What it Means when your Cat Purrs and Swishes its Tail

Your cat wagging and purring their tail may be feeling:

  • Happy
  • Secure
  • Relaxed

The exact answer depends on what’s going on in their environment and how they’re swishing their tail.

A cat purring and slowly swishing their tail as you pet them, indicates they feel content and relaxed.

Quick swishing of the tail means your cat is agitated.

Since our cats can’t talk, we rely on reading their body language to know how they are feeling. One of the gestures that we normally see in our feline friends is purring, and swishing of the tail.

Read more, to know why your cat does this. Being able to know how your cat is feeling will help you better bond with them.


Cat Purrs and Swish Tail When they Feel Secure

In most cases, cats purr when they are feeling relaxed and calm. Another factor to consider is what’s going on in the environment.

Often your cat purrs and wags its tail when you pet or stroke them. It’s an indication that your cat likes you petting them.

They acknowledge that they feel secure in your presence. You can continue petting your beloved furry friend, and show that you care.

They feel happy and sociable.

Observing your cat’s body language can help you know their current mood. A gentle, slow swish of their tail is your cat’s expression of contentment.

Combine this information with the fact that purring is a sign of a happy cat, you are assured that your feline companion totally feels relaxed.

Two cats that get along may also purr and swish their tail when cuddling with each other. It shows that both of them feel happy in each other’s company.


Purring and Swishing Their Tail When Hunting

Cats are predators, and seeing a small bird or insect in front of them evokes their hunting instincts.  If your cat wags their tail while purring, it means they are about to pounce on the prey.

It can be real prey, or a toy lying in your house.

You will notice that when your cat’s eyes are fixed on a prey, they purr differently from what you are used to hearing—something like a mixture of a purr, and a low-pitched meow.

And the swishing of the tail is a bit faster than when they are on your lap relaxing.

Engaging in predatory behavior is good for your cat. It allows them to sharpen their hunting skills while providing enrichment.

So, don’t stop them from pouncing on whatever has caught their attention.


Speed Tail Swishing Means the Cat is Agitated

The speed at which your cat swishes its tail, matters too when describing its mood. As we have mentioned earlier, a slow swish means a content cat, but a fast swish indicates an upset cat.

When your cat moves its tail back and forth in a fast motion, it means they are agitated and would like to be left alone.

You will notice that the purring stops when your cat is in this irritated mood. Perhaps you have petted them for a long time, and they feel it’s time for you to quit.

Or, you have touched them in a place they don’t like to be petted. Each cat has a unique personality, and others have specific body parts that they don’t like to be touched.


Purring Communicates a Range of Emotions

Our cats’ purr is the most common sound we hear, but most cat owners know less about it than other cat sounds such as meowing, or hissing.

Granted, we associate purring with contentment. When your cat is curled up on the sofa keeping you company as you watch the TV, you may hear a gentle rumble.

As you stroke its chin, you hear a little quiver. It’s almost like they are sending waves of calmness.

But your cat does not only purr when happy. They use purring to communicate a range of other emotions, too.

Although it can be hard to know exactly what your cat is trying to tell you from its purr, research from feline experts, and studying the environment can help you make an informed guess.

Here are various reasons why your cat purrs:


  • They are hungry or want something

Sometimes your cat might purr when it’s mealtime. The kind of purr your cat makes when hungry, is different from the purr when food isn’t on their minds.

When your cat purrs to ask for food, they combine the purr with an unpleasant cry; a frequency very similar to a baby’s cry. Experts believe that we are more likely to respond to this kind of purr.

Amazingly, even many non-cat owners can tell the difference between the purrs.


  • Relief and healing

Cats will also purr when in discomfort to soothe themselves. Just like a child would suck their thumb when sad to feel better.

Purring is not just a good feeling for your cat. It can help an injured cat heal faster. The series of vibrations within its body can help heal bones and wounds, lessen pain and swelling, ease breathing, and repair tendons.


  • Kitten mother connection

Kittens are born deaf and blind, so purring is their only means of communication with their mothers. They purr to let mama cat know that they are OK.

Purring also helps a mother cat bond with her kittens. Think of it as a lullaby.


Cats Use Tail Movements to Express Emotions

We are all familiar with the phrase that the eyes are windows to the soul. For cats, their tail provides the owners with insight into how their feline friend is feeling.

Understanding your cat’s tail movement, along with its body postures, can help you better understand what your cat is up to. 

Here are different tail movements and their meanings:


1. Thrashing tail movement

If you see your cat thumping its tail on the floor, they are irritated, angry, and annoyed. It is a sign that something is bothering your cat.

If you were bonding with your cat in a special way, such as brushing them, perhaps it’s time to step away from the activity.

If you don’t stop, the cat may hiss or swat at you, to tell you to stop.  


2. Tail quiver

Tail quiver is often a sign that your cat is excited to see you or another cat. For example, your pet will quiver its tail when they see you come back from work, perhaps weaving its tail between your legs.

If your cat quivers their tail while holding it straight, this could also be urine marking.


3. Twitching the end of the tail

Felines twitch the end of their tail when they are playing or hunting. They could also do so when annoyed or irritated.

To know if your cat is in a playful mood or irritated, watch what they are currently doing. If they are not stalking prey or toy, then they are mildly upset.


4. Swishing tail

When your cat swishes its tail back and forth while focusing on one spot, it may be about to pounce on a toy, object, or insect.


5. Tail wrapped around your legs

Your cat wraps its tail around you when they are excited to see you. Perhaps you have just come back from shopping, and your cat can smell the tuna you have bought.

Just like we greet each other with hugs, your cat greets you by weaving its tail on your legs. They could also greet another cat this way.

It is an affiliate behavior that demonstrates your cat’s willingness to interact.


6. Tail straight up

When your cat approaches you with their tail straight up, they are feeling confident and social. This is also a friendly greeting among cats, just like the tail wrap.

It is how kittens greet their mothers. A research study found that cats are more confident and quick to approach a cat-shaped silhouette with a raised tail, but did not want to approach the silhouette with a lowered tail.

In effect, the signal says “I’m friendly” and this reduces the risk of a cat fight.


7. Tail in hook or question mark shape

A tail in this shape is where it stands upright, and curls at the end. Thus tail language indicates that your cat is happy, and ready to approach you.

You can be confident that your cat enjoys some interaction. While it can be tempting to want to pet that curled tip of the tail, it would be best just to stroke them on the cheeks, or under the chin.


8. Fluffed up tail

If your cat fluffs up its tail and curves its body, it feels frightened by a severe threat. The fur on its tail stands so that it can appear larger.

It is a defensive reaction, and it is triggered when your cat feels threatened by a dog, visitors approaching, or sudden noises.

Remove things that could cause such stress to your cat. If you approach it while its tail is in this position, they may view you as a threat and become aggressive.


9. Tail wrapped up around its body

If your cat is lying down and its tail is wrapped up around its body, it could be in pain or not feeling well.

If your cat stays in this position for a few days, take them to the vet to rule out any illness or pain.

Writer: Flora Ojow

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