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Why Do Cats Shake Their Tails? 3 Reasons

Renee Whitmore
Last Updated on
by Renee Whitmore

One of the best ways to understand your cat’s mood is by watching its body language. Cats rely heavily on their tails to communicate with other animals as well as their owners.

It can still be tough to discern what your four-legged friend is trying to say, though, leaving many cat owners wondering: why do cats shake their tails?

When cats shake, twitch, or vibrate their tail, they can be conveying a wide range of emotions ranging from anger and irritation to excitement.

Why Do Cats Shake Their Tails
Why Do Cats Shake Their Tails?

It can be easy to tell their mood with vocal cats, from various meows, purrs, chirrups, to growling or hissing. However, most cat owners find that they can’t rely on their cats to tell them how they feel.

Cats generally only meow to communicate with their mother as kittens, and many lose the behavior in adulthood.

Most cats rely on body language instead of vocalizations to get across what they’re thinking, including ear positioning, facial expressions, and even body hair in certain cases. The tail is one of the most expressive areas of a cat, helping to communicate with other people and animals in the area.

Pet owners need to be in tune with their cat’s tail language if they want a close, harmonious bond with their pets. Otherwise, they may find an otherwise content cat swiping and scratching out of seemingly nowhere.

In most cases, a cat shaking tail indicates negative emotions such as agitation or anger. However, in other instances, tail flicks and vibrations can signify a happy, relaxed cat.

3 Reasons Why Cats Wag Their Tail

1. Fear or Anxiety

When a cat shakes or vibrates the upper portion of its tail, it may indicate anxiety. A noisy, dirty, or unpredictable environment such as that found in many family homes can send a cat’s anxiety levels skyrocketing.

What’s more, with their sensitive hearing, cats may react with fear to noises we can’t even hear. A neighbor’s dog barking, a plane motor roaring in the distance, or even a stray cat meowing outside can all be causes for anxiety that owners may not be aware of until they notice their cat’s behavior.

Changes in their home environment can also cause tail-flicking anxiety in otherwise calm cats. A new pet or baby in the house can be particularly stressful for cats.

If you notice your four-legged friend shaking its tail after a major life change, it may be due to unaddressed anxiety.

If you notice your cat’s tail language exhibiting anxiety on a regular basis, you should try to pinpoint what’s bothering them and remove the issue.

If this isn’t possible, you may want to set up a safe, quiet space somewhere in your home where your cat can go to relax when feeling stressed.

2. Anger or Frustration

Quick thrashing or thumping of the tail often indicates that a cat is angry and wants to be left alone.

Cats may also twitch the tip of their tail when irritated, frustrated, or just mildly annoyed. Sometimes flattened ears or an arched back may accompany these tail movements.

Cat in Pain

As any cat owner can attest, it isn’t difficult to anger a cat. Too much petting, an overstimulating play session, or a late feeding can all lead to irritation and even aggression. Some cats also react with anger instead of anxiety to changes such as new babies or new pets in the house.

If you notice your cat’s tail language getting angry, it’s time to give your four-legged friend some alone time and respect their space. Most cats wag their tail as a warning sign before getting physical.

If you keep petting or playing with your cat after they communicate for you to stop, you may find yourself with some fresh claw marks in your hand.

3. Happiness and Excitement

When cats shake their tails, it doesn’t always indicate that they’re in a bad mood. Many cats quiver the length of their tail when they are excited to see a friendly cat or human.

You may notice your cat’s tail upright and vibrating when you return home from work, open their food tin, or reach for their favorite toy.

Cats also quiver their tails when they’re getting excited to play. If they notice a bird or a squirrel outside, their tail may vibrate or swish slowly back and forth. This movement is a hunting instinct that cats display before getting ready to pounce.

You can also see excited tail language when cats are very focused on their play.

If your cat wraps its tail around you as it rubs against your legs, you can consider this a sign of deep affection. Cats often wrap their tails around each other as a friendly greeting, so in essence, this is your kitty communicating that it’s open to interacting and playing with you.

Why Do Cats Vibrate Their Tails While Asleep?

Just like us, cats sometimes dream in their sleep. If you notice a sleeping cat’s tail twitching, it’s most likely in a deep, dreamy state of sleep. Tail vibrations may also be accompanied by twitching of the eyes, ears, paws, and more.

You don’t need to be concerned if you see your cat shaking its tail in its sleep. It doesn’t mean that it’s distressed or in the midst of a nightmare. I

n fact, it may indicate that your cat is dreaming of playing or chasing prey, especially if you see its legs moving. There is usually no need to wake your cat if you notice slight twitching.


Cats rely heavily on body language to communicate with us, and their tail is one of their most expressive appendages. A shaking tail can communicate anxiety, anger, or even attachment, depending on context.

It’s always important to pay attention to your cat’s tail language if you want to be in tune with their needs and emotions.

About Renee Whitmore
Renee Whitmore
Renee Whitmore is an American college professor and freelance writer from North Carolina. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English and a Master’s Degree in English Education. When she is not driving her teenage son to wrestling practice or learning the ins and outs of Fortnite from her younger son, she is working on her first book to be published soon.
  1. Renee! thank you. I am a 68 year old retired man who just today was gifted with a 2 year old tomcat. i like cats!! I named him Brooklyn because i saw a lot of cats like him in that great city…usually in alleys. ha! i learned my most important lesson in life from an old tomcat..”ignore most people!’ just kidding. in the space of just 11 hours my cat has taught me the things i need to know to be sure he hangs around and allow me to live with him. i can stay in my apartment of 15 years if i just follow the cats orders and desires and needs; i am told. i am guessing that the cat and i still have about the same number of years left. we have bonded already by me having plenty of food out for him, clean water, toys, and whatever else i am told to buy; he’s making a list. i saw the list posted on the refrigerator. i usually close my bedroom door at night but this will nolonger be accepted because i hear him protesting from the other side of the door. he likes my bed; the center of it. this is okay; i have slept in my recliner many times over the years, when i had overnight guests. he also likes the recliner!! my question: who owns who here?!…;-)

    1. Hi Shannon, what a wonderful (and heartwarming) note, thank you for brightening our day further over here 🙂 I don’t know, cats are one of those things in life that you just have to experience to understand how much of a gift they are. Wishing you both much fun and love to last many years in each other’s company!

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