What is a cat expressing when he or she is swishing their tail?

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The tail is one of the best indicators of a cat’s mood, especially when the feline is angry and displaying aggression. An agitated cat will whip or swish his tail from side to side with the fur puffed outward to create a more menacing appearance. Never mistake a cat’s swishing or lashing tail for the equivalent of friendly “wagging” that is often seen in a dog. The two messages are decidedly different.

However, a cat may swish his  tail in mock annoyance during play with another cat or with a person, since feline forms of entertainment often involve posturing and wrestling. It’s always best to interpret tail behavior in relation to other body language cues, such as flattened ears and dilated pupils, which can signal both fear and anger.

A cat who is afraid, for instance, may hold his tail rigidly aloft with bristled fur, quivering the appendage, or hooking it slightly at the tip to show uncertainty. If his fear turns to defensive aggression, the tail will graduate to aggressive lashing.

If vocalizations are added to the ear and eye behavior, and tail swishing begins, back away cautiously. At this point, the cat is not putting on a show, but is actually demonstrating anger. Cats need to calm down on their own and cannot usually be aided by human assistance. They give clear signals regarding their mood, and it’s best to do as they are asking, and not approach them when they are upset.

Even cats who have little to no tail naturally, or those with tails that have been shortened by injury, use the appendages to signal how they are feeling about a situation. In a Bobtail cat, however, the signal may be nothing more than an agitated quiver, so observing total body language with these cats is even more important to understand what they are trying to communicate.

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