This is a very tricky problem. Firstly, you have to assess whether your cat is genuinely biting his tail. He may be playing with his tail and cats do this innocently without causing harm. Nothing to concern you if it is this. But if your cat is causing harm then clearly you both have a problem. The likely cause will be a tricky condition called feline hyperesthesia syndrome – FHS. This is a mental health condition. The word “syndrome” indicates its complex nature. You should also check for physical conditions. Your cat may be feeling discomfort in his tail which he wants to remove. Some experts suggest checking for fleas but I don’t think that will be a cause. To be honest you need a veterinarian to help you pin down the cause. However, even the experts struggle with understanding the underlying cause or causes and how to fix FHS.
My feelings on this
If the physical causes have been ticked off as inapplicable, I would focus very strongly on doing your utmost to try and get your cat to believe that he or she is living in their natural environment. If you can reduce their environment down to a complete naturalness there will be less chance of a mental health issue occurring. I do believe that a lot of the time these sorts of tricky behavioural issues stem from the difficulties that humans have in providing a natural environment for the domestic cat companion. It is an artificial human world. It is sometimes an indoor world which suits humans but, without being critical of it, it is far removed from the world of a cat. We must know by now that domestic cats are wild at heart. All the motivators and behaviours are essentially identical to those of their wild cat ancestor. This is hard to understand and digests but if you do it is the first step in making your cat happy and minimising the possibility of mental health issues. Jackson expands on this.
Other cat causes redirected aggression
There may be another cat in their territory. The offended cat might be unable to deal with the ‘invading cat’ and in their frustration starts to bite their tail. They want to attack the invader but redirect their aggression at their tail. So, this is an example of redirected aggression.
Jackson Galaxy’s thoughts
Jackson Galaxy recommends doing some detective work by watching when your cat does it. You should record it in a diary so you can build up a pattern of behaviour which will help diagnose what is behind it. You should also videotape the behaviour. Then you should book an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss it and take along the video. You should also try and control what Jackson refers to as “energy spikes”. You should be aware of “energy in”.
I believe that he’s referring to the fact that particularly indoor cats do not have the facilities or the wherewithal to release energy in terms of natural behaviour which means hunting, catching, killing and eating. These are the core activities of a domestic cat inherited from the wildcat. You need to be aware of a buildup of this energy and how to dissipate it. One obvious way is to play with your cat a lot more. Playing is hunting and it is the nearest they can get to actual hunting if they are not allowed to go outside. And I advocate cats not going outside certainly in certain places where it is dangerous to do so.
Another thing you can do is to encourage your cat to relax by making sure that there are safe places for your cat to retreat to. And perhaps most importantly your cat’s environment should be attuned to his or her needs. He calls this catification. The home should not just be for humans but for cats and humans. That means vertical spaces, climbing areas and anything else which makes the home cat friendly. He also advocates what he calls Cat TV. This is another way for domestic cats to calm down. It works a bit like human TV. He means a cat looking out of a window at prey animals outside such as squirrels, birds et cetera. Your cat will get some satisfaction from it and it will help to dissipate some of the energy and stresses.
He constantly refers to a cat’s mojo. He means tapping into what motivates a cat and allowing the cat to express natural desires – yes, I know I am repeating myself but it comes back to that all the time. The way I read it, his entire book Total Cat Mojo is about allowing a cat in a human environment to behave as much like a cat as they can which can be difficult to achieve because it is a human environment! And this can cause problems which can be mental health problems.
Multiple causes and drug treatments?
He suggests that FHS is an OCD-type behaviour such as Pica. He thinks that domestic gas engaging in this behaviour may experience hallucinations. Their sensitivity is “off the charts” and the cat may have suffered a previous injury. It is a very complicated issue because genetic inheritance, stress, anxiety, sensory processing issues, skin problems, trauma and neurological problems can all play a role. This is why you need to see a very good veterinarian.
Jackson also suggests that some sort of mind-altering drug treatment may be the ultimate solution and a last resort.
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