Why Does My Cat's Tail Vibrate?
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Cats vibrating their tail are communicating with others in their environment. Different tail positions and movements in cats will have different interpretations. To understand what they mean, we need to study feline communication and body language. We also need to look at the context of the situation. Understanding what they are trying to communicate will be easier if we know our cat's personality, behaviors and other characteristics. In this way, we can have a certain level of expectation and be in a better position to understand if our feline is trying to communicate a problem.
At AnimalWised, we ask why does my cat's tail vibrate? We look at the causes of a cat's vibrating tail to understand the emotions behind this action. We will also find out when cats vibrating tails is a sign of a problem which can affect their wellbeing.
Why do cats move their tails?
While there are tailless cat breeds, these felines are at a disadvantage. Cats use their tails for various purposes, including balance, defense, sensing their environment and communication, among other uses. Without a tail, cats cannot carry out the same behaviors, although those without tails have learned to adapt in other ways.
A cat's tail is important for various feline behaviors. These include the following:
- Hunting behaviors: cats have a very keen hunting instinct and will use everything in their arsenal to catch prey. If you see a cat stalking a mouse, lizard or other potential prey, you will likely see their tail moving gently from side to side. This is to help them maintain their balance when they pounce.
- Emotional state: a cat's tail is an important indicator of their emotional wellbeing. Relaxed tails often mean a relaxed cat, but this doesn't mean a straight tail means they are upset. They could be excited to see us or even simply feel a little cold.
- Balance: it is not only when pouncing that cats need to maintain their balance. Cats love to be at height, meaning it is especially important they keep their balance. Falling can lead to problems such as high-rise syndrome in cats, so using their tail to right themselves is very useful.
- Mating: female cats will lift their tail when they are in heat. This is one of the ways they notify males of their willingness to mate. They will also use their tail to waft pheromones so it is easier for males to pick up on them.
- Marking: both male and female cats will also lift their tails to mark territory.
- Communication: especially for cat guardians, one of the most important uses of a cat's tail is to communicate with others.
There are many different tail positions and movements as cat can make to communicate. Below, we look into greater detail at the reasons why a cat's tail vibrates.
One of the main reasons why your cat's tail will vibrate is excitement. Sometimes the cat can be so excited their tail shakes like a rattlesnake. When they are excited, a cat's tail will often flick from side to side very fast, giving the appearance it is vibrating.
Why a cat's tail will vibrate due to excitement depends on the context. It is often very easy to interpret once we consider this. For example, it is common for cats to greet their owners when they come home. Not only is this a sign of excitement, it is a clear sign your cat loves you. Another common reason a cat's tail vibrates due to excitement is if they smell a treat or some food they like.
Such states of excitement should not be prolonged in cats. For example, if our cat is always excited when they see us, it could imply we do not spend enough time with them. Although cats are relatively independent, they will need sufficient mental and physical stimulation from their human guardians. How much they need will depend on the individual cat.
Excitement can be both positive and negative. If a cat has reason to be anxious, vibrating their tail can be a sign they are in a state of anxiety. There are many stress factors which can affect cats, much of them related to their feline instinct. For example, cats are creatures of routine. If something disturbs this routine, it can cause them stress. This can be as seemingly insignificant as changing their food or very disruptive such as moving home.
Certain situations can cause momentary anxiety in a cat. In these cases, a cat shaking their tail is a normal reaction and will pass once the stimulus is gone from their environment. When a cat has prolonged periods of stress, they will adopt an anxious cat pose. This includes the cat having wide eyes with dilated pupils, ears back on their head, agitated breathing and a vibrating tail.
If we see our cat adopting this pose regularly, it means they are anxious regularly. Some cats may be more prone to anxiety than others. These include cats that have experienced trauma in the past or those which have been poorly socialized.
Cats use their tail to communicate with other cats. We have already mentioned how they use their tail to indicate a willingness to mate, but they will also use it with potential rivals. For male cats that have not been sterilized, their competition for a mate can become fierce. If they smell a female in heat and then see another male rival, they will often vibrate their tails violently as a sign of aggression.
It is not just mating which can cause a cat to show aggression. If another cat enters their territory, they can vibrate their tail reactively. In most of these altercations, one cat will usually step down and run away. However, neighboring cats can fight regularly if they are both very territorial. This is one of the many reasons it is important to spay and neuter your cat.
Vibrating their tail for reasons of aggression is more problematic with cats in the same household. If you try to introduce a new cat to the home, it can lead to serious problems. For this reason, it is very important you learn how to introduce cats correctly and best ensure a happy coexistence in the home.
They don't want to be petted
Another common reason a cat vibrates their tail is to indicate they do not want further interaction. Even if they first approach us, many cats will noy enjoy being petted for too long. This is especially the case if you do not pet the cat in the right place.
When a cat no longer wants to be petted, they will give various signals. They may dilate their pupils, put their ears back on their head or even start grooming themselves to try to tell us to stop. If we persist, they may start to wag their tail increasingly fast until it vibrates. Often this is the sign right before the cat bites or scratches you to make their point forcefully known.
What do I do if my cat wags its tail like a rattle?
In most cases, we do not need to do anything when a cat vibrates their tail. Shaking their tail is an important communication signal in cats which is used to help show others their state of emotion in that moment. Trying to stop the cat from shaking their tail would be trying to deny their feline nature. Doing so can have seriously detrimental repercussions on the cat's wellbeing. It will likely result in the cat developing behavioral or health issues.
When a cat vibrating their tail is a problem it is due to issues with overexcitement or anxiety. As stated above, these problems are often due to environmental factors, but it can also be due to our behavior or issues with their level of care. With this context in mind, we look at the ways we can help a cat deal with anxiety that causes them to vibrate their tail:
- Socialization: cats which have been poorly socialized are more likely to develop anxiety problems. Socializing should occur from the time they are kittens, but it is also important to socialize adult cats. This will help them better able to deal with various encounters without feelings of fear or insecurity.
- Environmental enrichment: cats which are understimulated are more likely to develop anxiety problems since they cannot release their pent up energy in a healthy way. Providing environmental enrichment for cats such as toys, intelligence games, wall-mounted platforms and scratching posts will help them feel engaged.
- Avoid changes in routine: since cats are very sensitive to change, try to maintain a steady routine. Provide the same food at the same time and do not try to play with them when they are sleeping. If there are important changes we need to make in the home, make them gradually and support the cat through the time.
- Spend time with them: one of the most common problems which can cause anxiety in cats is a lack of interaction. We need to ensure we care for our cat by playing with them, being affectionate with them and generally strengthening our bond together. Doing so will result in a much more relaxed and happy cat.
Even if we meet the care requirements of our cat, it is easy for them to become stressed and vibrate their tail. While these moments will pass, we can support them through this time to make it easier for them. We help you do so with our guide on how to calm a stressed or nervous cat.
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