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Why Do Cats Chase Their Tails? (2022) 5 Things You Need to Know

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.

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

Ginger cat upside down on a scratching tree why do cats chase their tails
Amazing where you can end up when you chase your tail

Why do Cats Chase Their Tails?

1. To Play

Kittens in particular love to pounce and to chase moving items – including their own tail! For a kitten chasing its own tail is just plain old good fun.

When it comes to play, 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

They most enjoy this behaviour when the items are moving – even if it is their own tail.

If you also have dogs do note that it is more common for dogs to chase their own 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. One of those is to chase or attack 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 behavior you may want to look at what is driving that change to make sure that it isn’t something about which you should be concerned.

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 looking at activities such as hiding your cat’s toys or food.

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 its attention on the area which is causing the problem. This may be through licking, biting or scratching.

In some cases, it may look like your cat is chasing its tail but it may actually be in pain. This may be an injury to its tail or it could be a problem with its anal glands, worms or a skin allergy.

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.

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 an essential desire to chase things that move. His own 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 behaviour can be more common 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 behaviour. 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 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 this behaviours in your cat do contact your vet asap.

What Does it Mean when a Cat Chases Their Tail?

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 behaviour for an older cat to chase its tail.

A second factor to consider is if this behaviour is new or if it has changed in frequency. Any major changes in your cat’s behaviour 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 then 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 behaviour. 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 behaviour 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

⇒ Getting a new kitty? Check out my guide to How to Look after a Kitten, 6 Best Kitten Wet Food Options and 8 Best Kitten Dry Food Options

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

Sometimes the issue isn’t your cat chasing its own tail – it is you 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 behaviour 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.

Whilst playfully chasing another cat’s tail can be intended to be fun, your kitty may well injure another cat without realising and thus it is best to redirect the behaviour 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.

Young woman with allergy holding cat on grey background

As cats can only tolerate being petted for a relatively short period of time compared to say a dog it has some interesting ways of showing its affections. A cat hitting you with its tail may well be a sign of its love for you.

If your cat is wrapping its tail around your legs rather than actually hitting you it may well be trying to tell you that it is nervous or concerned. This may happen if your cat is in a new environment or if you have new people like say workmen in your home. It is a little like your cat trying to hold your hand when it feels a bit scared.

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 incidence 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 some advice from a vet.

woman with eyes closed curled up with sleepy cat on bed

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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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