Why Do Cats Wiggle Before They Pounce?

Anyone who has the joy of being a cat parent has surely witnessed their furry feline stalking a favorite toy. They crouch low to the ground, wiggling their hind end back and forth before pouncing, swiftly capturing their “prey.” The butt wiggle is undeniably cute and entertaining, but it also serves a few practical purposes for cats.

The Science Behind the Butt Wiggle

Although there is limited formal research on butt wiggling in cats, evolutionary biomechanics professor John Hutchinson of the Royal Veterinary College in London offers insight into this behavior. According to him, the increased traction from butt wiggling, coupled with the preparation of the cat’s vision, balance, and muscular system, is the most plausible explanation.

Here are some of the most common theories surrounding this adorable behavior.

1. Cats Wiggle for Stability

One theory suggests that the butt wiggle is related to the differences in how cats move their hind legs while walking versus pouncing. When cats walk, they alternate moving their hind legs to propel themselves forward. However, when they jump or pounce, they push off the ground with both hind legs simultaneously, generating more power, speed, and distance.

To facilitate this coordinated movement, cats need a sturdy surface beneath them. Therefore, the butt wiggle helps them:

  • Test the solidity of the ground before leaping
  • Ensure sufficient traction
  • Maintain balance before pushing off the ground
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Miscalculations in ground strength or a lack of balance could result in escaped prey or potential injury. Interestingly, both house cats and big cats like mountain lions, tigers, jaguars, and leopards have been observed exhibiting this behavior.

2. Cats Wiggle While They Plan

Another theory suggests that butt wiggling serves as a form of planning for cats. It helps them prepare their muscles for a significant, powerful movement that requires precision during a hunt. These small muscle movements provide cats with a brief aerobic workout and help stretch their muscles, enhancing their pouncing ability.

3. Cats Wiggle Because It’s Fun

When cats engage in hunting and play, their brains release dopamine—a neurotransmitter responsible for excitement, motivation, and pleasure. The butt-wiggling behavior may be an enjoyable activity for cats, helping them release excess energy resulting from the dopamine surge.

Do Cats Learn the Butt Wiggle or Do It Instinctively?

The prevalent belief is that cat butt wiggling is a combination of learned behavior and instinct. Kittens start practicing hunting behaviors as early as 6-7 weeks old, including attempts at the butt wiggle seen in older cats.

Although kittens’ movements may be initially uncoordinated, they improve with dedicated practice. Kittens often rely on older cats, such as their mother, to demonstrate proper hunting techniques, like stalking, crouching, and pouncing, to refine their own skills.

Other Indications That a Cat Is About to Pounce

Apart from the butt wiggle, cats exhibit other body language signals that suggest they may be preparing to pounce:

  • Dilated pupils: Excitement or nervousness may cause a rush of adrenaline, leading to dilated pupils. Cats may also stare wide-eyed and unblinking at their target.
  • Pointed ears and whiskers: When a cat’s ears and whiskers are pointed forward, it demonstrates their alertness and interest.
  • Chattering or clicking sounds
  • Creeping: Cats may move in short, slow bursts with their bodies low to the ground and hind legs tucked in before pouncing.
  • Tail twitching
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If you observe these signs along with the butt wiggle while your cat is playing, it’s a good indication that they are honing 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!

Katten TrimSalon

Featured Image: iStock/scaliger