Why does my cat chase their tail?

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Does your cat chase his own tail? Here's our advice on why your cat chases their own tail, and what a cat chasing its own tail could mean.

Tail chasing is frequently observed in kittens and young cats. From a very early age, kittens explore their new world and practice their hunting skills. They also actively engage in play and frequently chase and jump on moving objects, even if it is the tip of a wiggling tail — including their own! However, tail chasing in older cats is an uncommon and abnormal behaviour. While it might appear like your cat is having fun, this behaviour could indicate a more serious problem. If you notice that your cat is intent on chasing their tail on a regular basis then you should contact your vet.

There are various medical reasons why your cat might engage in this rather strange behaviour, including: injury to the tail, pain, skin or food allergies, impacted anal glands, worms or fleas. If your vet rules out medical conditions, it could indicate that your cat is chasing their tail for behavioural reasons. These can include boredom, stress, and compulsive behaviour. Tail chasing is an uncommon but recognised compulsive behaviour. The motivations underlying this sort of problem are stress, frustration, and motivational conflict — all three can underlie the behaviour at the same time or on different occasions. Situations of conflict and anxiety in which the cat becomes highly aroused may lead to displacement behaviours such as tail chasing or over-grooming.

It is very important that, if you catch your cat chasing their tail, you do not react in any way, otherwise you will inadvertently reinforce this problem behaviour. Please do not give them any attention or food as a means of attempting to stop this behaviour, or do anything that might stress them, such as shouting at them. Any attempts to stop the behaviour may add to the anxiety and conflict and further aggravate the problem.

It’s very important that you provide your cat with a predictable environment and routine, and to provide them with additional enrichment and stimulation in a hope to break these negative behaviour patterns. The introduction of daily interactive play sessions and puzzle feeders to their routine should give them alternative and more appropriate things to focus their attention on.

If the problem continues, I would advise that you ask your vet to be referred to a qualified feline behaviourist. Please see: The Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC) www. abtcouncil.org.uk or The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) www. apbc.org.uk for a list of qualified practitioners.