Skip to Content

6 Reasons Cats Wag Their Tails While Lying Down That Might Surprise You

There are few things cuter than a contented kitty taking a nap when its tail starts to wag or thump up and down. Videos of this adorable behavior abound on popular social media sites, and owners are left enthralled and filled with an unrelenting love for their pet.

But a wagging tail is usually something we associate with dogs, not cats. So why do cats wag their tails while lying down? We know there are a few reasons why a cat’s tail might shake.

Get ready for an in-depth look into this quirky cat behavior, what it means, and how you can learn to understand and respond to it. 

Image by Engin Akhurt from Pixabay


Why Do Cats Wag Their Tails While Lying Down? 6 Reasons

From causes that range from completely benign to slightly worrisome, here are six of the top reasons why cats might be wagging their tails while lying down. 

1. They’re Completely Content

Sometimes a cat that’s lying down will swish its tail for no other reason than they’re happy and content at that moment. It also usually means they’re feeling pretty relaxed. 


Image by Himanshu Choudhary from Unsplash

They may seem extra cute when doing this and the urge to reach out and pet your fluffball might be strong, but this is not always an invitation for pets and head rubs. Sometimes it’s better to grab your phone and take two dozen or so pictures of them instead. 

2. They’re Dreaming

What do cats dream about? Every cat owner has their theories, but one of the indications that they’re dreaming at all is a flick of the tail during a deep, restful snooze. 

They might move their legs as well during a dream, although it tends to be subtle, so you may only notice the tip of their tail wagging back and forth unconsciously. 

siberian tabby sleeping

You can ensure your furball gets the ultimate rest with a calming pet bed, which is increasing in popularity and looks super stylish to boot. Otherwise, there are hammock beds for the more modern kitty. 

3. You’ve Been Petting Them

One of the best parts of being a cat owner is succumbing to the cuteness and giving your precious feline all of the pets they’d ever want. While cats’ moods can turn on a dime, you’ll know your friend is happy to accept your loving touch by the way they move their tail. 


Image by 99mimimi from Pixabay

The tail will wag slowly or thump gently on the ground when they’re enjoying your company and cuddles. Combined with a few other signs, of course. Purring is an obvious one, as well as leaning towards your touch. 

The speed of the wag is important to note, though. Slow and consistent movements equal a happy cat, but sharp and fast swishes will indicate annoyance. In that case, you’d best retreat before you suffer any scratches or chase your furbaby from the room. 

4. They Want to Play

They may seem as comfy and content as the next kitty lying peacefully in the sun, but that thumping tail might indicate they’re starting to feel energetic. 

On the other hand, if they’re alert and lying on their stomachs with a playful swish in their tail, this is an indication that they’re about to pounce. They may even chatter at you or wiggle their back end as well. Although they may not actually pounce once in this position, it’s similar to a dog’s play pose in that it invites playtime. 

Should you happen to be petting them at the time, this is when you remove your hand and quickly get a nearby cat toy such as a spiral spring or fluttering butterfly. After all, an exuberant cat might just grab at your hand instead if you aren’t quick to notice the change in their demeanor, and it’ll be scratch-city for you. 

white cat why do cats wag their tails while lying down

Image by JackieLou DL from Pixabay

If you’re slightly too slow and your feline friend manages to get a few scratches in, just use an antiseptic wipe to keep any infection out and prevent Cat Scratch Disease. Either way, this is the perfect time to spend some happy bonding time with your kitty. 

5. They’re Feeling Frustrated

We’ve all had days where we just want to be left alone, and, as it turns out, your cat can experience similar moods. 

If you notice your cozy-looking kitty swishing their tail in wide arcs while they’re lying down, it could be a sign that they’re feeling particularly frustrated. They might be grumpy from being woken up, or maybe they’re being bothered by something. 

Perhaps they’re just having a bad day. When they swish their tail in a wider arc (and especially when they accompany this with subtle moans or grunts), it’s their way of communicating their unpleasant mood to you. It’s also a way for them to let off some steam and work out some of that pent-up energy. 

You may want to try one of these treat dispensing toys to help your beloved pet work out some of its frustration. Who knows, maybe they’re just hangry and those treats will help put them in a better mood! 


Image by photosforyou from Pixabay

6. They’re in Pain

Cats don’t like to admit to anyone that they’re in pain. This is because they’re genetically coded to prevent larger animals that pose a threat to them from seeing them in a weakened condition. Unfortunately for cat owners, this makes it tricky to identify when your cat actually needs your help. 

One of the giveaway reflexes that might betray your cute kitty’s dilemma is an involuntary tail wag. If you catch them wagging their tail for no other obvious reason when lying down, they might not be trying to communicate anything to you but rather trying to hide something. 

It’s difficult to ascertain whether the culprit responsible for that tail twitch is pain, but there could also be other behavioral clues like hiding, aggression, or restlessness.

As always, if you notice a change in your cat’s behavior, or thing that they might be unwell, it’s best to contact your veterinarian.

Do Cats Wag Their Tails Purposefully or Involuntarily?

To be honest, it’s a little bit of both. As discussed above, there are many reasons why a cat may purposefully wag their tail from side to side — usually to communicate something to you as its owner. They may want to intentionally demonstrate to you that they’re happy, that they love you, or that they’re relaxed. 


Image by Bruce Kee from Unsplash

But if the wagging stems from negative emotions, it’s more likely to be an involuntary reaction to stressors. The exception to this is if your cat has already demonstrated aversive behavior and has resorted to a tail flick to communicate to you they want to be left alone.   

Final Thoughts on Why Cats Wag Their Tails While Lying Down

It’s a pretty specific behavior that can mean many different things. From pain to contentment and irritation to engaging dreams, the reasons can vary greatly from one end of the cat emotional spectrum to the other. 

Whether your furry friend is trying to tell you they love your head scratches or asking you to back off and leave them alone, it’s good to learn their communication style. 

Bobtail cat on a bluish background.

Are you interested in understanding your loveable furbaby some more and learning about other common cat behaviors? Read all about them here.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.