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Why Does My Cat’s Tail Shake?

reviewed by a veterinary box

Have you sometimes noticed that your cat, as cute as they are, happens to be standing by the doorway with their tail shaking vigorously? Did it alarm you? Did you wonder what was happening? Why does my cat’s tail shake?

This particular sight may be perplexing if you’re an inexperienced cat owner. Usually, the cat doesn’t seem to be in any other sort of distress. So what is that shaky tail all about? Sometimes, the cat may even seem particularly relaxed. Although, there are times when it may seem a little anxious.

First of all, don’t worry. Some of the behavior is learned, some is instinctual, and most cases involve a little bit of both. In this article, we’ll examine what to expect and what you may need to look out for regarding your cat’s tail shaking.

As is often the case with cats, explaining such behavior can have many possibilities. Let’s take a quick look into the causes of that shaky tail and why this is an action cats may display.

Grey cat jumps through grass with tail in the air why does my cats tail shake
Now that is a tail


Cat Communication

Cats, it must be said, communicate through their body language, for the most part. Yes, they sometimes meow at you, but watching and understanding their body movements and gestures is a far more accurate insight into their mood and intention.

Cats chase their tails, for example, especially when they’re young. It’s cute but it also tells us a lot about their personality.

In this case, a shaking tail can mean one of a few things. Most are no cause for alarm. In many cases, the tail shake is entirely normal. But it is worth knowing the reasons, just in case you notice something out of the ordinary.

About a Cat’s Tail

Cat’s tails can tell us a lot about what they’re feeling. For example, a low tail might indicate anxiety. A tail that is suddenly upright and bushy could mean the same thing. A tail high in the air usually indicates attentiveness and alertness.

ginger cat with fluffy tail

Our concern is when the tail is shaking. Be careful not to confuse this with wagging or twitching, which might indicate annoyance or impatience. The shaking is more rapid than twitching. It could affect the whole tail or just the tip.

What 2 Different Types of Shaking May Mean

There are two types of shaking or quivering tails to look out for/ you may come across..

1. A Straight, Quivering Tail

When your cat’s tail is pointed straight up and quivering, it is most likely just excited and happy to see you. You will most likely see this at the end of a long day away or even early in the morning when you wake up.

This is a moment to treasure, as it’s pretty reassuring to you to know that your kitty has missed you. More than that, it’s proof that your cat has affection for you, even though it may deny this through other actions later.

The quivering may also be accompanied by the tail folding back over the cat’s back, “sleepy eyes” made at you, and purring. Common knowledge suggests that this is an instinctive behavior to expose their scent glands to us as a gesture of trust.

tabby cat on a bed with tail raised
Don’t mess with my tail

2. Tail Tip Twitching

The very tip of the tail will sometimes twitch when your cat has seen something that it is interested in. It may mean that they have spotted a possible prey or item for play. You may notice that its eyes are fixed on something specific. This is usually associated with tension or excitement.

4 Emotions Associated with Tail Shaking

The reasons for your cat quivering its tail may be reasonably straightforward, but there are several emotions and reactions associated with the phenomenon. Let’s take a look into what the cat may be feeling beyond the tail, so to speak.

1. Anxiety

We know that the tip of the tail shaking means high concentration, as they’re looking at something in anticipation of catching or playing with it. This involves a certain amount of anxiety.

That same anxiety can also be triggered by frustration. For example, if your cat sees a bird through a window, their tail may be twitching with tension because it does not know how to reach it.

several cats in a window sill of a pink hat with a red frame

Another possibility is that it senses something is amiss. It may have heard a sound, for example, that it is unsure of. If the shaking tail is a common and daily occurrence, you may want to take a look at any triggering factors.

Constant stress and anxiety are bad for your kitty’s general health. Talk to a vet about the possibility of a calming pheromone diffuser or other options.

2. Anger

If any pet has a short and unpredictable temper, it’s a cat. On occasion, your cat may signal annoyance or anger with a tail movement that can be mistaken for shaking. Twitching and shaking are pretty easily mistaken for one another, so it’s possible that your cat may actually be angry.

3. Annoyance

If you are happily playing or petting your cat and suddenly see its tail vibrating, make sure it’s not because it wants you to stop. Cats can easily be irritated by an action they were perfectly fine with just a moment earlier.

Playing tabby cat in white basket with toy. Studio shot against grey.

A vibrating tail is often a precursor to more intense tail swishing. Be sure to look out for the switch. The best idea is to walk away at that point.

4. Excited Happiness

As mentioned, a shaking tail may be associated with happiness or positive excitement. You will often see this at feeding time, anticipating its favorite cat food or wet food on the way.

Cats are also fully capable of reacting excitedly when you get home. They recognize you! Some cats have even been known to respond to their favorite cat toys in this way.

The Question of Spraying Cats

In some cases, cats shake their tails as part of spraying. Cats spray to mark territory, and the shaking of the tail is usually seen as helping to activate the scent gland and spread the urine used.

ginger cat on a bench from behind

What is Spraying

In simple terms, this is a normal and natural behavior for cats, as they are predators and use scent or urine marking for territory in the wild. Even domestic cats carry forth this natural instinct. They will sometimes stand up against a vertical surface like a wall, door, or sofa and “spray” it with scented urine to mark it.

