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How to Deal with Tail Biting

Learn how to deal with tail biting from board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. E'Lise Christensen, DVM in this Howcast video.


Have you ever noticed your cat chasing its tail? Well, unlike in dogs, where sometimes this is just a behavior that gets really reinforced, in cats, it can actually be really unusual, and it can be really serious. I mean, it can be serious in dogs too, don't get me wrong, but today we're going to focus on the kitty problem. If you see your cat chasing its tail, I wouldn't be so worried unless it happens multiple times per day, or for long durations. If you found your cat chasing or biting at its tail for even 10 seconds, that's a pretty long time for a cat.

If you aren't careful, some cats that chase their tails will actually bite their tails quite severely and cause major injury. Sometimes these require medical attention such as antibiotics, cleaning at a veterinary facility, and sometimes even surgery. So if you notice that your cat is doing a lot of tail biting, it's very important to talk with your veterinarian as soon as you can, because for some cats, as soon as they start to bite their tail, there can be a cycle of injury and re-injury as the tail becomes more uncomfortable. So, if you see this behavior, go to your vet. What they're probably going to recommend that you do is some dermatology workup.

Skin workup is very important whenever there's anything that could be going on with the skin. And while it's not necessarily a common cause of tail biting, it's certainly much easier to treat than some of the other issues. There are a list of differentials, or possibilities, for the underlying cause for tail biting that's quite long. And some of them are very difficult to diagnose. So often, tail biting is treated symptomatically by making sure that the cat's environment is enriched, so that if there is any anxiety-related or compulsive component to the behavior, that the cat has a time budget that is less likely to allow for biting the tail. In addition, covering the cat's body with a towel right around here and back beyond the tail can be helpful, because some cats that bite their tails will no longer bite their tail if they can't see it. In addition, some cats that bite their tails will not bite them if they're bandaged.

However, if you are considering bandaging your cat's tail, that's something that should really be done by a professional. You can imagine that that's a procedure that many cats don't really enjoy, and we want to make sure that your relationship with your cat is solid. There are also medications that can help these cats. Pain medications, as well as anxiety medications, are often prescribed if there's no obvious underlying medical problem.

So, if you see your cat tail biting, or come home to what looks like a murder scene, it's really important to call your vet right away because treatment's available and can be very helpful. And it'll make your cat a lot more comfortable in the long term.

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