A friendly dog will wag its tail, especially when it's happy to see his owner. Cats can communicate their approval and appreciation too, but I don't remember ever hearing a cat wagging its tail for joy.

So, what does a cat's tail do when it's happy?

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    I thought cats purred to show happiness. I am not sure they do anything with their tails. It is worth keeping in mind that cat research is very limited, due to cats being unco-operative little creatures -> slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2014/04/… Nov 6 '14 at 10:18
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    @Mari-LouA ~ cats weave between your feet when you carry food. They are hoping it will end up on the floor where they can get it. Cats are smart... Nov 6 '14 at 15:05
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    @RoaringFish That is very true. First I had a sweet but stubborn wolf-dog who's posted an answer, now a roaring fish comments. Whatever next? The Canadian catuser himself, ermanen! Whose very own profile page has a white cat purring!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 6 '14 at 15:29
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    When a cat is happy, its tail will be perfectly still. A moving tail on a cat signifies displeasure, not happiness.
    – Marthaª
    Nov 6 '14 at 21:38
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    @Mari-LouA: first of all, THWACK. Second, interpreting a cat's tail is more an art than a science. For example, if it's an orange tabby and the tail tip is twitching even a little bit, you probably need to stop petting it NOW. (Yeah, I know he's purring like crazy. Doesn't matter.) If it's any other color of cat, however, it's probably perfectly happy. -- But none of this has anything to do with language. There isn't a verb for what a cat's tail does when it's happy, because verbs signify action, not inaction.
    – Marthaª
    Nov 6 '14 at 22:19

It appears there are no specific terms for the ways a cat moves its tail, despite the many and different signals it may send.

The tail says it all: Watching a cat's tail is an excellent way to determine how they are feeling. If you get bitten by a cat, mostly likely you missed the warning signs.

  • Friendly and raised: Usually a cat with a raised tail (sometimes with a slightly bent tip), accompanied by their ears up high, is happy to see you and might approach you in a friendly greeting. You may also see cats approaching each other with raised tails with bent tips... these cats are being friendly!

  • Wagging tail = bad: Unlike a dog, a wagging cat tail does not mean they are happy to see you! You can tell a lot by a cat tail, and when it's moving in a wag, that generally means something or someone is being annoying.

  • Twitching curiosity: While a lashing cat tail usually implies anger, a little bit of twitching does not necessarily mean that.

  • Fluffy fear: When a cat's tail is puffed up and looks bristled, the cat is feeling afraid, threatened and could either be on the defensive or offensive.This is usually accompanied by an arched back.

Probably one of the very few 'cat-specific' verbs is to purr:

  • (esp of cats) to make a low vibrant sound, usually considered as expressing pleasure, etc.
  • If you could reduce the info and keep on topic, (A cat_____ its tail when it's happy) I'd purr like a kitty cat. Because superficially it looks like you're offering me several alternatives, which you aren't, but then again I didn't ask for a list of different ways you could describe a cat's tail. I don't mind a little creativity, and I don't mind a list of suitable expressions but they should relate to "my" question. :))
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 6 '14 at 8:39
  • Or at the least, highlight the key expression more clearly. I'm not going to over-complicate the question title.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 6 '14 at 8:42
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    My point is that trere is no specific term to describe the different ways a cat moves its tail..I guess you are looking for the 'cat-translation' of wagging. Info is just to illustrate my point. In descibing the different ways a tail moves 'general'terms are used. Anyway I can deleted it if you find unuseful.
    – user66974
    Nov 6 '14 at 8:44
  • Oh, keep them. Leave the expressions for posterity purposes. :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 6 '14 at 8:45

I would say it holds its tail quivering in a vertical position when it is happy.

Cats can

  • quiver
  • twitch
  • thump
  • wag
  • flick
  • swish
  • fluff

their tails. All of which means something

As mentioned in another post, the position also means something

According to catster.com

A happy cat holds her tail high, and if she greets you at the door with her tail quivering, she's happy to see you.

