Of all the outrageous behaviors that cats exhibit, very few are as confusing as watching a cat relentlessly chase her tail. Sometimes she seems happy spinning in dizzying circles once or twice, and other times, these seemingly innocent play sessions end with her gnawing on her tail until it bleeds. It doesn’t make sense — why do cats chase their tails?
Cats typically chase their tails to fulfill their hunting instinct (playtime) or out of boredom. More often, the explanation for this behavior is an underlying medical issue. Feline hyperesthesia syndrome, stud tail, compulsive disorders, or fleas may lead a feline to chase or attack her tail!
The good news is that your cat’s bizarre tail-chasing behavior might have a relatively innocent explanation. But sometimes, the cause is a medical condition that may require immediate treatment. To learn about all of the reasons cats chase their tails, read on!
An Odd Way of Playing
All cats have hunting instincts, even if they’ve never explored the outdoors first-hand or encountered a mouse in the wild. One of the biggest triggers of a cat’s desire to hunt and play is a suddenly moving object — such as a chipmunk sprinting across the yard, a loose shoelace swaying as you walk, and a rapidly-moving tail (even if it’s their own).
You may notice that your cat intentionally flicks or swishes her tail and observes it as it moves. Her pupils will then dilate before she begins giving chase or outright pouncing on this mysterious fluffy creature. The reason for this is simple: Your cat has an overly-playful personality and wants to get that pent-up energy out of her system.
To figure out if your cat’s unusual tail-chasing comes from a desire to play:
- Whip out the wand toy
- Flick a hair tie across the room
- Begin shining the laser toy on the ground
- Roll a ball across the floor
- Toss a mouse toy
- Throw a crinkle ball
If any of your cat’s favorite toys can successfully distract her from chasing her tail, you can assume that your cat craves a little more playtime. Set aside a little time each day (preferably four, ten-minute playtimes) for a one-on-one session with your beloved kitty.
A Case of Severe Boredom
One thing can be said for cats: When they run out of things to keep them entertained, they get a little mischievous. You may notice that your cat licks herself obsessively, unravels the toilet paper roll, climbs the curtains, digs between the couch cushions, or even tears at the carpet when she runs out of things to do. Sometimes, this boredom translates over to chasing her tail in a dizzying tornado until she finally catches it!
If you suspect that your cat’s tail-chasing stems from boredom, try adding more exciting and entertaining aspects to your home by:
- Adding height via cat-friendly shelving or cat towers
- Playing with your kitty four times a day
- Inviting your cat up on the couch or in bed for cuddle or petting sessions
- Constantly swapping new toys in (keep the allure to play fresh)
- Leaving out puzzle treat dispensers for an occasional snack
- Giving your cat more places to hangout (a kitty perch, tunnels, or cardboard box)
Remember to make these changes gradually, as to not overwhelm your cat all at once. Cats are very regimented creatures that depend on consistent routines and adding in a new bed, cat tower, and puzzle treat dispenser may be enough to cause anxiety or stress.
Are you looking for a few extra strategies to “cure” your cat’s boredom? The Jackson Galaxy video below will explain what you can do to keep your cat entertained and happy!
Medical Reasons That Cats Chase Their Tails
Does your cat chase her tail daily, obsessively, or aggressively? Chances are, your cat has an underlying medical condition that’s triggering this bizarre cat behavior. Here are a few possible medical explanations for your cat’s knack for chasing her furry appendage:
Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome (FHS)
Feline hyperesthesia syndrome (FHS) is a rare medical condition in cats that causes a “rippling” sensation in the back skin. The sudden skin-crawling feel may startle cats — even while sound asleep — and direct their attention toward their back and tail (the source of this bizarre feeling). On top of dilated pupils and strange vocalizations, your feline may chase her tail or even frantically bite it to get these sensations to stop.
Many cats develop strange self-soothing behaviors during kittenhood, like wool-sucking, excessive meowing, or overgrooming. An overstimulated or anxious kitty might feel the urge to chase her tail or bite it as a way of calming down — a possible sign of a compulsive disorder. If you can identify a stressful trigger preceding the tail-chasing (like a particular guest in your home or loud sound), self-soothing is likely the explanation.
Skin or Food Allergies
Cats have relatively strict diets consisting of mostly meat, but it’s not unusual for a cat to be allergic to the additives in cat foods (like grains), certain meats, or even the new laundry detergent you used to wash her bed. If your cat has allergies, her immune system might overreact in the presence of specific allergens, leading to an uncomfortable, itchy sensation. The tail-chasing could be your cat’s attempt at chasing down and relieving the itch.
Problems With the Anal Glands
Like many animal species, cats have two anal sacs near their butts that release a strongly-scented fluid used for marking territory after a cat poops. When these anal glands become clogged (impacted) or infected, your cat may feel pain near her butt. Anal sac issues — and the ensuing discomfort — may lead a cat to chase her tail to confront the issue.
Just how cats get acne on their chin due to excess oil production, this unusual greasiness can also occur at the tail’s base (stud tail). On top of leaving a matted or sticky appearance on the tail, the stud tail can also present with itchy bumps and swelling. Your cat might wind up chasing his tail — the source of this unusual itch and discomfort — to put a stop to this irritation and find some immediate relief.
If you don’t keep your cat up-to-date on flea and tick medications, don’t be surprised if she comes home covered in pests. Not surprisingly, flea bites can make a cat feel itchy from head to toe, but fleas are also notorious for taking shelter on a cat’s lower back. When your cat feels a flea crawling on her skin or biting near her tail, she might give chase!
Unlike many other conditions above, flea infestations are one of the few that you can control and prevent. The video below will show you how to apply flea treatment to your kitty before your cat comes home with them.
An occasional tail chase is likely a sign that your cat is bored or looking to release some pent-up energy through a vigorous play session. However, tail-chasing becomes concerning when it occurs daily and involves obsessive biting or chewing this fluffy appendage.
If your cat suddenly develops this habit, appears to have wounds on her tail (or at the base), or displays signs of another medical condition, take her to the vet right away. You might discover that your cat is suffering from a tail infection, FHS, or fleas, without your knowledge.
- International Cat Care: Understanding the hunting behavior of pet cats: an introduction
- PetMD: How Long Should You Play With Your Cats Each Day?
- VCA Hospitals: Cat Behavior Problems – Compulsive Disorders in Cats
- Cornell Feline Health Center: Hyperesthesia Syndrome
- Fetch by WebMD: Allergies in Cats: Symptoms and Triggers
- International Cat Care: Acne and Stud Tail
- Fetch by WebMD: Anal Sac Problems in Cats
- PetMD: How to Tell if Your Cat has Fleas
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.