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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

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

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