Cats love chasing things. Laser pointers, mouse toys, crumpled up balls of paper, you name it.
So if your cat starts chasing his tail, you might think it’s totally normal, harmless behavior.
But The Dodo spoke with Dr. Vanessa Spano, a veterinarian at Behavior Vets in New York City, who revealed that it’s actually not a great sign.
“Chasing a prey-like target is normal feline behavior,” Dr. Spano told The Dodo. “Chasing their own tails is definitely not.”
Why cats chase their tails
It turns out that tail-chasing isn’t just a cute or quirky behavior.
“Likely, there is an underlying behavioral or medical cause,” Dr. Spano explained. It could actually be a sign of health conditions including:
- Compulsive behavior
- Lack of stimulation
- Skin irritation
- Neurological disease
What to do when your cat chases his tail
Since tail-chasing is an indicator that there could be something more serious going on with your cat, Dr. Spano recommends that the very first thing you do is talk to a vet, a behaviorist or, in some cases, both.
But once you have a treatment plan, there are also things you can do at home to supplement it.
“If you catch your kitty [chasing his tail], consider reevaluating how much enrichment is provided for them,” Dr. Spano said.
It’s possible that your cat is just lacking some quality play time, so providing more toys or attention could get the tail-chasing to stop.
But sometimes, your cat’s anxiety is the cause, which requires a more serious approach.
“If you catch your kitty chasing his tail in certain contexts, such as when a guest comes over or during handling, these triggers may actually be anxiety-inducing,” she explained.
According to Dr. Spano, if anxiety is sending your cat into a (literal) tailspin, the first thing you should do is remove those triggers.
And if the chasing is still happening, you should stop your kitty just before he starts, and try to get him to focus on something else to break the habit.
“If you catch your cat about to engage in tail-chasing behavior, redirect them and have them engage in an incompatible, fun behavior like playing fetch or tossing them a treat,” Dr. Spano said.