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Why do cats wiggle before they pounce?

Why do cats wiggle before they pounce?


cat wiggling butt before pouncing

I don’t like to play favorites, but this particular cat behavior is one of mine: the butt wiggle before the pounce.


Hunting is serious business for cats, and there’s not a cat alive who would appreciate being called “adorable” when they’re about to ambush a house fly. But that’s exactly what this behavior is: cute as all get-out.


But cats don’t waste energy being cute, especially when they’re in the middle of an energy-sucking activity like hunting. There must be a scientific reason why cats shake their backsides before attacking.


Let’s discuss!


How do cats hunt?


cat running

Understanding cats’ hunting style is important to understanding the butt wiggle.


Predators use a variety of strategies to capture dinner.


Wolves, who aren’t particularly strong or fast as individuals, work as a team to bring down prey. They use their unusual intelligence to devise surprisingly sophisticated attack plans, and hunt cooperatively.[1]


Hawks and falcons chase prey to exhaustion.[2] Dragonflies use “ballistic interception,” meaning they predict the movement of prey and try to meet them on their expected path.[3]


Cats, on the other hand, are ambush hunters, which means that they hide first, and then leap out to capture their prey.[4]


This approach, which involves waiting, waiting, and waiting, followed by an explosion of movement, probably has something to do with the butt wiggle.


What does the butt wiggle look like?


cat hunting

A cat in hunting mode crouches down low, eyes fixed on his intended prey.


As a cat prepares to pounce, he sticks his backside in the air and quickly transfers weight back and forth between his two hind legs.


The effect of the rapid weight transfer is a swaying of the cat’s back end. It’s this swinging of the hips that cat lovers refer to as the “butt wiggle.”


Sometimes, a video is worth a thousand words:



Are house cats the only predators who wiggle their butts?


The butt-wiggle behavior has been observed in big cats who are also ambush hunters, including mountain lions, tigers, jaguars, and leopards.[5] Watch the whole video of a mountain lion wiggling its butt below, or skip ahead to 1:00.


I’m not aware of any other ambush hunters who wiggle before attacking, but that’s likely due to their own anatomies, style of ambush hunting, intended prey, and the environment in which they hunt.


For example, chameleons, who are also ambush hunters, stick out their tongues to capture insects, but they don’t leap.[6]


Ambush-hunting polar bears often just wait at breathing holes to capture seals, which is a very different kind of hunting technique than that employed by cats.[7]


Why do house cats wiggle before attacking?


Whatever you might read on the Internet, no one really knows why cats wiggle before pouncing on their prey. But there are some compelling theories. Let’s look at those.


Does wiggling prepare a cat’s muscles for pouncing?


This is a very credible theory.


An amazing study of mountain lions, which required mountain lions to learn to walk on a treadmill, proved that these cats (and very likely our house cats, too), don’t have the aerobic capacity to keep up a high-energy activity for any length of time.[8]


Here are the mountain lions on a treadmill. Definitely not something I thought I'd ever see:

Hunting cats have the ability to produce one big burst of speed and force to take down prey, but they’ve only got one shot to get it right.


Cats could be a lot like human sprinters, who also explode from a standstill and require a big burst of energy, but for only short distances.


Have you ever watched sprinters preparing for a race? Watching a group of athletes at the starting line is fascinating. Some will be jumping vertically into the air, while others will be performing tuck jumps, in which they jump straight up and while folding their knees.[9] And then they'll get into their starting blocks.


The reason for this behavior is called Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP), which gets motor neurons and muscles fibers prepped for explosive activity, like a 100-yard dash. PAP has been proven to improve a runner’s performance.[10]


Maybe cats have read the studies about PAP, too.


Does wiggling improve accuracy, like a practice swing?


Golfers do it, baseball players do it. Even people playing darts in a bar do it: they kind of mime the motion that they’re about to perform a few times, before they do it for real.


We’ve already established that ambush hunters, like cats, don’t get a do-over: they’ve got one chance to catch prey, or the gig is up.


