Why Does My Cat Wiggle its Butt Before Pouncing?

No one knows the real reason why cats wiggle before pouncing, also known as the ‘death wiggle,’ but here are four of the strongest theories.

Mar 2, 2024By Ryan Brennan
why does my cat wiggle their butt before pouncing

I know I’m not the only one who gets excited when a cat starts wiggling their tush before pouncing. Also known as the ‘death wiggle,’ it’s one of the most adorable hunting behaviors you’ll ever witness.

So, why do cats wiggle before they pounce?

Well, there’s one problem with that question – no one knows why they do it, and no real studies are being done to find out. There are, however, multiple theories – four of which we’ll discuss below – that make this behavior that much more adorable.

4. Balance, Stability, & Traction

cat wide eyes crouched

Some veterinarians believe the ‘death wiggle’ is a cat’s way of familiarizing themselves with their environment – ensuring they have the balance, stability, and traction to execute the perfect pounce.

Balance. A lack of balance could be the difference between a full and empty stomach (in the wild, of course). Butt-wiggling might be their way of staying balanced until the right moment.

Stability. Wiggling their bums could be your cat’s way of testing the ground to ensure it’s stable and firm. An unstable ground makes it more difficult to control the body while pouncing.

Traction. No two surfaces are the same. A good ol’ butt wiggle helps your cat dig their paws into the ground to establish traction before pouncing – ensuring maximum exertion.

In order to execute the perfect pounce, your cat needs full control of their body and surroundings – otherwise, they’ll be too distracted to focus on their target.

3. Planning Out Their Attack

striped cat stalking prey

If you’ve ever wondered why your cat’s pounces are so precise and accurate, it’s because a lot of thought goes into every little movement they make – if they have the time, of course.

Most cats won’t wiggle their butt if they’re snuck up on, but they’ll usually wiggle it when they’re the ones doing the sneaking. It could be a way of timing their movements with the environment around them – including the prey they’re sneaking up on.

In the wild, timing is everything. If a cat is a fraction of a second late with their pounce, they won’t be eating dinner that night. By wiggling their butt, they can stay locked in on what’s in front of them.

I’ve also noticed that my cat stops wiggling their butt if I make a sudden movement or noise – causing him to ‘snap out’ of his little ‘funk,’ and making me feel like I ruined his plan.

2. Warming Up the Muscles

gray cat pouncing

What’s the first thing an athlete (or anyone, for that matter) does before exercising?

Exactly – a warm-up.

That little wiggle your cat does before pouncing could be their way of warming their muscles up before launching an attack. It’s not that crazy of a thought – everyone does it, to some degree.

Tennis players usually hop up and down or sway side to side before their opponent serves – to ensure they’re ready to strike when that moment comes. The swaying motion keeps their body moving, while the hop (known as a split step) helps them time their decision.

It’s the same idea with your cat. When they wiggle their butt, their hind legs are gently pushing off the ground – keeping their body moving, and ensuring they’re ready to attack at the best possible moment. It also allows them to easily transfer balance from one side to the next, depending on what’s needed.

1. Sudden Rush of Dopamine

orange white cat wiggle

When we exercise, our bodies release a chemical called dopamine – also known as the ‘feel good’ hormone. Once released, it activates the parts of our brain associated with reward and motivation.

It’s the same dopamine our bodies release when we’re shopping, cooking, playing or watching our favorite sport, or reading a text from someone we love.

Believe it or not, the same thing happens when a cat hunts – they get a sudden rush of dopamine. The ‘death wiggle’ could be a way of 1) releasing excess energy as a result of the dopamine increase or 2) showing their excitement because they’re doing something they enjoy.

Your cat also gets a small dopamine rush when you pet them or play with them – so don’t forget to give them some much-needed attention throughout the day!

Is the ‘Death Wiggle’ Exclusive to Domestic Cats?

snow leopard stalking prey

Most people associate the ‘death wiggle’ with domestic cats, but they’re not the only type of cats who wiggle their bum before pouncing. In fact, this behavior has been observed in lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars – as well as other wild cats.

Again, like their domestic counterparts, more research is needed to confirm why large cats wiggle before pouncing. But they apparently do it for much of the same reasons – balance, stability, traction, dopamine, warming up, and planning.

Maybe we’ll learn more about this unique behavior in the future, but I’m okay with admiring it for now – because watching my cat do it is one of the highlights of my day.

Other Adorable Cat Behaviors While Hunting

cat chasing small mouse

Watching a domestic cat hunt its pray is one of the cutest things you’ll ever see – and it’s not just because of the ‘death wiggle.’

Dilated pupils. Pointed ears and whiskers. Growling. Creeping. Tail twitches. Having one paw in the air and one paw on the ground. Moving their head up and down, side to side.

Cats are full of adorable behaviors when they enter ‘stalk mode’ – I could watch it all day!

Of course, every cat is unique in their own way – and I’d love to know what strange behaviors your cat exhibits while playing or hunting. One of my personal favorites is the little ‘bunny kick’ my cat does when he’s playing with a toy. It’s just another natural instinct that happens to be adorable.

Ryan Brennan
By Ryan Brennan

Ryan is a content writer with 10+ years of experience in the field. He is the proud owner of a white domestic short-haired cat with black spots named Jaxx - he looks like a cow, but acts and sounds like a cat. They enjoy doing laps around the house with a laser pointer and snuggling when it’s time for bed. Ryan hopes to give Jaxx a puppy friend someday.