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What does it mean when cats wiggle their butts before attacking? Here’s everything you need to know about the signature bum wiggle

In the moments before your cat is about to pounce on their prey or their favourite toy, you may have noticed a cute wiggle of their behind as they prepare to launch into action. Sometimes known as the ‘death wiggle’, this signature move is not entirely understood, but there are many theories about what it means when your cat wiggles.

black cat in crouched position ready to pounce

Three theories why cats wiggle their butts before pouncing

  1. Adjusting their balance
    When cats pounce, they propel themselves using both of their back legs at the same time, so wiggling their butts may give them a chance to check their balance to make sure their pounce will be accurate and effective. They may only have one chance to catch their prey, so preparation is key to getting it right first time.
  2. Checking the ground is stable
    When cats wiggle, they move the back legs and up and down and this may help them to check that the ground beneath them is solid and stable enough to jump from. If the ground is uneven, soft or slippery, they could injure themselves, so a quick wiggle gives them a chance to adjust their footing and get better traction for a safe take-off.
  3. Warming up
    Just as humans warm up before exercising, a bum wiggle may help cats to prepare their muscles for a big leap. Pouncing is a big, energy-intensive movement for cats, so a wiggle could help flex their back leg muscles to reduce the risk of injury.

Why doesn’t my cat wiggle before pouncing?

A cat’s hunting behaviour can feature several steps, including stalking, crouching, wiggling, pouncing and bunny kicking. These are innate behaviours that are built into them, but not all cats will perform every step every time. If your cat doesn’t wiggle their butt before they attack, there’s no need to worry. It’s good to give them lots of different options for play though, so they have the opportunity to wiggle if they want to. Try using fishing rod toys that you can drag along the floor for them to stalk and pounce on, ping pong balls that they can swat around themselves, and kicker toys that they can practice their bunny kicking on. Using appropriate cat toys will help to prevent them hunting and attacking anything inappropriate, such as your feet!

long-haired brown tabby kitten stalking across grass lawn

Do big cats wiggle before they pounce?

It’s not just our pet cats who wiggle their butts, big cats such as lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars sometimes do this while hunting too. It’s most likely for the same reasons domesticated cats are thought to wiggle; to adjust their balance, check the stability of the ground and to warm up their muscles.

Why do cats lift one paw before pouncing?

Like the butt wiggle, it’s likely that lifting a paw is another way cats might sometimes prepare themselves to pounce, particularly if they are anticipating needing to swat or catch something with their front paws as they do. There may be a few more steps in-between the paw lift and the pounce, but it’s probably another way for them to warm up for a big leap.

Find more advice about cats and hunting/play.

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