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Why Do Cats Chase Their Tails?

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  • Cat tail chasing is most prevalent in kittens, though cats of all ages may do it.
  • Tail chasing could be due to playfulness, predatory instincts, boredom, or a medical issue
  • There are ways to stop tail chasing, including providing stimulation, creating a calming environment, and more

Tail chasing is a sight all cat parents have undoubtedly witnessed at some point. The scene begins with a subtle tail twitch, only to escalate into a whirlwind of feline acrobatics as your cat spirals and somersaults in a seemingly ill-advised attempt to capture their own tail. 

This peculiar display sparks a multitude of questions: Why do cats chase their tails? Is it a simple form of play, or is there a more complex or serious explanation? Let’s unravel the reasons behind cat tail chasing and whether or not it’s a cause for concern. 

Do Cats Chase Their Tails? 

While tail chasing is more commonly associated with dogs, canines aren’t the only ones who indulge in these antics. Cats also engage in this curious behavior, although less frequently than dogs.

Tail chasing is particularly prevalent among kittens — adult cats typically outgrow this behavior as they mature. If you notice that your adult cat is frequently or obsessively chasing their tail, it could indicate an underlying health or behavioral issue that requires treatment. 

Why Do Cats Chase Their Tails? 

The reasons behind tail chasing range from simple playfulness to potential health concerns. As a cat parent, it’s important to try to understand why your cat is chasing their tail and ensure they receive the necessary support they need. Let’s explore some of the most common factors driving our feline friends to engage in this behavior.

#1: Play and Exploration

According to Heather Alvey, a certified cat behavior consultant and founder of Felidae Behavior Consulting, tail chasing is a normal kitten behavior. Young cats are naturally curious and playful creatures and may chase their tails as a form of self-entertainment and exploration. As cats grow older, this behavior typically fades away, but may persist in some.

#2: Predatory Instincts 

Cats are natural-born hunters, and their instincts drive them to stalk, pounce, and capture prey. “It’s not unusual to see a kitten, young cat, or even an older cat who has a strong prey drive chasing their tails,” says Dr. Rachel Geller, Ed.D., a certified cat behaviorist and founder of All Cats All the Time. Kittens, in particular, will chase pretty much anything that moves, she says.

These prey instincts may become especially prevalent when there’s a lack of stimulation or opportunities to engage in hunting activities, which brings us to our next potential cause. 

#3: Boredom or Stress Relief 

In some cases, tail chasing may be a manifestation of boredom or stress in cats. Inactive, understimulated, or stressed felines might resort to tail chasing to self-soothe, pass the time, or entertain themselves. “Boredom and lack of stimulation can also turn innocent tail chasing into a compulsive behavior,” says Geller.  

#4: Medical Concerns

While tail chasing can be attributed to play or boredom, it’s essential to be aware of potential health concerns that might be causing this behavior. If your cat seems obsessed with their tail or is biting it, they could be experiencing discomfort or pain. Some potential health issues that may result in tail chasing include:

  • Injury or infection. A cat’s tail is susceptible to various injuries, including bite wounds, abrasions, fractures, and inflammation. When cats sustain an injury, their instinct is to clean the wound or alleviate pain by grooming the affected area. Consequently, you may observe your cat chasing their tail in an attempt to reach the tender spot.
  • Allergies. Just like humans, cats can suffer from allergies. Allergic reactions to environmental elements, food, or flea bites can cause itching and irritation on the skin, including the skin on the tail. As a result, cats may chase and bite their tails to alleviate the itchiness or discomfort.
  • Feline hyperesthesia syndrome. Feline hyperesthesia syndrome (aka rolling skin syndrome) is a neurological disorder that can cause cats to exhibit unusual behaviors, including tail chasing. Cats with this condition may experience episodes of agitation, sensitivity to touch, and skin twitching. This condition is most commonly seen in Siamese cats between the ages of 1 and 5, says Geller. 
  • Stud tail. Stud tail (aka supracaudal gland hyperplasia) is a condition that affects the sebaceous glands located near the base of an animal’s tail. This condition can cause excessive oil production, inflammation, and even infection. Cats with stud tail may chase, lick, or bite their tail due to the discomfort and irritation caused by the condition.
  • Anal sac issues. Cats have anal glands on either side of their rectum. These glands produce a scented material that is stored in the anal sacs. The anal sacs are normally emptied when a cat has a bowel movement, but they can become impacted (blocked) or infected. Anal sac issues can cause cats to bite or chew at the underside of their tail. 

