Living with a cat can help to make your house feel like a home, and cats are great company and a perfect choice of pet for many people, as they are also usually perfectly happy being left to their own devices when you’re not there, making them well suited to people who work full time.
Sharing your home with a cat is very rewarding and cats are very affectionate pets to have, as well as often being highly entertaining in terms of the behaviours they display. Whilst most of us could do without being brought the occasional dead rodent as a token of our cat’s love, cats are natural hunters that are often very mischievous, and that manifest a lot of mock-hunting behaviour as part of play and entertainment.
All cats need to play and have fun when they want to in order to enjoy a well-rounded, fulfilling life, and this is often hilarious to watch if your cat likes to pounce on imaginary prey, zoom around the house at top speed, or otherwise act in a silly manner that to your cat, makes perfect sense!
Tail chasing is something that many dogs do, particularly of course those with long tails – but a reasonable number of cats also seem to have a lot of fun chasing their own tails too, and even on occasion catching them!
However, this type of behaviour can be confusing as well as of course entertaining for us as cat owners, so if you have ever wondered what is going through your cat’s mind when they chase their tail, this article is for you.
Read on and we will explain some of the reasons why cats chase their tails when playing, to help you to understand this rather comical but perfectly normal cat behaviour.
First of all, the humble domestic cat is often described as “the perfect hunting mammal,” and in terms of the cat’s conformation and instinctive behaviours, cats are simply designed to be excellent hunters without equal.
This means that the prey drive of cats is naturally very strong, and many cats are avid hunters, maintaining such behaviour well into old age. Mock-hunting play is also very rewarding for cats – both those that also hunt live prey and those that do not – and most forms of feline play represent a manifestation of those important hunting instincts.
When your cat chases their tail, this is a type of play that triggers the cat’s instinctive prey drive, and so provides a mental reward for them. Whether your cat first spotted the tip of their tail from the corner of their eye and decided to try to catch it or if they seem to begin from a standing start and circle their own tails as if it was prey, your cat is almost certainly aware that their tail is the target, and they are able to moderate their behaviour so that if they do catch hold of the end of their tail (as some cats are capable of doing) they won’t do themselves any harm.
When your cat chases a toy such as a ribbon or laser pointer, the principle is the same – cats are inquisitive animals that find a reward in letting their hunting instincts manifest, even when they know it is only a game.
Cats have very keen vision to pick out movement – much more acute than the cat’s vision for things that are static. Cats don’t see a well in full daylight as they do in dimmer light too, and so particularly during the daytime, movement is much more distinctive to your cat than things that remain still.
This ability to pick out small movements and the patience to sit for long periods of time waiting to spot movement is something most of us have seen our cats display – in hunting cats, you may have seen them sitting very still staring into bushes or undergrowth before suddenly pouncing on something that they have seen, or potentially been watching for some time.
Your cat’s field of vision allows them to pick out the end of their tail in the corner of their eye, and if their tail is twitching or moving, the same movement fixation that they apply to hunting and finding prey triggers an instinct for your cat to check it out.
Again, your cat will know that it is their own tail that they are after, even if the initial twitch that triggered their interest didn’t make this evident, so your cat is highly unlikely to hurt themselves even if they do catch their tail.
Cats sleep for longer each day than they spend awake, and when they are very active they tend to be active in short, intense bursts of energy. This manifests in behaviour like your cat spending five minutes running around the house in between long naps!
When your cat feels the urge to stretch their legs and burn off some energy, they will look for things to do to entertain themselves with and for some cats, their go-to trigger for a five-minute fit of energetic activity is their own tail.
If your cat chasing their tail makes you laugh, interact with them or otherwise provide feedback and some form of a reward, your cat might begin to do this more regularly, as they know that it will garner a response from you.
You may have noticed similar behaviour if your cat immediately begins to focus and go into hunter mode when you pick up their favourite toy.
A cat chasing their own tail might look funny, but the vast majority of the time it is just your cat being silly and having fun while at play. However, in rare cases, your cat might be chasing their tail because something is bothering them – like perhaps a flea infestation (fleas often congregate in large numbers at the base of the tail), a skin allergy, or pain and discomfort.
If your cat’s tail chasing is obsessive or something appears to be wrong, ask your vet to check them out and make sure everything is ok with their tail and general health, to ensure that your cat’s tail-chasing really is just playtime for them – which it almost always is.