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Why Do Cats Chase Their Tails? Should You Worry? (Vet Answer)

Vet approved

	Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo

Written by

Dr. Paola Cuevas

Vet, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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cat chasing its tail

We would have to admit that watching a cat chasing his tail looks funny. In the case of kittens chasing the tail is considered a normal behavior; it seems to be a play behavior that helps kittens practice and develop their hunting skills. The occasional chasing of the tail on an adult cat is usually considered harmless. However, if you notice your cat is chasing his tail regularly this can be an indication of a medical issue. hepper single cat paw divider

What Causes a Cat to Chase Their Tails?

There are two possibilities or causes:
  • Behavioral issues
  • Medical issues

What Kind of Behavioral Issues Causes a Cat to Chase Its Tail?

Anxiety and Stress

Anxiety in cats is a recognized cause of a large number of behavioral and medical issues. If you notice that your cat has recently started to chase its tail frequently try to identify if there is any potential cause of anxiety. Cats are creatures of habits and sometimes the smallest changes in their habitual environments or routines can cause them to suffer anxiety. If there is any change in the physical or social environment, this might be the cause of the problem. The social environment of a cat includes yourself, the other humans in the house including regular visitors, other cats in the house, and other pets in the house. Changes in the size, age, and reproductive status of different cats in the same household can affect the social structure between them.

Boredom

Cats like any other living creature need mental and physical stimulation. Many behavioral problems have their origin in plain boredom. Even extreme aberrant self-mutilating behaviors sometimes can be tract back to plain boredom.

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Tips To Avoid Your Cat Getting Bored

calico kitten playing with toy
Image Credit: Casey Elise Christopher, Shutterstock

Engaging in playtime, providing variety and enrichment to the cat’s environment should be part of the regular daily care for your cat. A very useful tip is to have a regular rotation to the access of the toys that your cat enjoys. This will keep the toys interesting to your furry friend whenever available. It is also very important to provide your cat with an environment that allows fun and stimulation of their senses. A pad scratcher like Hepper’s could have the double function of saving your furniture from the paws of a bored cat while allowing him to have some physical and mental stimulation. A variety of food treats, hidden in unexpected places goes a long way as well, just make sure to clean any leftovers on a daily basis.

A Warning Note:
If your cat is exhibiting the “chase its tail behavior” do not engage in play to try to distract him out of it. This will only make the problem worst as the behavior is reinforced by attention. Always be mindful of giving your cat access to toys or treats when he is calm.

What Else Can I Do to Stop My Cat Form Chasing Its Tail?

If you notice your cat has started to present this aberrant behavior regularly it is always recommended to take your cat for a veterinary check. In this way, you can rule out the possibility of any medical condition causing this aberrant behavior. Record as much information as possible about the case and share it with your veterinarian.

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Questions to Prepare for the Vet 

The following are some guiding questions you can prepare to help your veterinarian have a complete history of the case:

  • When did you first notice your cat starting to chase its tail?
  • How often does the cat engage in this behavior (frequency and duration)?
  • Did you notice any change in the physical or social environment of the cat?
  • Has there been any change in your routines? For example, a new job changes the normal times you are around home.
  • Do you have other cats in the same household? And if yes please specify gender and relative information.
  • What kind of food does your cat eat?
  • When was the last time your cat was dewormed?
  • Has the cat suffered from fleas or other external parasites infestation before?
  • Have you noticed any change in the frequency of your cat’s feces or the cat showing signs of pain while defecating?

What Can You Expect at the Veterinary Consultation?

vet assessing birman cat
Image Credit: Stock Asso, Shutterstock

After filling up the medical history of the case the veterinarian will proceed to do a physical examination of your cat, he will check the tail, back, skin, and perianal area. The veterinarian might request a blood sample, a skin scrape, and possibly also a fecal sample of the cat.  With this information, the Veterinarian should be able to know if the condition is caused by a medical issue or if it is behavioral.

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What Kind of Medical Conditions Causes a Cat to Chase Its Tail?

Several medical conditions can cause your cat to chase its tail:
  • Trauma
  • Pain
  • Inflammation
  • Allergies
  • Internal or external parasites
  • Impacted or infected anal glands
  • Hyperesthesia
Hyperesthesia. An area of skin of the cat usually right before the tail but sometimes in the back becomes extremely sensitive. The cat might react aggressively when this area is touched, they present neurological signs such as dilated pupils and drooling.  Hyperesthesia is more common in Siamese cats and some veterinary neurologists believe it could be representative of a seizure-like problem.

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Final Verdict & Possible Vet Prescribed Treatments

The veterinarian’s prescription will be depending on the results of his observations and the diagnostic test. Your cat might be prescribed oral medications such as pain management medication, anti-inflammatories, dewormers, antihistaminic, or corticosteroids. It is also possible that he recommends starting your cat on a monthly pour on anti-flea treatments. If the problem is the infection or impaction of the anal glands your cat might require the manual extraction of anal glands content. Always follow your veterinarian’s recommendations with regards to medical treatments and please never try to medicate your cat without professional advice.


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Featured Image Credit: Salomé Guruli, Unsplash