick flick. It's about body language and excitement.

    A Playful Cat

    Cats swish and flick their tails languidly when they're excited.
    A playful cat's tail often waves smoothly. Some biologists think that, in the wild, this motion mesmerizes or distracts potential prey. These motions can include the entire tail, but often involve a bent or articulated tip. Note that this flicking can quickly escalate or change to that of an annoyed cat.
    Other signs of playful cat posture include eye contact, forward-facing ears, and lying down perpendicular to a target and extending paws, possibly with claws out.

    An Agitated Cat

    Cats thump and flick their tails intermittently when they're agitated.
    An agitated cat's tail may wave like a playful cat's tail, but the motion tends to come in bursts. It's a warning that your cat is annoyed—some suggest the word "stimulated" is more accurate. If you continue certain activities like, say, petting him, he may bat at you with a paw.
    Other signs of agitated cat posture include eyes wide with pupils dilated, slightly turned ears and a crouched or tense body, possibly with paws raised.

    An Aggresive Cat

    Cats wag and flick their tails vigorously when they're on the offensive.
    An aggressive cat's tail wag starts at the tail's base, fulling engaging the roughly 20 vertebrae in his tail. The tail is generally held fairly low, and sometimes it's flexed or puffed up. Proceed in whatever you're doing with caution, as your cat is in a tizzy and may strike or dash out of the room.
    Other signs of aggressive cat posture include narrow pupils, turned ears, standing with body directly at a target, bared teeth and hissing.

    An Idle Cat

    Cats flick their tails idly when they're, in fact, idling.
    An idle cat's tail indicated a passing interest. If the cat is stoked, this stimulation may escalate to one of the tail flicks described earlier. It can also continue as a sign of rest and contentment, even in sleep. Some people think this flicking is a reaction to something in a dream.
    Other signs of idle cat posture include normal or closed eyes, ears in a neutral position and an even-keel standing or lying posture.

    About the Author

    Nicholas DeMarino is a journalist and former newspaper associate editor and reporter. His work has appeared in "The Arizona Republic," "The Billings Gazette," "San Antonio Current" and in other publications. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon.

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