I Couldn't Figure Out Why My Pets Chased Their Tails, So I Asked an Animal Behaviorist

As someone who owns five cats and a gigantic black lab named Yogi, I can confirm that all of my pets have chased their tail at one time or another. While this behavior is certainly endearing, I've always wondered why they do it in the first place. Does it hurt? Are they aware of the fact their tails are actually attached to them? My list of inquiries went on. Determined to get the answers to my questions, I consulted with an expert to learn why my four-legged friends are so obsessed with their tails.

Why Do Cats and Dogs Chase Their Tails?

Although my cats get that surly, I'm-about-to-scratch-you look in their eyes when they're lying on the floor chasing their tail, apparently it's all in good fun and they're just looking for a little attention.

"Sometimes cats and dogs just chase their tails for pure fun and antics (think about the reaction they get from their owners when they chase!)," animal health and behavior consultant Erin Askeland at Camp Bow Wow told POPSUGAR. "So this could be for attention-seeking purposes because of our tendency to respond. However, tail chasing can also be a sign of other issues such as boredom or pent-up energy, a medical issue causing pain or discomfort, anxiety driven (like OCD), or due to age and body awareness."

Are Cats and Dogs Aware That Their Tails Are Attached to Them?

Sometimes when I watch my dog chase his tail, I wonder if it hurts! After all, chomping down on a hand or leg doesn't exactly sound pleasant for us humans. Fortunately, our pets are more cognizant than I thought. "Cats and dogs are aware that their tails are connected to them," she explained. "Though puppies and kittens may still be in the process of learning that. While they may not think of their tails in that way, they can move them at will and feel when touched, and they respond to this."

Should We Be Concerned When Our Pets Chase Their Tails?

Of course, if your dog or cat is chasing its tail nonstop, it might be time to speak with your vet. "It really depends on the context of the tail chasing," Erin said. "Pets may do this on occasion during play, but if tail chasing becomes repetitive, injurious, you can't stop the behavior easily, or other behavior changes accompany it, then it's time to see a vet to help out."

Erin recommends using your best judgment. "Outside of play, when tail chasing becomes obsessive and repetitive, it may not be a direct communication to us, but it does help communicate to us that something may be going on that is causing that pet distress," she explained. "It can become part of a pet's behavioral vocabulary where their behavior and body language tells us how they are feeling at any given moment."