Is your kitten going round and round in circles, trying to catch its own tail? Wondering what's going on? Is he or she physically ok? And how about mentally?
Many cats can be observed chasing their own tails, leaving owners baffled about this strange behavior. After all, cats are supposed to be smarter than that, right?
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Actually, there's more than one type of tail-chasing behavior in cats.
What might at first seem like a funny quirk could have more sinister implications. As a cat owner, you should try and understand why your cat is chasing his or her tail and act accordingly.
Chasing your tail is fun!
Yup. In most cases, Kitty should put up a disclaimer saying "This tail is being chased for entertainment purposes only". Why is chasing one's tail so much fun? There's actually a good reason.
When cats play, they're in fact practicing their hunting skills. This behavior starts at a very young age, with kittens chasing and hunting down any moving object of the right size, and some immobile objects or those of the wrong size, too.
This tendency to chase moving objects usually decreases as the cat gets older, but with some cats it lasts a lifetime. These cats are particularly playful and may react to the enticing wiggling tip of a tail - even their own.
This is what typical playful tail chasing looks like -
There's not a whole lot you need to do in the case of playful tail chasing. Keep your own hands away so Kitty doesn't accidentally grab your fingers instead of that fluffy tail. Think that your cat is too old for so much tail chasing? Does your cat seem to hurt its tail? It's time to consider a different explanation.
When pain sends your cat on a wild tail hunt
When a certain place itches or hurts, your cat is likely to be paying extra attention to that spot. The attention is often in the form of licking, scratching or biting. Injury or disease affecting the tail could make your cat take a special interest in that appendage. Since the tail tends to move around when touched, your cat may need to grab it to hold it down, creating the impression of tail chasing.
What to do? If your cat suddenly begins to focus on its tail, talk to your vet. Kitty may be in pain or discomfort due to an abscess, Stud's Tail Syndrome or some other medical condition of the tail.
Stress and boredom leading to tail chasing
When a cat is stressed or bored, it may resort to all kinds of strange behaviors, one of them being chasing and attacking the tail. Some cats can become obsessed with their tail and exhibit excessive tail licking, biting and chasing.
What to do? First, you must make absolutely sure that the cat is healthy. Any change in behavior can indicate a medical problem. Even if you're sure that the tail itself is fine, you should still consult your veterinarian to rule out other more systemic conditions.
Once medical issues have been ruled out, try Six Strategies To Reduce Stress In Cats. It won't happen overnight, but once you find the right way to address the problem of stress, your cat will be less likely to attack its own tail.
If stress isn't the problem, boredom may be. Environmental enrichment is the key phrase here. Provide your cat with a more stimulating home environment where he or she can find forms of entertainment that do not involve the tail. You can find some great ideas in our article: Beating Boredom - What Indoor Cat Owners Need To Know.
So, how to tell why your cat is chasing its own tail?
Figuring out whether the tail chasing is just harmless playfulness or an actual problem isn't always easy. Here are a few questions to ask yourself -
- How old is the cat? A kitten chasing his or her own tail is perfectly normal. In an older cat, consider the cat's personality, including the tendency to play-chase objects. A playful cat may keep chasing its own tail occasionally even when no longer a kitten.
- Has this behavior started recently or changed in frequency? Any change in your cat's behavior can indicate a medical problem. Changes in behavior patterns can also mean your cat is suffering from stress. You know your cat best - if you notice a change in behavior, it's time to call your vet.
- What's your cat like when he or she is playing with its tail? Does the cat seem relaxed and playful? Is there actual biting involved? Does the cat growl, hiss or otherwise show signs of real aggression? While playtime excitement can get out of control to the point of the cat being agitated, signs of real aggression indicate that the behavior goes beyond a playful chase.
As always, if you're not sure, talk to us about it! Post about your tail-chasing cat in the cat behavior forums. Try to capture the behavior on video or in pictures and share those as well. It would help those of our members who are more experienced with cats to assess what's going on.