The meaning of a wagging dog tail is common knowledge, but the same behavior in cats is often misunderstood. Like dogs, cats use their tails to express emotion and announce their intentions. Unlike dogs, a cat wagging his tail is more likely to attack your hand than lick it.
Interest or Curiosity
Some cats wag their tails when something captivates them. This behavior is sometimes seen in kitties who are entirely focused on drinking out of the sink, crawling inside a paper bag or inspecting something new that has just been brought into his territory. When this is the case, the wagging tail is usually accompanied by slow movements, straight ears and a complete focus on the object of interest. His little pink nose is often working overtime too.
When cats are hunting prey in the wild, their tail movements are more like slight swishes than a wagging motion, so as not to alert their prey. However, some domestic pet cats exhibit wagging tails when stalking prey. This behavior is sometimes seen in homes where cats live with other pets who are natural prey to them, such as birds or hamsters. If your parakeet escapes and you catch your cat stalking him, don't be surprised if you see his tail wagging fiercely from side to side. It is usually accompanied by the typical signs of an excited cat: ears erect, crouching, and eyes focused on his prey. It is a sign of the cat's excitement at finally getting a chance to get to him.
Annoyance or Impatience
Cats also beat their tails from side to side when annoyed or losing patience. This is most commonly seen when your kitty has had quite enough affection for the time being. He may also bat at your hand with his paw or even growl softly. If you observe this behavior starting while petting your cat, stop and remove your hand before he attacks it.
Anger or Threat
When a cat is severely wagging or beating his tail from side to side, he's either feeling threatened or downright angry. This behavior is evident in cats who are confronting each other. It is your cat's way of trying to avoid direct conflict with his opponent by warding him off. The more rapidly he swishes his tail, the more upset he is. In this case, the beating tail is often accompanied by bristled fur and turning sideways, means of making himself appear larger to his opponent.
Leslie Carver has been a professional author since 2009. Her work appears on multiple websites. She has an associate's degree in English with progress toward her bachelor's at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She has been awarded an Outstanding Student Award in English and twice nominated for creative writing awards.