Why Do Cats Chase Their Tails?

Why Do Cats Chase Their Tails
Image: istockphoto.com / JIRANAN WONSILAKIJ

A cat chasing his tail can be a funny sight. Kittens and young cats will chase their tails to amuse themselves. But as a cat grows older, they will usually stop this behavior. If your pet suddenly starts chasing his tail, it can indicate other problems like a flea infestation, stud tail, tail infection, or hyperesthesia, or allergies. 

Why do cats chase their tails?

Here are the reasons why cats chase their tails:

1. Play

If you have a kitten or young cat, it is quite normal to see him try (and mostly fail) to catch his tail. And it is fairly easy to understand: his fat and the seemingly agile tail is the perfect target practice for his hunting skills.

But as a cat grows older, it will usually stop chasing its tail. In fact, it is rare to see a grown cat chase his tail, unlike dogs.

If you work long hours and if you are frequently outside your home, your cat may amuse himself in a variety of ways, including attempting to catch his tail. While this behavior is seemingly benign, you should discourage your cat and redirect his attention to a toy like a laser pointer or an interactive toy. 

More importantly, you should spend more time playing with your cat. Left unchecked, boredom can lead to destructive behavior which can be harder to correct when allowed to persist.

2. Flea infestation

Your cat might be attempting to catch his tail because he wants to relieve the itch caused by a flea infestation. Fleas do not stay on a cat’s body for long. More often than not, they scurry to their hideout once they have had their fill of your cat’s blood. But when they do feed, they target specific body parts, including the tail.

If you suspect that your pet is infested with fleas, check his body. You will find bumps on the skin, indicating that your pet was bitten by these pests. You might also find dark, dirt-like particles left on the skin. These particles are called flea dirt which is a combination of your cat’s blood and the insects’ fecal material. 

If you find these and actual fleas on your cat’s body, consult the veterinarian for the appropriate solution, like Frontline.

3. Stud tail

If you have an intact male cat, he might be chasing his tail because he has a stud tail. Stud tail is a condition that affects the base of the tail. The condition is caused by the overproduction of wax by the sebaceous glands which are found at the tail’s base. It is worth noting that although stud tail frequently occurs in intact males, females and neutered males can also succumb to the condition.

The wax produced by these glands helps keep your cat’s fur soft and flexible. But when the glands produce too much wax, this can lead to the buildup of a brown material which in turn can lead to a skin disease.

The symptoms are mostly confined to the tail. If you look closely at the tail’s base, you will notice symptoms like bald spots, foul odor, pus, blackheads, and red bumps.

Treatment for stud tail will depend on the severity of the condition. Among the treatments available are proper hygiene, antibiotics, topical ointments, and medicated shampoos. Your vet may also suggest neutering your pet.

4. Tail infection

Tail infection
Image: istockphoto.com / NongAsimo

Sometimes a cat will try to catch its tail because it has been infected. Tails are usually infected when a cat gets into a skirmish with other cats or even other animals, leaving him with scratches or bites.

Cats are naturally territorial and will defend their territories with ferociousness. Although cats will try to avoid fights as much as possible, sometimes, things can escalate into actual fights. This can leave a cat wounded. Puncture wounds from bites, in particular, can be difficult to detect because the wounds seal very quickly. However, bacteria can get trapped within the wounds. This can sometimes lead to infections. Although it can be difficult to find bite marks, you will notice a few symptoms like limping, lethargy, and fever. 

If you suspect that your pet has been bitten, bring him to the vet immediately. At the clinic, the vet will check the wounds. If there is an abscess, the vet will drain it. He may also prescribe antibiotics to treat the bacterial infection as well as pain medication.

Tail infections can also arise due to problems related to the anal sacs. The anal sacs or glands produce a liquid that felines use to mark their territory. A cat can also secrete this liquid when he is scared or excited.

Usually, the liquid comes out when a cat poops. However, if your cat is obese or has soft stools, the liquid may not come out. This can lead to a host of problems like scooting, licking, and redness in the area where the anal glands are located.

As with most problems, prevention is key. Try to keep your cat within a healthy weight range and feed him cat food with a substantial amount of fiber. Your vet can also express the glands or recommend the removal of these as a last resort.

5. Hyperesthesia

Hyperesthesia, also known as rolling skin disease, is a condition where a cat becomes more sensitive to the touch. Touching a cat affected by the condition will result in the cat acting as if he is in great pain.

In some cats, hyperesthesia causes them to catch their tails and to run around the home while screaming. In some cases, an affected cat may also have fits of seizures. The condition can be aggravated by flea infestations and skin diseases.

Although the underlying cause of the condition remains unclear, many experts suggest that hyperesthesia is a type of compulsive behavior. Treating the condition rarely involves medication. The ultimate goal of treatment is to provide affected cats with a good quality of life and prevent discomfort.

It is also critical to prevent possible causes of itchiness that can aggravate the condition. Apart from preventing flea infestations, you may need to provide your pet with Omega-3 fatty acid supplements which lessen skin sensitivity.

For more severe cases that involve seizures, the vet may recommend the use of medications.

6. Allergies

Like humans, cats can succumb to allergies. And when you find your cat chasing his tail, it is probably because he wants to relieve himself of the itch caused by an allergy.

In cats, allergies can be broadly divided into two categories: food and inhalant allergies. In either of the two types of allergies, your cat’s immune system is reacting to a protein that causes the allergy.

For food allergies, cats need to undergo a trial diet where they will eat specialized cat food which does not contain potential allergens. After the symptoms of the allergies have subsided, the cat will be introduced to different types of foods until the main culprit for his allergy is identified.

Inhalant allergies are caused by particles like pollen, molds, dust mites, and weeds. Symptoms include bald spots, discoloration of fur, abrasions, inflammation, and excessive licking and grooming.

Why do two cats chase each other’s tails?

Why do two cats chase each other's tails
Image: istockphoto.com / Nils Jacobi

If you have two or more cats at home, you might notice that they may sometimes chase each other’s tails. This behavior can be attributed to two things: play and aggression.

Playful cats will try to catch their housemates’ tails the same way they attempt to chase their own tails: to play. However, tail chasing can also be a sign of aggression of one cat toward another.

How can you differentiate between the two? The key is watching your pets’ body language. If your pets are just being playful, you will notice that their ears are perked and they will jump or roll.

While this behavior is mostly harmless, it is a good idea to redirect your pets’ attention toward toys. Dealing with cats can be a hit-or-miss situation and a seemingly harmless situation can turn into a full-scale fight.

When aggression is involved, you will notice that the ears of one or more of the cats are folded back into the head. The cats may also growl or snarl while flicking their tails. In this scenario, the cats involved want to hurt each other.

For the latter, it is critical that you step in and avoid escalation. It is a good idea to put each cat in separate areas.

Watch your cat’s behavior

If your cat has been chasing his tail since you got him, there is usually not much cause to be worried. However, if your cat suddenly starts to chase his tail, it may indicate that there may be a problem at hand. 

Monitor your cat and watch his behavior. He might be suffering from any of the aforementioned causes that require the attention of your vet.