What is a cat saying when he twitches his tail?

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A cat’s body language is clearly expressed by his tail, eyes, ears and posture, which together, are the surest indicators of the cat’s mood. These clues are immediately clear to another cat, but people have to spend a little time learning the feline language. A happy or excited cat will hold his tail straight aloft with a twitch or quiver. The same upright tail, with the same twitching, means something else entirely if the fur is bristled out. This stance means the cat is communicating a defensive nervousness about his immediate circumstances.

Given the subtle nature of feline body language, it’s important to try to read all the visual cues in relation to one another to really understand how the cat is reacting to his surroundings. If, for instance, the cat’s ears are upright or even slightly rotated backwards, with slight twitching of the tail, the posture indicates relaxed interest or even curiosity.

Indoor cats, who become fixated on a scene outside the window, especially if birds or squirrels are involved, may exhibit tail twitching accompanied by clacking chatter or chirping. This is an indication of excitement at having potential “prey” on their radar. That same excited twitch, however, can turn quickly into an aggressive swish or whip if the cat is startled or surprised out of his reverie, and becomes nervous or unsure about what’s going on. Watch for dilation of the eyes, or a backward flattening of the ears to indicate the cat’s demeanor is rapidly changing.

As long as the tail twitching remains mild, it’s most commonly an indicator of engagement and good humor. This is even the case in cats with bobtails, or those that have lost a portion of their tails to injury. The typical twitching will be present, but may be so difficult to read that the other bodily cues will be necessary to really gauge the cat’s mood.

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