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Cat body language: Tail twitching and chin rubbing

Sunday July 31st, 2011

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A cat’s body language tells you a lot about what the cat is thinking or intends to do next. Humans aren't always good at reading these feline signs so learning them will help you understand your cat better.

As with dogs, the tail signals a cat’s intentions. If a dog wags his tail, it means he is happy. This is not true with a cat — and they’ve perfected various tail twitches to carry different messages.

An upright tail that flips forward over the cat’s back is in a neutral, welcoming position. The cat is happy to see you.This posture can also signal indecision. The cat hasn't decided what his next move will be. If the cat’s tail quivers and he dances on his back feet, he is giving you an ecstatically happy greeting. This same posture is used when cats want to mark a place by urine spraying it. Luckily, there is no spraying when this is a greeting.

Tail twitching

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Twitching the tail tip, while holding the tail low and straight, is often associated with hunting behavior. During hunting the body is in a crouched position ready to pounce. The crouch and moving tail tip indicate an intense focus on prey.

Tail twitching can also be associated with aggression. The more the tail is moving back and forth, the less happy the cat is. Rapid tail movement means he is issuing a threat to another cat or human.

An upright, “bottle brush” tail indicates the cat feels threatened and is being defensively aggressive. The hair on his spine also stands up giving him a Halloween cat profile and making him seem larger. This is a ploy designed to make an aggressor go away. If you see a stray cat with a rapidly twitching or moving tail, it is best to stay away from him for your own safety.

Sometimes cats will twine their tail around a person’s legs in a bid for attention or food. It is also a marking technique to say, “This person is mine.”

Chin rubbing

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Another aspect of feline body language is chin rubbing or head butting. These actions make cat owners smile because they signal a happy, affectionate cat. By using this behavior, the cat is marking his person, another cat or anything else in his territory as belonging to him.

Cats have glands on different parts of their bodies that secrete tiny amounts of pheromone. Pheromones are vital to cat communication. A person can’t smell the scent but another cat can, and this marking behavior is like leaving messages for other cats wherever you go. A cat uses pheromones to attract a mate, define territory, promote comfort and let other cats know where he’s been.

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