(source: dogster.com)

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    So correct me instead of downvoting. Most sites say vertical and I corrected to quivering
    – mplungjan
    Nov 6 '14 at 21:32
  • Um, the bottom left picture isn't "very happy to see you", it's "about to mark you as his territory." (Or if he's neutered, he's at least going through the motions.) And the one above it, with the poofy tail, is frightened, not angry.
    – JPmiaou
    Nov 8 '14 at 4:32
  • According to - what can I say... Could be a female cat
    – mplungjan
    Nov 8 '14 at 6:20

Cat body language is more complex than simply wagging.

Most people might think swishing is the feline equivalent of wagging. But according to Common Cat Behaviors (Best-Cat-Tips.com), swishing its tail from side to side "may indicate real or mock annoyance."

There are several tail signals identified on that web page. Some others are:

  • tail high and straight up means proud and content
  • tail horizontal behind, or slightly drooping means relaxed, confident and alert
  • tail held vertically and twitching or quivering means very happy, pleased to see you
  • tail held upright and hooked over at the tip means a degree of uncertainty
  • tail held upright and bristling means the cat has become defensively aggressive

And because the subject is cats:

Canis Lupus with his cat

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    Are we to trust a Dog-Wolf on the subject of cats? Nov 6 '14 at 6:32
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    @200_success I updated my answer. Nov 6 '14 at 6:36
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    If you could find an image of cats with their tails in the configurations you described, that would be more appropriate. Nov 6 '14 at 6:38
  • They are easy to find. Start with the reference I gave. There are several other pages with graphics and photos. Bing a a great photo resource also. Nov 6 '14 at 6:39
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    I have a wagging doubt he might categorically and doggedly decline to purrsue this ;)
    – mplungjan
    Nov 6 '14 at 15:08

A cat raises its tail (up) when happy or friendly. [In general, because not all cats do that and not every time they are happy.]

A happy cat raises its tail straight up. A cat may still be happy if their tail is up the in air with the tip curled. It just means that they feel a bit unsure.


It is even seen in big cats like African lions:

A friendly cat raises its tail to allow this inspection, but often one is more fearful, keeps its tail down, and sidesteps, so the pair ends up circling.

[The Behavior Guide to African Mammals by By Richard Estes]


In English, the word 'wag' is not used for the movement of a cat's tail. The action of the movement and its intent are different enough that it feels very wrong to use for cats.

However, the answer for the word for the movement of a cat's tail is not so obvious. The only movement of a cat's tail that is close to that of a dog's is used by the cat, not when it is happy or conciliatory (as it is for a dog) but when it is in attack or stealth mode. The word to describe this would be

to flick its tail back and forth

'flicking' is a general movement, not closely connected with a cat (as opposed to a dog where the word 'wagging' is almost a defining characteristic).

  • However it does not seem to denote happiness as detailed in my answer...
    – mplungjan
    Nov 7 '14 at 7:58
  • @Mari-LouA typos fixed. But what would you like instead of 'it'... 'they'?
    – Mitch
    Nov 7 '14 at 12:40
  • @mplungjan - your graphic is great. My answer was simply trying to give a name for what most closely corresponds to the movement for the dog-word. And that movement doesn't correspond to happiness in a cat (at least in my perception of cat behavior). Cats never wag or whatever they do is either not called wagging or they just do things differently.
    – Mitch
    Nov 7 '14 at 12:42
  • Sure, the question was specific: So, what does a cat's tail do when it's happy?
    – mplungjan
    Nov 7 '14 at 12:44
  • @mplungjan: I was trying to avoid being negative, but I'll go ahead... there's no single word or recognizably specific term for the movement of a cat's tail when it is happy.
    – Mitch
    Nov 7 '14 at 12:48

One of the most important uses for a cat's tail is orienting itself in mid-air, so as to land on it's feet, or to capture prey that is leaping to escape. As for happiness, there's no word specifically applied to this case with a cat. One might say the cat's tail evidenced its approval or something similar.

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    Q: So, what does a cat's tail do when it's happy? :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 6 '14 at 6:54

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