Why Do Dogs and Cats Chase Their Tails?

By Linda Cole

I don’t know many pet owners who haven’t watched their dog or cat chase their tail, especially if they adopted the pet as a puppy or kitten. However, tail chasing isn’t a normal activity for adult dogs or cats and if they chase their tail all the time, there could be a medical or behavioral reason for it.

Young dogs and cats enjoy trying to catch their tails. Kittens are fun to watch when they get in a tail chasing mood. When my cat Pogo was a kitten, he would stare intently as his tail flicked back and forth. He lowered his head with each flick and readied himself for an ambush. At the right moment, he would pounce on his tail, twisting, turning, doing somersaults and hopping up and down (the reason for his name) until he tired of the game. Of course we laughed watching his antics.

Some older pets chase their tail to get our attention. Dogs and cats are both capable of learning things on their own and sometimes realize they can get us to pay attention to them if they chase their tail. When they get a positive reaction from us – we laugh and pay attention to them – it makes them more likely to continue doing it to please their human.

Boredom is another reason for tail chasing. If pets don’t have toys to play with or chew on, they can get just as bored as we do, and boredom can turn to anxiety. Some dogs may chew on your favorite chair and some might chase their tail. If you know your dog is bored, please give him some exercise to help him release his built up anxiety before it becomes worse. Invest in some interactive toys so he has something constructive to do with his time besides redecorating the living room with chewed up pieces of the couch.

Medical reasons for tail chasing could be due to a skin or food allergy, impacted anal glands or worms. Fleas like to congregate along the lower back of pets, just above the base of the tail, on the butt, legs, around the neck and all along the tail. If a pet has a flea allergy, just one flea biting can send him into a frenzy. Even without a flea allergy, biting fleas can make a pet go bonkers. If your pet doesn’t usually chase his tail and appears to be in distress, it’s a good idea to check him out to make sure he isn’t fighting with fleas. Also make sure there are no injuries to the tail or developing skin irritations that could be causing him to chase his tail.

Skin or food allergies can be as frustrating for a pet as flea bites. Diet plays a big role in a pet’s good health, and feeding them premium quality pet food like CANIDAE and FELIDAE helps their immune system work properly. “Why a Quality Pet Food Matters” is what CANIDAE is all about.

Neurological problems can also cause dogs and cats to chase their tails. Cats can develop a syndrome called feline hyperesthesia syndrome (rolling skin syndrome) or feline psychogenic alopecia, and the two can overlap. It basically means the cat has developed a severe sensitivity to being touched along their spine, their back and at the base of their tail. Chasing their tail is one of the symptoms. You can read more about these two syndromes at cathealth.com.

Cats have their own particular moods and styles. Most of my cats are just too dignified to do anything so silly as chase their tail. But I have a few that sit and stare at their tail twitching back on forth and can stand it only so long before they have to attack it. Because cats are so tuned into movement, the reason why some cats chase their tail is because of their predator instincts. If a cat is playing and gets excited, a moving tail cannot be ignored. Of course she knows it’s her tail. How many times have you watched your cat chasing her tail and then once she catches it, she calms down and grooms it and gives you a look that says, “Yeah, I know it’s my tail. I chased it on purpose you silly human!”

A sporadic tail chaser is probably just having some fun, but if it becomes a constant behavior, you need to check to make sure there isn’t a developing problem that’s causing them to chase their tail. It’s not typical for adult dogs and cats to chase their tails unless it’s occasional during play or because they want attention. Medical or neurological problems are much easier to deal with when diagnosed early. The “Hey, look what I just caught” moment of tail chasing is cute, but only if your pet is healthy and happy.

Photo by Tim Mowrer

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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12 thoughts on “Why Do Dogs and Cats Chase Their Tails?

  1. My 17 year old cat does this quite a lot. She has an over-active thyroid and a tumour on her stomach, and may be going senile/demented, so I think that’s why she chases her tail, she’s just recapturing her childhood x

  2. Could it b mental problem too if it chases it’s tail.. My bum bum wl do tat at least twice a day wen it gets angry!.. For no apparent reason it gets v v angry n chases it’s tail n start showing his teeth. Omg it gets to my nerve n I am v v scared even to get his cage clean recently in case he gets to attack me. But overall he’s v loving.

  3. My 5 yr old part Siamese/Tabby has recently become frightened of his tail. He’s always chased it occasionally, but now actually tries to run away from his tail. Today he started hissing at his tail, then ran down the hall to get away from it. At first we thought it was funny, but it seems to be getting worse. Does anyone have any ideas?

  4. My cat is six years old. I’ve had him for 3 he has chased tail once in a great while, but lately he’s been doing it a lot more, and today he caught it and bit it so hard he got mad and tried to fight his own tail. I have two other cats, kittens, who never chase their tail but sometimes each others. I give them all tons of attention all day, I don’t work. His tip is broken, we came from Hawaii where it’s warm, could it be that it hurts at the crook of his tail now that we are in the freezing cold?

  5. We are so glad you posted this. Ciara chases her tail once in a while, but certainly more often than her brothers do. We used to think she was just being cute. But she has had to have her anal glands expressed twice now, so we think it may definitely have something to do with that. Thanks for the clue.

    Woos ~ Phantom, Thunder, and Ciara

  6. I have often wondered why dogs and cats exhibit this behavior. My Bobo used to do it occasionally, (Cody never does) and Dakota does occasionally.

    I never knew that medical reasons could be involved. Thanks for such a great and informative post!

  7. Out of all the cats that I have had, I have actually only seen one cat chase their tails and most of my dogs are Australian shepherds and so don’t have tails. But it all sounds really interesting. Take care

  8. Rupert is the only tail chaser in my crowd. In fact, ha has two specific places he goes to chase it. His favorite is in the fabric cube which contains it to make it easier to catch. He goes around and around and flops over dizzy! Naturally, we die laughing when he does this…

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