Break My Cat's Trance!
January 19, 2010 6:53 PM   Subscribe

Cat Behavioralist Filter: Can I get my cat to stop chewing on her tail in a trance-like fashion?

This is what she does: anytime she's happy, which is most of the time, she'll curl up into a little cat donut and begin chewing on her tail-- for perhaps an hour. She enters a trance-like state out of which nothing will shake her. Eyes open and staring into space. Meanwhile, the tip of her tail becomes matted, wet and, in a word, gross.

She's a very sweet, affectionate cat-- she's actually my roommate's cat, and was inherited from another roommate. Clearly she has been passed from person to person and perhaps has some attachment issues.

Is there anything we can do to stop this seemingly harmless but very weird and slightly disturbing behavior? It's not the trance that bothers us, it's the sticky, wet tail that swats us when we walk past. We love her; we want her to be less crazy. Thanks, cat behavioralists!
posted by airguitar2 to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
To stop the immediate problem, I'd try bitter apple, a nontoxic but highly unpalatable liquid you rub/spray on to deter chewing. I'd also talk to a vet about this. I've had cats my whole life and have never seen anything like this behavior.
posted by workerant at 6:57 PM on January 19, 2010

Same here - never been without a cat and never seen anything like this. The trance is worrying, might indicate a seizure. See a vet, please.
posted by Billegible at 7:04 PM on January 19, 2010

This is weird. Nthing take her to a vet.
posted by Lobster Garden at 7:27 PM on January 19, 2010

another nth. cats are weird - not that weird.
posted by desjardins at 7:33 PM on January 19, 2010

I have seen a cat "nursing" on itself, but not for an hour at a shot. I'd also suggest a trip to the vet.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:36 PM on January 19, 2010

Hm, well, to add another opinion, I don't think this is that weird. My cat does this including the trance, but with the fringe on a blanket, although for more like 10-15 minutes at a time. I believe its called Wool Sucking. You might want to check it out with a vet, because an hour does seem long and could indicate she's a stressed out kitty, and because she does it to her own tail there might be some issues with irritated skin or something, but its not omgwtf crazy for a cat to do this.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 7:49 PM on January 19, 2010

Wow, I had a cat who did the same thing! And when the slimy tail-tip dried, it would become a hardened spike. Very gross, but his skin was never damaged, and it was impossible to train him out of it... So we just learned to live with it. We always figured it was a self-soothing suckling thing.

Anyway, you are not alone.
posted by chowflap at 8:12 PM on January 19, 2010

I also don't think that this is all that weird. The tail-chewing most definitely isn't. It's satisfying a oral fixation, and habits like that usually mean the kitten was weaned from their mother too soon. Do you know how old was the cat when she was taken from her mom? My cat growing up would do the same thing, but suck her back paw instead. It's was disgusting, there'd be slurping noises and drool... but dangit all if she wasn't a happy, purring cat. She did it until the day she died, 18 years later.

The trance thing though worries me a bit, however. I'd at least ask your vet about it next time, if you don't feel the need to bring her in.

But in general, you can't de-crazy a cat, you can only accept them and their abnormalities. :)
posted by cgg at 8:16 PM on January 19, 2010

My cat does this to blankets while she's kneading them - and she definitely appears trance-like. However, my cat has kneaded blankets all her life and just started sucking on them a few months ago, so I'm not so sure that it's necessarily indicative of early weaning.

My cat definitely appears to be entranced while doing this... but she also purrs away like yours, and if I go pet her, she's happy as a clam. I'm sorry that it's annoying and wet and whatnot, and IANYV, but I don't imagine it is something that is dangerous.

As far as stopping it - consider a cat's nature. How old is the cat? Did this just start? Can you ask your roommate's roommate (or whomever?) if this is a typical behavior? If she's been doing it all her life, I'm guessing you're stuck. If this is a new behavior, and especially if you just adopted/moved her, consider that cats do not adjust quickly to change. Maybe just give her some time to settle in and maybe it will subside? Good luck.
posted by keribear at 9:00 PM on January 19, 2010

Over-grooming can be a sign of stress. Some cats lick themselves until their fur falls out. Maybe your cat is over-grooming its tail. I'd suggest a vet visit and the bitter apple suggested earlier.
posted by embrangled at 11:36 PM on January 19, 2010

I had a cat once who would spend some time licking and chewing his tail. You could also "beat him up" with his own tail, at which point he would bite it as if it wasn't actually connected to him.

Diagnosis: stupidity.

If you want to go to the vet fair enough, but I suspect the answer may be that if it isn't harming or distressing the cat in any way, it's not a problem.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:03 AM on January 20, 2010

Ah, the dreaded tail sucker. I knew one of those many years ago, also a very sweet kitty. A co-worker was moving and needed to find a home for her cat so one of my room mates took him in. My theory is it's the cat's version of thumb sucking.

The cat would do this only at bed time for as long as someone would put up with it before doing the toe nudge. The noise would drive everyone crazy. It usually took a couple nudges to get him to stop. The only suggestion I have is to do what you can to make the cat feel secure and loved. Maybe do a big pet/love fest to interrupt the tail sucking. if the sticky tail bothers you, take a wash cloth and clean it.

We had the cat for about a year before his former owner could take him back. I asked about the tail sucking later and she said he'd stopped after 6 to 8 months and seemed very happy. To me this just seems to be a comfort thing to handle stress. It's a pain but unless it's causing physical problems like hair balls or raw skin I wouldn't bother with a vet.
posted by stray thoughts at 12:13 AM on January 20, 2010

Nthing seeing your vet. My dog would obsessively rub his eyes to the point where they became swollen with red bumps; he had to wear an e-collar 24-7 to keep him from hurting himself. Eventually ruled out allergies, mites, etc; the vet said that likely his normal licking/grooming reaction to stress turned into an OCD. He's on a small dose of prozac now and it's completely fixed. Ask your vet about allergies and OCD, it's likely one of the two. In the meantime, use an e-collar to prevent further injury. I recommend the comfy cone.
posted by melissasaurus at 5:40 AM on January 20, 2010

Ex-SPCA volunteer here. I've seen a lot of this, and also had a cat who would do it for what seemed like hours, both to herself and to a sheepskin rug she slept on. She looked extremely dopey when she did it, too.

I was told by the SPCA vets that it usually meant the cat had been weaned too early, and thus was missing its mother and looking for oral gratification elsewhere. (If a cat did any kind of sustained wool sucking, we'd also note it on the condo card -- it could put off potential adopters, or then again attract those who found it endearing.)

Make sure it isn't a skin condition or even a flea allergy that is causing your cat to repeatedly nibble at her tail. You can get lotion at the pet store for that sort of thing.
posted by vickyverky at 11:56 AM on January 20, 2010

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