Mystery solved: Why cats wiggle their behinds before pouncing

Categories: PHS Blog
Coco
Link (No. A488507) may not be adventuring all over Hyrule, but he loves chillin’ in his cat tree at Pet Food Express and making eyes at people until they play with him. And how could you resist? Bring Link into your life — it’ll be more fun than a bucket of koroks!

The other day, we had a pair of the most adorable kittens hanging out in the office prior to a television appearance they were scheduled for later in the afternoon. I was watching them chase each other and play, and I got to wondering about something.

Why do all cats do that little butt wiggle thing just before they pounce? It’s like a little pre-hunt disco-shimmy warmup that I assume is supposed to look gruesome and intimidating to prey but just ends up looking like the cat version of twerking.

Why do they do that?

Yes, these are the things I think about during a normal work day, and I’d appreciate it if you’d stop giving me that judgy arched eyebrow. I do real work stuff sometimes!

This butt-wiggling pounce lasts just a few moments as the feline crouches down low and wiggles its rear end before launching itself at its target … which is sometimes my feet under the blankets or the ankle of an unsuspecting passerby. One just never knows what will elicit such fearsome attacks.

Though there hasn’t been any “formal” research on this quirky little cat twerk behavior, I was able to track down some insight from a scientist who studies animal locomotion. And he has some ideas on why kitty dances a little jig just before a high-stakes ambush.

According to John Hutchinson, a professor of evolutionary biomechanics at the Royal Veterinary College in London, butt-wiggling may help press the hindlimbs into the ground to give cats added friction (i.e., traction) for pushing them forward in the pounce.

“It may also have a sensory role to prepare the vision, proprioception (an awareness of one’s position and movement) and muscle — and whole cat — for the rapid neural commands needed for the pounce,” Hutchinson noted.

Butt wiggling may also give the cat an aerobic warm-up, of sorts. Speaking as someone who regularly injures himself bending down to pick up a quarter, I can see why this might be a good practice.

“It probably does stretch the muscles a bit and that might help with pouncing, and we can’t exclude that it’s just fun for cats; they do it because they are excited by the thrill of the hunt (and) prey.” he said.

Domesticated cats aren’t alone in this behavior; wild cats — yes, even fierce creatures such as lions, tigers and jaguars — shake their derrières before striking (just hopefully not your feet).

While I was researching the biological explanation for the kitty twerk, I came across some research about cat stretching, and that seemed pretty interesting too.

So down the rabbit hole I went … and I’m dragging all you with me.

If you ask me, cats are the original innovators of yoga. They’re constantly stretching their muscles, holding the stretch for a few beats, then swiftly moving into another stretch. They appear zen throughout, very slowly blinking with a slight twitch of the tail for good form. Throw in some Lululemon leggings and a really hot room, and you’ve got yourself a Bikram yoga franchise.

So why do OG cat yogi’s love a good long stretch so much?

According to science: because it feels really good.

Cats sleep between 12 and 16 hours a day, about twice as much as people do. When humans sleep, the brain paralyzes most of the body’s muscles to prevent people from acting out their dreams. The same thing happens to cats during catnaps, which prevents the cat from sleepwalking off the sofa or wherever it’s snoozing.

Once the cat wakes up, the stretching begins.

When a cat is sleeping or relaxed, its blood pressure drops (which is also true of people). Stretching can help to reverse that.

As you stretch, it activates all of your muscles and increases your blood pressure, which increases the amount of blood flowing to the muscles and also to the brain. This helps wake you up and make you more alert.

As the muscles start moving with each stretch, they also flush out the toxins and waste byproducts that build up during periods of inactivity. For instance, carbon dioxide and lactic acid can accumulate in a cat’s body, but stretching can increase blood and lymph circulation, which helps to remove the toxins.

What’s more, stretching readies the muscles for activity. If a mouse scurries by — or, let’s be honest, an annoying human if we’re talking about house cats — the cat will be prepared to pounce if she has already stretched her muscles.

So basically, cats just have things figured out when it comes to living a healthy balanced life — and we could take a note or two from their influence. The butt wiggle prior to a pounce may just come in  handy the next you’re at a Black Friday sale and see the very last available flat screen TV from across the room. Just make sure you stretch first.