One study of golf putting showed that practice strokes actually improved the accuracy of the real stroke. The conclusion of the study was that golfers used the information (whether consciously or subconsciously) about the position and movement of their bodies, and their effect on the club and the ball, to improve their actual strokes.[11]


Perhaps the wiggling is just a cat taking a “practice swing” before the big pounce.


Does wiggling remind a cat’s brain about the position of his body?


Proprioception is a concept related to the idea of the practice swing. Proprioception is considered the “sixth sense,” and it’s the brain’s sense of the body’s position and movement.


Proprioception is what allows us to touch our noses with our fingertips, even if our eyes are closed. It’s how we know how long our walking stride is, without even looking.


We – cats and humans and other animals – have nerves embedded in our muscles, which send information to our brains about how much pressure and speed should be applied to an activity.[12]


It’s possible that the wiggle is playing a sensory role in the ambush. Perhaps it kind of reestablishes that connection between the brain and the hind legs, in preparation for the rapid-fire communication between these body parts that happens in a pounce.[13]


Is a wiggling cat getting traction, or checking the stability of the floor?


While it sure looks like a cat who is shifting her weight from one hind foot to the other is feeling out the floor beneath her feet, I give this theory a thumbs down.


The condition of the ground beneath a cat’s paws is important, no doubt. A slippery, overly soft, or uneven surface could make a pounce ineffective, at best, and dangerous at worst.


But I’d contend that this would be true of any jump, and I’d be looking for a wiggle anytime a cat was taking a leap from the back of the sofa to the top of the cat tree, or from the kitchen counter to the floor.


But cats don’t "test the surface" any time other than when they’re hunting.


The same goes for traction. Aren’t there other times when a leaping cat would like to maximize traction? I suspect there is.


Which is why I don’t think the wiggle has anything to do with traction, or the testing of the surface beneath a cat’s feet.


But in the absence of scientific proof, it's up to you to decide!


Love Pinterest? Here's a Pinterest-friendly pin for your boards!

why do cats wiggle before they pounce - Pinterest-friendly pin


DAwn and Timmy
Dawn LaFontaine

Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.




[1] Wild Hunting Tactics: How 7 Apex Predators Do What They Do Best, Accessed 2 Jan. 2024.


[2] Kulkarni, Rhucha. “Top 8 Predatory Tactics in the Wild You Must Know.” Saevus, 4 June 2018,


[3] “Predation.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 31 Dec. 2023,


[4] Hani, Daniel. “How Wild Is Your Cat? 6 Key Behaviours That Reveal the Wild Ancestry of Your Cat.” Discover Wildlife, Accessed 2 Jan. 2024.


[5] “Why Do Cats Wiggle before They Pounce?” PetMD, Accessed 2 Jan. 2024.


[6] “Ambush Predator.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 31 Dec. 2023,


[7] “Top 10 Facts about Polar Bears.” WWF, Accessed 3 Jan. 2024.


[8] “Study of Mountain Lion Energetics Shows the Power of the Pounce.” UC Santa Cruz News, Accessed 3 Jan. 2024.


[9] Lee, Jimson. “Why Do Sprinters Do Tuck Jumps before Starting Blocks.” SpeedEndurance.Com, 21 May 2014,


[10] Walker, Owen. “Post-Activation Potentiation.” Science for Sport, 22 Aug. 2023,


[11] Hasegawa, Yumiko, et al. “Practice Motions Performed during Preperformance Preparation Drive the Actual Motion of Golf Putting.” Frontiers in Psychology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 25 Mar. 2020,


[12] Bogart, Dr. Desiree Van. “Proprioception- the Sixth Sense That Every Athlete Needs to Develop.” Desired Health Chiropractic, 4 June 2019,


[13] Sonoma, Serena. “Why Do Cats Wiggle Their Butts before They Pounce?” LiveScience, Purch, 15 Sept. 2022,


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  • Janice – I love your analogy. That’s kind of what it looks like!!

    Dawn LaFontaine
  • I’ve always thought of the cat’s butt wiggle as a ‘winding of the main spring’ in preperation of the launch.

    Janice Bruorton

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