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Why Do Cats Chase Their Tails? 4 Reasons Besides Play

reviewed by a veterinary box

Why do cats chase their tails? Does your cat chase its own tail? My cat Alexei certainly does and I always find it very amusing. I didn’t realise that cats actually did this until I got my Siberian cat.

In most cases, when we see a cat chasing its tail, it seems amusing. It’s unlike a cat to reveal its own confusion, at least in a way that we can observe. So, it seems funny to us, and it sometimes really is.

However, a cat chasing its tail can have several meanings – not all fun. Here are some things to consider if your cat is chasing its tail.

Ginger cat upside down on a scratching tree why do cats chase their tails
Cat chasing tail


Why do Cats Chase Their Tails?

Why does my cat chase her tail? The reasons a cat will suddenly find its own tail a source of fascination and a focus of attention can be varied. Here are five common reasons you might see this behavior.

1. During Play

A cat playing with its tail can be a delightful sight. Kittens, in particular, love to pounce and chase moving items – including their tail! For a kitten chasing its tail is just plain old good fun.

When it comes to playing, kittens are actually practicing their hunting skills. This is why they love items that they have to chase or that they can stalk.

grey kitten curled up looking at its tail why do cats chase their tails
kitten chasing tail

They most enjoy this behavior when the items move – even if it is their tail.

If you also have dogs, do note that it is more common for dogs to chase their tails than it is for cats.

2. To Relieve Boredom or Stress

Bored or stressed cats can do some odd things to alleviate their feelings. An example of thisis chasing or attacking their own tail.

ginger tabby with very fluffy tail outside on a lead
Who wouldn’t chase this tail?

If your cat chasing its tail is a change in its normal cat behavior, you may want to look at what is driving that change to ensure that it isn’t something you should be concerned about.

If your cat may have been experiencing stress due to something like moving home, there are many things that you can do to relieve the stress in your cat.

It is normal behavior for kittens to chase their tails. However, if your adult cat, particularly if it is an indoor cat, is chasing its tail this is more likely to be a sign that your cat is lacking stimulation.

Alternatively, your cat may just be bored. Look at its home environment and see if you can incorporate some more challenges and stimulation for your cat.

Boredom can be prevented without spending money by through activities such as hiding your cat’s toys or food and home-made toys.

grey cat jumps through grass with tail in the air
Now that is a tail

3. To Relieve Pain

If your cat is in pain, it is likely to focus on the area causing the problem. This may be through licking, biting, or scratching.

Sometimes, it may look like your cat is chasing its tail, but it may be in pain. They could be suffering froman injury to its tail, or  a problem with its anal glands, parasites, or a skin.

Pay particular attention if your cat is biting its tail. Your cat can easily damage its own tail through its teeth, and it may become infected. Cat tail infections can be tricky to treat, so are best avoided if possible.

If you think your cat is in pain, it’s best to contact your veterinarian.

tabby cat on a bed with tail raised
Don’t mess with my tail

4. To Practice Hunting

Your cat is a natural hunter. He will have a natural desire to chase things that move. His tail, all fluffy and potentially twitching, may prove irresistible. He can pretend to capture it and practice his prime hunting skills. Kittens, in particular, do this to their mother’s tails and often to the tails of their siblings as the early practice of hunting.

This behavior can be more common in indoor cats. Outdoor cats are able to exercise their skills around hunting, but indoor cats have far fewer opportunities to do so.

5. Feline OCD

It is most likely that your cat chasing its tail is harmless behavior. However, there is a condition called Feline Hyperesthesia which is essentially cat obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some signs that might indicate your cat has feline OCD include:

  • your cat is running from a threat that isn’t there
  • “crazy” moments when he appears hyperactive or aggressive
  • dilated pupils
  • fixation on his tail
  • excessive grooming of his tail to the point that fur is lost
  • hypersensitive to the touch

If you notice these behaviors in your cat, do contact your vet asap. There may be specific actions that can be taken to manage the behavior. In some cases, your vet may prescribe medication.

What Does it Mean When a Cat Chases Their Tail?

Owners of all levels of experience often ask: “Why does my cat chase his tail?” and “What does it mean?” The answer to this can often depend on the age of your cat. If you have a kitten or a younger cat, the reason is probably to play or to explore.

However, if you have an older cat and it is chasing its tail this could be for different and more concerning reasons. It is abnormal behavior for an older cat to chase its tail.

A second factor to consider is if this behavior is new or if it has changed in frequency. Any major changes in your cat’s behavior such as suddenly chasing its tail or chasing its tail very frequently, can be a sign of a bigger issue.

Two tabby cats sit in a window sill seen from behind
Tails from behind

The third factor is your cat’s demeanor whilst playing with its tail. Is your cat playful, or is it becoming aggressive? If your cat is growling or hissing, this may indicate a problem rather than your kitty behaving playfully.

How to React when Your Cat is chasing its tail

If you catch your cat chasing its tail, it is best not to react – a reaction could reinforce the behavior. Attempting to stop your cat from chasing its tail may increase its stress levels and worsen the underlying issue.

If you can, try to then monitor the frequency and type of chasing that your cat is doing with its tail eg how often is it chasing its tail, and is it always in the same manner eg aggressive or playful.

