Anyone who has had the pleasure of cat parenthood has seen their furry feline stalk a favorite toy. They crouch low to the ground and wiggle their hind end back and forth before pouncing, ending the hunt by successfully capturing their “prey.”
The butt wiggle is undoubtedly cute and entertaining, but it also serves a few practical purposes for cats.
What Causes the Butt Wiggle in a Cat That’s About To Pounce?
Currently, there is very little formal, peer-reviewed research into butt wiggling in cats. However, evolutionary biomechanics professor John Hutchinson of the Royal Veterinary College in London believes the increased traction from butt wiggling—along with preparing the cat’s vision, balance, and muscular system for pouncing—is the most likely explanation.
Here are some of the most common theories about this behavior.
1. Cats Wiggle for Stability
One of the main explanations for the butt wiggle has to do with the differences in how cats move their hind legs when they are walking versus pouncing. When cats walk, they alternate moving their hind legs to propel themselves forward from point A to point B. But when cats jump or pounce to capture prey, they push off the ground with both hind legs at the same time to give the movement more power, speed, and distance.
The ground beneath the cat must be sturdy enough to support this coordinated movement of the hind limbs. So, this theory suggests that a cat wiggles:
To test the solidness of the ground before making the leap
To ensure they have sufficient traction
To keep themselves well-balanced before pushing off the ground
Miscalculating the strength of the ground or their lack of balance could lead to escaped prey or even injury if the ground gives way underneath them. While house cats are more likely than wild cats to wiggle their butt before they pounce, this behavior has also been observed in big cats like mountain lions, tigers, jaguars, and leopards.
2. Cats Wiggle While They Plan
Another theory suggests butt wiggling is a form of planning cats use to prepare their muscles for a big, powerful movement—one that must be precise for a successful hunt. These small muscle movements give cats a short aerobic workout and stretch their muscles out to allow for better pouncing.
3. Cats Wiggle Because It’s Fun
When cats engage in hunting and play, their brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of excitement, motivation, and pleasure. The butt-wiggling behavior may be something that cats do because it’s fun for them. It may also help them release any excess energy created by the surge of dopamine.
Do Cats Learn the Butt Wiggle or Do It Instinctively?
The predominant idea behind cat butt wiggling is that it’s a little bit of both. Kittens begin to practice hunting behaviors when they’re as young as 6–7 weeks old, and this may include attempts at the butt wiggle seen in older cats.
But a kitten’s movements are often uncoordinated, requiring dedicated practice to improve their pounce. So, kittens may need to rely on older cats (such as their mother) to demonstrate proper hunting behaviors such as stalking, crouching, and pouncing to help perfect their own skill.
Other Signs That a Cat Is About To Pounce
Besides the butt wiggle, cats can show other body language signals indicating they may be about to pounce.
Dilated pupils: When cats are excited or nervous while hunting, their pupils may dilate from a rush of adrenaline. They may also stare wide-eyed and unblinking at their target.
Pointed ears and whiskers: The cat’s ears and whiskers are often pointed forward, demonstrating alertness and interest.
Creeping: They may creep in short, slow bursts with their body low to the ground and their hind legs tucked toward the prey or a toy before they pounce.
If you see these signs along with the butt wiggle while your cat is playing, it’s a good indication that they are practicing their hunting skills. Hopefully, your cat has a wide variety of toys to stalk, and their pre-pounce butt wiggle doesn’t mean they’re about to launch themselves at your feet!
Featured Image: iStock/scaliger
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