Sometimes referred to as the "death wiggle", cats wiggling their bums before pouncing on their unsuspecting prey (which could be their toy, owner or four-legged sibling) is one of their most intriguing behaviours. While this rump wriggle is adorable to watch, there's been no formal research into this signature feline move, and it continues to baffle cat parents as to what it means.
Fortunately, in recent years research into animal locomotion has begun to shed some light on the biomechanics of cat movements, revealing some possible theories as to why cats wiggle their bums before pouncing.
Why do cats wiggle their bums before pouncing?
While not all cats wiggle their butts before pouncing, it's a fairly common feline trait, even in the wild. Many big cats, including lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars, wiggle their bums before leaping onto their prey.
John Hutchinson, a professor of evolutionary biometrics at the Royal Veterinary College in London, studies animal locomotion. He believes this bum wiggle may play a sensory role in preparing a cat for hunting – preparing the vision proprioception (the cat's awareness of its position and movement) and muscle traction for the rapid neural commands needed for the pounce.
Here are some other reasons for a cat's pre-pounce butt wiggle:
To be able to leap onto their prey successfully, cats must use both hind legs to propel themselves to ensure full takeoff. However, while pouncing is an energy-intensive movement for cats, a little bum wiggle can give your cat a warm-up that prepares its muscles for pouncing and helps avoid injury.
When a cat is about to pounce, they use both back legs simultaneously to propel itself. They may also position their front paws close to their body while their eyes are focused on their target. This position, along with the bum wiggle, helps them to check and maintain their balance and control over their body to ensure their pounce is accurate.
The thrill of the hunt
For a cat, hunting is not just about catching their prey but the thrill of the hunt. So when they wiggle their bum, they display the excitement and anticipation they feel for what's about to happen.
Why does my cat wiggle and pounce on me?
If your cat wiggles their bum and pounces on you, it's likely a sign that they are in a playful mood and want your attention. It is all part of playtime for your cat, which is important for their mental and physical health. Cats also use playtime to explore their environment and bond with their owners. When cats wiggle their bums before pouncing on you, it's a good sign they are enjoying themselves and showing their trust and affection for you.
However, not all cats enjoy playtime in the same way. If your cat seems overly aggressive or uses their claws when playing with you, redirect their behaviour with appropriate cat toys to avoid you or your cat getting injured.
Why do cats lift one paw before pouncing?
Like with the bum wiggle before pouncing, cats lifting one paw before pouncing is often a sign they are about to strike. It may also be that the cat is preparing to swipe or catch something with their paws while leaping into the air which can also help them maintain their balance, especially on a high surface.
Cats wigging their bums before pouncing is a fascinating feline behaviour that enables cats to be agile and precise hunters. So, whether they're hunting prey in the garden, one of their toys, or even your foot under the blanket, this butt wiggle helps them to get their body and mind ready for the big pounce and ensure they get it right at the first attempt.