Why do cats chase their tails?

Why do cats chase their tails? The answer is obvious but I’ll answer the question because someone’s asked it. They chase their tails to play. It is just another version of play hunting. All cat games are based on the same feline trait and all cat toys rely on this behavior.

Cat caught his own tail
Cat caught his own tail
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Aware it is their own tail?

The interesting thing for me is whether domestic cats know that they are chasing their own tail. They behave as if they don’t realise it. Young domestic cats, in particular, occasionally chase their own tails with great enthusiasm.

My impression is they think they are chasing something which is not attached to themselves. Because their tail is attached to them, as they chase it, it moves away and is, therefore, a very effective, natural ‘tease’.

If I am correct and domestic cats don’t understand that they are chasing their own tail, it fits in nicely with the strong argument that domestic cats are not self aware. It’s been established that domestic cats don’t see themselves in a mirror and are not self-conscious i.e. they are not aware of their presence. If cats aren’t self-aware they might not consciously understand that their tail is part of their anatomy when they chase it.

I think this is an original idea that no one has made before and an important point. I am happy to discuss the matter further.


What is also interesting is that when cats self-groom they appear to recognise their tail as a part of their anatomy because they groom it.

However, this might not be the case. Domestic cats groom hair automatically whether it is their hair or if it belongs to another cat (provided it is not on the other cat!). Therefore, perhaps when cats groom themselves they are not consciously thinking I will groom myself now. It’s more an instinctive compulsion to do it at a certain time.

There it is: some weird questions about cat behavior. A lack of self awareness is a condition which humans find hard to comprehend because we are so used to it. We instinctively know that we exist and are self conscious of our behavior.

Domestic cats chase their tails to play. Their tail effectively becomes a piece of thick string which moves away from them as they continue to chase it. Dogs do it as well. And of course infant cats chase their parents’ tails.

Why do snow leopards ‘bite’ their tails?

7 thoughts on “Why do cats chase their tails?”

  1. What I’m saying is this: it’s not always the case of play. Some cats, in fact many, exist in environments that are stressful, maybe because of too many cats or maybe because of some annoying behavior their human.

  2. Michael, you are probably incorrect. Cats who are stressed will chase their tails, rather than lashing out at their humans, actually, their “alphas,” primarily because they don’t want to “die.”. If I were a domestic feline, I think that I would chase my tail, if the alternative were to be creating my own death certificate by attacking my Alpha male.

  3. Yeah, it’s a built in (or built on) cat toy. I’m not so sure they don’t know it’s part of their own body… Really?

    • Of course they do. Thanks for your question mark here. I’m sure why Michael is so sure of his statement. Possibly he is hoping for argument’s sake.

    • I think it is about lack of self-awareness. Thats’s the tricky issue. I know I am pushing the envelope but I think it is a good point.

    • Sorry for the third response. It is a fine point. If cats are not self-aware it makes sense that they don’t consciously see their tail as theirs. It is a mental condition that humans find hard to grasp I think.


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