How to Reduce or Stop Tail Chasing in Cats

Occasional tail chasing, especially in kittens, is usually harmless. However, if you notice that your cat is engaging in this behavior frequently or obsessively, it’s essential to determine the root cause and provide them with the necessary assistance. Here are some suggestions for cat parents to curb excessive tail chasing in cats: 

1. Rule Out Medical Issues 

First and foremost, consult with a veterinarian to rule out any underlying health problems that might be causing your cat to chase their tail. Addressing medical concerns promptly can prevent further complications and ensure your cat’s wellbeing.

2. Provide Mental and Physical Stimulation

Because boredom and a lack of stimulation can contribute to tail chasing, keeping your cat engaged and entertained is imperative. Some ways to achieve this include: 

  • Engage your kitty in 1-2 play sessions daily (20-30 minutes each). The best way to satisfy cats’ instinctive need to hunt is through interactive play with a wand toy that lets them complete the prey sequence, says Alvey. “If they’re not getting that need met, they’re going to be drawn to whatever small movements they detect.” Cats with a higher prey drive may need more interactive play to prevent tail chasing or other compulsive behaviors, adds Alvey. Regular playtime also helps your cat expend energy and alleviate boredom. 
  • Offer a variety of toys. Providing your cat with self-play toys can help them stay engaged and active even when you’re not around. For tech-savvy felines, consider electronic toys that stimulate their hunting instincts and provide an interactive experience. Try to switch up your cat’s toys every couple of weeks to keep things interesting. 
  • Supply scratching posts, cat trees, and tunnels. These accessories cater to cats’ natural instincts and preferences, allowing them to scratch, climb, and find solace in secure spaces. 
  • Provide puzzle feeders. Excellent for mental stimulation, these interactive feeders require cats to work for treats, encouraging them to use their paws, noses, and brains to access the food hidden inside. 

3. Create a Calm Environment 

Since stress can be a contributing factor to tail chasing in cats, creating a calm, predictable environment — with designated safe spaces for your cat to retreat — can help alleviate stress and anxiety. To promote relaxation, you can also consider using cat pheromone diffusers, such as the Feliway Classic Calming Diffuser.

4. Redirect Your Cat’s Behavior  

If your cat’s tail chasing is deemed to be a behavioral issue (rather than a medical issue), Geller recommends distracting, disrupting, and redirecting your cat away from compulsive tail chasing and toward a positive activity — such as interactive play with a wand toy, as mentioned above.

After a play session with a wand toy, reward your cat with food, as cats expect to be able to eat what they caught and “killed,” recommends Geller. “The food at the end is a natural and instinctual signal to the cat that the hunt is over — they’ve been successful and it’s time to relax or nap.” Consistent redirection and positive reinforcement can help your cat establish new habits and decrease the frequency of tail chasing.  

5. Consult a Cat Behaviorist 

If you’ve ruled out medical issues, taken steps to provide an engaging environment for your cat, and tried to redirect their behavior to no avail, consider enlisting the help of a professional cat behaviorist. “A professional will be able to determine the underlying cause of the behavior and work with the pet parent on a behavior modification plan,” says Alvey. 

Putting an End to Excessive Tail Chasing

Although occasional tail chasing is likely not a cause for concern, persistent tail chasing may signal an underlying issue. By addressing potential medical problems, providing mental and physical stimulation, and creating a calm, engaging environment, you can help your beloved kitty overcome excessive tail chasing and enjoy a happier, healthier life.