In doing so, it will raise its tail, which will appear to quiver or vibrate. When other cats smell this scent, they are told to go away. This particular hunting area (or mating area) belongs to someone else.

Domestic cats have additional factors to consider, such as “fake spray.”

siberian cat on couch

Fake Spraying

Sometimes, a domestic cat doesn’t actually spray, and the tail simply shakes as if “pretending’ to spray. It is not quite clear why this happens.

Fake spraying could indicate that the cat is feeling stressed or uncomfortable within its own territory. This might be triggered by an unwanted intrusion (usually by another pet or neighboring animal). If you suspect your cat is feeling threatened or insecure, try to address such environmental factors.

For example, some cats aren’t appropriately taught how to spray by a parent figure. In this case, it may be an instinct that forces the behavior without a proper understanding of how to do it properly. This is called phantom spraying. 

Phantom spraying may, however, serve its own purpose. For example, a cat seeing another cat appear to spray might be enough to discourage conflict. Kittens may also observe an older cat perform this act and learn from it. For example, young kittens whose mother cats do it will likely perform the same behavior – even fake spray – as they grow.

Some cats are known to spray as a sign of dissatisfaction if their owner has a new partner. To help the cat adjust to a new person, we recommended that the new person takes the time to engage in positive activities with the cat, such as feeding or playing, and be patient while the cat adjusts to the change. Additionally, involving the cat in familiar activities, such as grooming or providing a familiar bed or toys, can also help them feel more comfortable with the new person.

Spray Fighting

Oddly, cats may spray on other cats when they are fighting. This is a dominant behavior and will be accompanied by tail quivering, although this will also bear elements of anger and anxiety.

A cat will rarely spray on another passive cat or person. If it does happen, it’s most likely because you are a standing vertical surface that happens to be there.

House Cats Don’t Necessarily Spray

Many house cats do not need to mark territory, as most feel secure in their own homes. If your cat does not spray, this may not cause your cat to quiver its tail. Neutered cats, especially, are less likely to exhibit predatory behavior.

Young bearded guy sleeping on sofa at home.

Bear in mind that other stress factors may trigger spraying behavior. For example, if you move house, the brand new environment may need “marking,” as your cat can no longer smell itself on anything.

Interesting Facts About Your Cat’s Tail

Since we’re talking about a cat’s tail, let’s consider a few interesting facts about your cat’s anatomy.

  • Tails have bones. In fact, depending on the breed, cats have between 20 and 23 vertebrae in their tails. The tail also contains a fascinating construction of muscles and ligaments, making it decidedly dextrous and flexible.
  • As noted, cats can use their tails to communicate. You could learn to read a cat’s mood by understanding its tail position. Twitchy for annoyed, high for happy, and so on. It can also be helpful to check for other body language cues e.g. ears flattened against the head or growling, that may indicate the overall mood and emotions.
  • A note about a cat holding its tail up high. As far as experts know, domestic cats are the only cats that walk with their tails up. This is thought to be a sign of comfort and will indicate that it is open to interaction. So, if a cat is walking about with its tail up, it is generally comfortable and happy, open to your approach. Maybe. For now.
Ginger tabby with very fluffy tail outside on a leash.
Who wouldn’t chase this tail?
  • Cats use their tails for balance. When you see a cat do an impressive walk along a narrow fence or high surface — like a gymnast — it is using its tail to maintain that perfect balance. It can also be used in jumping, to correct a landing, for example. You may notice cheetahs using their tails while running. A domestic cat can also use it similarly, especially when turning, as a counterweight.
  • Because of this, an injury to the tail can have extended consequences for a cat. It can affect balance and movement, even though it does not directly impact the spinal cord. A cat’s tail is so integral to its basic movement and structure, that it is truly a shame when damaged. Do not pull a cat’s tail, as it may cause injury.
  • When your cat walks by you and wraps its tail around your leg, it wants you to say hi. Also, it may be secretly scenting you. Generally, it’s a good thing. They may do the same with other cats in the home for the same reasons.
Bobtail cat portrait
  • That said, a cat can survive without its tail. It may not be the best life anymore, and it may suffer from some pain or discomfort, not to mention the loss of mobility.
  • Trivia: The longest domestic cat tail on record measures 17.58 inches. Not surprisingly, the tail belonged to a Maine Coon, one of the largest domestic breeds in the world.
ginger cat sits on dark couch with tail out

Final Thoughts on Why Does my Cats Tail Shake

As you now know, there are plenty of reasons why your cat’s tail might shake or quiver. However, it’s important to know the difference between your cat’s different tail motions. Is it quivering excitedly, or is it twitching?

If it’s standing next to a vertical surface, might it be spraying? Or is it simply doing this every time you feed it? Keep a keen eye on when the tail is moving — and how. Hopefully, you’ll realize there’s nothing to worry about.

If, for some reason, you do feel that the behavior is concerning, consult a vet for advice on how to address the situation. In rare cases tail shaking in cats can also be a sign of medical conditions such as neurological problems, infections, or pain, so if the behavior persists or is accompanied by other symptoms, it’s best to consult a veterinarian. Most of all, enjoy your cat’s company!

siamese cat walking

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