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Tails help cats steady themselves, land on their feet, and communicate with other cats. A tail can also make a convenient toy, which you might already know if you’ve ever caught your cat chasing or attacking their tail—or another cat’s tail!
In short, your cat’s tail is pretty amazing. It has about 20 vertebrae that make fine tail movements possible, explains Stephen Quandt, Feline Training and Behavior Specialist and founder of Stephen Quandt Feline Behavior Associates, LLC.
Some tail movements are out of a cat’s control, like a reflexive twitch when they see prey. Of course, even these small motions might prompt a playful kitten to launch an attack. In fact, tail chasing is especially common in kittens still learning how all their appendages work.
Tail chasing can become an issue if it escalates into biting or one cat constantly attacks another cat’s tail. Not sure why your cat won’t leave their tail alone? Below, experts share eight reasons why cats chase and attack their tails, along with some guidance on what to do next.
Curiosity And Play
“Tail-chasing behavior in cats, especially kittens and young cats, is often driven by natural playfulness, exploration, and motor skill development,” says Dr. Nicole Savageau, DVM, a veterinarian with The Vets. “It allows them to engage in play, practice their coordination, and satisfy their curiosity about their own bodies.”
A few signs your cat is just having a good time:
- Younger age: Kittens and young cats may be more likely to attack their tails in play.
- A history of tail-chasing: If your cat has always played like this, you probably don’t have any reason to worry. But if tail chasing is a new activity for your adult cat, a medical or behavioral issue may play a role.
- Personality: Cats who are naturally more playful and curious about their surroundings may find their tails a source of entertainment. So, you might notice tail chasing in an adult cat who’s still a kitten at heart!
What to do next: Providing your cat with plenty of safe outlets for play, mental stimulation, and environmental enrichment can encourage healthy development, play, and curiosity.
Some cats chase and attack their tails—or other cats’ tails—as an entertaining way to pass the time.
Any cat can experience boredom, but Dr. Savageau says Abyssinians, Siamese, Bengals, and Oriental Shorthairs are extremely playful breeds with especially high energy. Without enough play and mental stimulation, they may become bored, and boredom may affect their behavior.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between playful feline behaviors and negative ones, but Dr. Savageau shares a few signs your cat isn’t playing:
- Behaviors that increase in intensity
- Aggression, scratching, or biting
- Self-injury, like chasing or attacking their tail
- Destructive behaviors, like shredding toilet paper or scratching the furniture
- Frequent or excessive meowing and yowling
“I like motion-sensitive toys that react when a cat approaches them and puzzle feeders because they make the cat problem-solve for a reward that simulates hunting,” Quandt says.
Does your cat frequently grab and bite at their tail? If so, they might have skin irritation caused by food, environmental, or contact allergies.
Key signs of allergies or sensitivities may include:
- Frequent scratching due to itchy skin
- Hair loss
- Reddened or flaking skin
- Ear infections
- Vomiting or changes in bowel movements due to an upset stomach
What to do next: If you think your cat could have an allergy, it’s wise to start by getting a diagnosis from your vet. Autoimmune diseases, hormone disorders, and ringworm can also cause skin irritation, inflammation, and itchiness. Your vet can help narrow down the cause of your cat’s symptoms and recommend a treatment approach, such as:
- Removing allergens from your cat’s environment: For example, your vet may recommend trying a new type of litter, using a different laundry detergent, or bathing your cat with a medicated shampoo.
- Adding omega fatty acids to your cat’s diet: Omega fatty acids can help improve your cat’s skin health.
- Trying an elimination diet or prescription cat food: A vet will typically suggest this step if a food allergy seems likely.
A cat who chases, bites, or attacks their tail may have fleas, mites, or other unwanted passengers.
Some key signs of parasites include:
- Tail biting
- Frequent or excessive scratching
- Hair loss
- Crusting and scabbing
- Skin redness
“If your cat starts hissing or growling while chasing their tail, that’s concerning,” Quandt says.
