Why do cats move their heads from side to side?

Pre-lunge in attack or jumping may include head swaying
Pre-lunge in attack or jumping may include head swaying
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You might have noticed that when a domestic cat is (a) jumping precisely onto a platform of some description or (b) preparing to make their final pounce when attacking, they sometimes sway their heads rhythmically from side to side.

This is a method employed by many predators who have binocular vision. You’ll see head swaying most clearly in owls. Swaying the head allows the eyes to see the target object from a slightly different angle which allows the cat to judge distances more accurately as the brain is able to build a more precise 3-D image of the target: the prey and how it is situated in its surroundings.

The cat relies on absolute accuracy when making a killing pounce which explains the need for head-swaying. An impending jump forward after head swaying may be signalled by a slight twitching of their tail.

If a domestic cat is uncertain about the success of a lunge for prey they may swish their tail horizontally indicating indecision about attacking or remaining still. This reflects the cat’s balanced mind on whether to go or stay. The tail is used for physical balance too.


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