Why do snow leopards ‘bite’ their tails?

Snow leopards do not ‘bite’ their tails to keep their nose warm as has been stated. Neither do they bite their tails in an aggressively harmful way. They don’t even bite their tails. They hold their tails in their mouths because they enjoy doing it as a distracting diversion, as a comforter, or as an act within play. My view is that it is similar to human babies sucking their thumbs. Domestic kittens sometimes suck their thumbs too. The behavior may indicate anxiety.

Snow leopard carries his tail in his mouth

Snow leopard carries his tail in his mouth. Screenshot.

All the photographs that I have seen of snow leopards biting their tails have been taken in captivity. One of the photographs shows an adult snow leopard ‘biting’ (not really biting) his tail clearly in play. Another photograph shows a snow leopard cub biting the tail of a parent. This will also be in play.

Snow leopard biting tail

Snow leopard biting tail

Cub biting tail of parent

The snow leopard is perhaps the tamest and most gentle of all the wild cat species in captivity. This handsome wild cat behaves somewhat like a domestic cat in captivity.

Quite often in homes, we see domestic cats playing with their tails. The cat’s tail is rather like a cat tease. A cat tease is a feather on a stick which excites a cat. Cats can create their own entertainment with their own tails and the tails of other cats.

Snow leopard biting tail

I suspect that the adult snow leopard gently holds his tail in his mouth as a vestigial1 act of play and one which is pleasing to the cat.

Here is a video of a subadult holding their tail in their mouth and carrying it in their mouth as they walked. It looks to me as if they are enjoying it and it is as if they find comfort in it as a baby human finds comfort in sucking their thumb.

Humans do many things like this which serve no apparent purpose other than they are pleasant and distracting. We may see snow leopards do this more in captivity because of stress levels. Snow leopards may find the activity reduces stress in much the same way that cats groom themselves because it feels pleasant and in feeling pleasant stress is reduced.

Snow leopard biting tail

There is nothing in the best books that I have on the wild cats about snow leopards biting their tails. On the internet, there are articles on snow leopards “nomming” their tails. The word “nomming” describes the sound made while chewing on something. The fact is that I do not believe that snow levels chew on their tails. They simply place their tail in their mouth and nibble it perhaps as part of play, as stated.

There may even be a throwback to kittenhood going on: suckling at mother’s nipple. If so this is once again a reassuring pastime.

Note 1: vestigial: a very small remnant of something that was once greater or more noticeable.

Below are some more pages on the magnificent snow leopard.

Snow leopard moving efficiently and silently through deep snow

Snow leopard walked non-stop for 10 kilometers through 20-inch-deep snow

This is a little story I've picked up in my travels which highlights the incredible stamina and persistence of the ...
Snow leopard eats a large quantity of vegetation

Snow leopards eat a large quantity of vegetation

The experts are unsure why but the snow leopard living on the high plains of the Hindu Kush and the ...
Infographic on snow leopard physical features

Infographic on snow leopard physical features

Well, the snow leopard is a known beauty; enigmatic with haunting, hooded, green eyes fixed on a distant sighting of ...
Snow leopard paw print

How big are snow leopard paws?

An innocuous question but an important one as the snow leopard needs large 'snowshoe' style paws to successfully navigate over, ...
Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.
Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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17 Responses

  1. Asher says:

    Interesting question! I’m not sure I have a definitive answer, but I think it has something to do with balance and control. When a snow leopard is in a tree, it needs to be able to control its body so it

  2. R M says:

    Is there any research about cats doing it? I know of someone whose cat damaged the end of its tail so badly that it went all the way to the bone and vet almost had to cut off that segment. Anything you know about this? Any remedies available when cat toys for sucking don’t work? Thanks.

  3. Danny green says:

    Thanks for the research Michael

  4. Ingo Rieger says:


    do you know if these snow leopard individual displaying this tail biting were hand reared?


    • Michael Broad says:

      Sorry Ingo, I don’t know the answer to that question. If you have a theory on why snow leopards do this, please spell it out in a comment and I may turn it into an article. Thanks for commenting.

      Are you hinting that these cats were weaned early and this is a sign?

  5. Gabby The Tabby says:

    It is a bit odd, though, that seemingly only snow leopards do this. I’ve looked through hundreds of pictures of various types of leopards and I’ve only seen the Snow Leopard do this and – you’re right – only in captivity.

    Though it may be worth noting that Snow Leopards have the bushiest of the leopard tails, that I’ve seen.

    Very interesting article, thanks!

  6. Albert Schepis says:

    I believe you’re right again, Michael. Isn’t their tail one of the longest too? That would make it more accessible; and their fur is dense, so yeah, perfect cat toy.

  7. Eva DR Force says:

    There’s a Tail here to be Tallied* LOL :}

  8. Eva DR Force says:

    Michael_this is a very interesting phenomenon isn’t it. Eva

    • Michael Broad says:

      Yes, it is EVA. I simply had to decide myself what the reason is. There are no books on this. I may be incorrect.

      I am annoyed because these days I often use Dragon Dictate (dictation software) to write the articles and the title contained a typo which I was blind to. It is now corrected. I have to wait a couple hours and then re-read it to spot these typos.

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