If the behavior continues and matches some of the more concerning signs listed above, then it is time to contact your vet. They will be able to help to diagnose your cat’s issues and to develop potential solutions.

white cat and tabby cat

What if my cat is chasing another cat’s tail?

Sometimes the issue isn’t your cat chasing its tail – it is your cat chasing another cat’s tail – particularly one with whom it shares a home. Again, the key thing to note here is the manner in which the chasing is taking place.

Is your cat being playful or aggressive in its chasing? Watch your cat’s body language. If the behavior is aggressive, it may be best to separate the cats. If it is playful, then perhaps try redirecting the attention of the cats to some other toys or play items.

A wagging tail can be very tempting for a curious, playful cat. Whilst playfully chasing another cat’s tail can be intended to be fun, your kitty may well injure another cat without realizing it, and thus it is best to redirect the behavior if possible.

two kittens in a cat bed

Why is my Cat Hitting me with her tail?

If your cat is hitting you with its tail, there may be several explanations. The first is that your cat may be looking to show interest. My cat is very interested in the everyday activities of a household, like cleaning up the kitchen.

If you are trying to stop your cat from “helping” during times like this, it may well hit you with its tail to indicate that it is interested in what you are doing and would like to be involved.

Why Be Concerned About Your Cat’s Tail? 

It may be worth sharing a few notes on why you might be concerned about your cat’s tail and its health. While your cat will be chasing it, it is unlikely to willfully damage it for several reasons relating to its importance to your cat’s overall health. This is also why you need to be aware if the behavior is negative, in your cat’s case. 


Just like with dogs, cats use their tails to communicate with each other, and with us, in a sense. At the very least, we can tell a lot about a cat’s mood by looking at its tail. 


A cat’s tail helps it to balance. It is a counterweight that is especially useful when navigating those narrow fence tops and walkways. 


There are many nerves housed within the tail, some of which relate directly to body functions like urination and defecation. If a tail is damaged, it may have adverse effects on many aspects of your cat’s life. It is true that some cats can learn to live without their tails (if lost through accident, for example). This is generally considered undesirable, though, unless it is a genetic breed trait.

Young woman with allergy holding cat on grey background

Interesting side fact: Did you know that domestic cats can do something that wild breeds of cats cannot? Domestic cats can hold their tails vertically – straight up in the air – while walking. Big cats in the wild cannot.

Beautiful young woman holding cat isolated on white

These tail taps can also be a sign that your cat is angry with you. As your cat will also use its tail to knock items over to let you know when it isn’t happy, it may also wait until you are relaxing to give you a good tail whack so you understand that they aren’t happy. Or your cat may be seeking your attention in general.

If this is a one-time incident, then it is probably nothing to be concerned about. However, if it happens several times, it may be worth trying to understand what is causing this behavior in your cat and potentially seek advice from a vet.

Some FAQs Around Why Does My Cat Chase His Tail? 

Here are some frequently asked questions about cats’ tails.

1. Do Cats Have Feelings in Their Tails?

Cats can feel things via their tail. When a cat gets its tail caught in a door or something similar, that shriek is very definitely one of pain. It stands to reason that they also have some measure of control over what their tail is doing at any given time.

2. Why Shouldn’t You Touch a Cat’s Tail?

Touching a cat’s tail gently, as you would with any other part, shouldn’t be a problem. But take special care when touching a tail. There are some very important nerves contained within a tail, and damage to them can cause some serious problems for your precious kitty. 

Tails play a vital part in many aspects of your cat’s life. Damage to tails has been documented as having a serious impact on body functions, from balance to seemingly unrelated issues such as passing waste.

3. Do Cats Like It When You Play With Their Tail?

It depends on the cat. Some cats actually feel pain when you touch their tails. As a result, it’s not recommended you pay too much physical attention to a cat’s tail.

4. Do Cats Know Their Tail is Theirs?

A cat’s tail is connected to its spine and is a continuation of vertebra (back bones). Despite a cat’s inclination to sometimes chase its tail, most cats are probably very aware that their tails belong to them. 

woman with eyes closed curled up with sleepy cat on bed

Why Is My Cat Chasing Her Tail? Final Thoughts

Cats will chase their tails for a number of reasons, most of which are perfectly normal and harmless. The only time you might need to pay extra attention is when the behavior is accompanied by other signifiers that may indicate injury or health conditions such as OCD.

Keep an eye out for overly aggressive cat behavior as well. Overall, though, rest assured that in most cases, the behavior is related to play and learning. Take the opportunity to take a few Youtube videos for your and others’ delight.

charlotte photo

Meet the Veterinary Expert

Charlotte recently became a doctor and studied at the University of Zagreb, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. She’s volunteered in her university’s obstetrical clinic, and equine clinic, and is dog mum to 14-year-old Chiki. Charlotte loves to travel and has completed externships in Austria, Spain, and Belgium.

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Dr. P

Monday 5th of December 2022

Older cats can chase their tails for fun too. I would edit your article. My 9 year old cat still loves to chase her tail and it is perfectly normal cat instinct.

(I’ve been a veterinarian for 17 years just so you know I’m not some clueless internet reader)

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