What to do next: Flea prevention treatments are the best way to prevent an allergic reaction to flea bites. That said, if you have an existing population of parasites in your home or yard, you’ll likely need treat your home alongside monthly parasite prevention treatments for your cat and other pets.
Stress Or Anxiety
This behavior will usually have a trigger, Quandt says. For example, your cat may start chasing or attacking their tail when you have guests over, during a storm, or when being handled in a way they don’t like. A stressed cat might also excessively meow, hide, or become aggressive toward others.
What to do next: Making sure your cat has at least one cozy retreat can help them feel calmer during times of stress. This could be a quiet room with a cozy cubby, bed, or cat tree. Some cats may also feel safe and comfortable in a pet carrier with a blanket over the top.
Before or during a stressful event, you can also try:
Important: Just take care to avoid scolding or punishing your cat for tail chasing—this can make the behavior worse.
A cat’s tail has a lot of nerve endings, Quandt says, and they can definitely feel pain and discomfort in their tails!
If your cat seems to chase or attack their tail often, they could be in pain. Other signs of distress include dilated pupils, pinned-back ears, or fur that stands on end.
Possible causes of tail pain include:
- Injuries and other damage to the tail
- Infection, which can lead to swelling and discomfort
- Conditions like arthritis, which any cat can develop as they get older
- Osteochondrodysplasia, a cartilage disorder that can cause stiffness and pain in the tail.
- Scottish Folds are especially prone to this condition.
- Stud tail, a condition that resembles chin acne and appears on the base of the tail, leaving hair with a greasy appearance and black specks. It’s most common among unneutered male cats.
What to do next: You can start by checking your cat’s tail for signs of injury or damage—if they’ll let you—or schedule an appointment with your vet. Treatment typically depends on the source of the pain, and only a vet can make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment.
If your cat consistently chases, bites, or attacks their tail for longer than a minute or two a couple of times a day, they may have a compulsive disorder, according to Quandt.
Just keep in mind that only a vet can make this diagnosis, and your cat’s individual personality and age could also play a part in this behavior.
What to do next: Any time your cat attacks their tail to the point of self-harm, it’s best to gently discourage the behavior. For example, you might try distracting them with a favorite toy, treat, or brushing session.
Activities can help break the cycle, according to Quandt, so you can try drawing their attention to a wand toy, puzzle, or training activity whenever you notice the behavior. If they keep biting their tail no matter what you try, a vet or cat behavior expert can offer more guidance.
Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome
Does your cat practically jump out of their skin when you touch them? They may have feline hyperesthesia syndrome (FHS), Quandt says. Experts believe this condition may stem from very sensitive nerve endings that leave a cat hypersensitive to touch—especially along their back and at the base of their tail.
When you touch a cat with FHS, their skin might seem to ripple. They may briefly run around wildly and become aggressive before coming to a complete and abrupt stop, according to Quandt.
They may also:
- Chase or attack their tail
- Have dilated pupils
- Bite or swat
What to do next: At home, you can help make your cat more comfortable by reducing stressors in their environment and making sure they get plenty of playtime and space to rest quietly.
If your cat’s symptoms stick around, your vet can rule out any underlying medical conditions. If they do diagnose FHS, they may recommend treating it with pain management, anxiety medications, or a combination, depending on your cat’s specific symptoms and health needs.
Why Does My Cat Attack Other Cats’ Tails?
“When cats are attacked by another cat or predator, the aggressor may come from behind and try to go for the tail,” says Dr. Savageau.
But even the movement of a cat’s own tail can prompt a predatory response, Quandt says. “Kittens in particular sometimes act as if their tail isn’t even connected. They see their tail twitching, and they go after it!”
Can’t tell if your cats are fighting or playing? A special toy or some tasty treats can offer a great distraction. Providing plenty of environmental and physical stimulation will help keep the peace in multi-cat households!