Cat tail mystery
June 5, 2011 12:29 PM   Subscribe

If I present the tip of my cats' tails to the respective cats, they'll immediately start grooming/chewing on said tail. Is this common, or universal, among cats? And why do they do it?

Three of the four cats I've owned have done this. The fourth was bitey; I never tried it with him.
posted by mudpuppie to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My cats do the same thing with almost anything, including my finger.
posted by hermitosis at 12:31 PM on June 5, 2011

Not universal - sometimes my cat will be flailing around trying to catch his own tail and I'll try to offer it to him, and he just looks at me like I'm crazy.
posted by illenion at 12:45 PM on June 5, 2011

I have two cats.

One will immediately bite his tail, the other will look at me disdainfully.

So, not universal, but definitely common.
posted by madajb at 1:16 PM on June 5, 2011

I have two cats - one is sane ignores his tail and the other is a complete idiot bites his tail to the point where he's required stitches. The stupid one also likes to eat wires, drapery cords, shoelaces, etc. whereas the sane one does not. I think it's some sort of instinctive reaction to something long and skinny - perhaps because mouse tails are a similar shape?

also, follow the rules - any cat-related question must include pictures
posted by desjardins at 1:19 PM on June 5, 2011 [12 favorites]

I've always assumed that its fairly hard for a cat to reach the end of the tail to groom, and they're taking advantage of the opportunity. Nothing to back me up though.
posted by gilsonal at 1:49 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

My cats do the same thing with almost anything, including my finger.

I agree with this. Presenting a non-food object to a cat a la the nose-touching they do among themselves is basically a request for social grooming; whether they go for it or not depends on their mood and how well-socialized they are.
posted by vorfeed at 1:51 PM on June 5, 2011

One cat I had would bat at it and lick playfully; the other bites it viciously until he hurts himself like a dumbass. Wondering why cats do things is a lot like it must feel to run in circles biting one's tail.
posted by motsque at 2:24 PM on June 5, 2011

Oh, yeah, and as for why they treat their own tails like foreign objects -- I don't think they have a real high degree of awareness of their tail-tips. Mine accidentally dip their tails into the sink or bathtub and never seem to notice, whereas dunking a paw would be an occasion for mortification and disgust.
posted by vorfeed at 2:25 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Magnet, our older kitty, just looks at me like I'm weird and waits until I unhand her tail to start the grooming. Meniscus (Biscuit, for short) starts her licking and then goes into a fit of tail chasing. Magnet has never been a tail-chaser. Biscuit always has been.

And, yeah. It's a pretty serious break in protocol to ask a cat question without providing pictures. At this point, we can't even be certain you even own cats.
posted by lizjohn at 2:57 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Of my sisters' three cats, two do this and one does not. The one who does not is more sensitive (picky eater, pukes easily, jumps if you touch her when she's not in the perfect mood, won't try to sit on you till you've been still for at least forty minutes, tuxedo kitty) and a bit older. The other two are really into the biting/licking/etc. of their tails, especially the grey one. Dryden and Frolic are first cousins once removed, if I remember their lineage correctly; Quiz, the tuxedo, is a rescue cat.

It's the general opinion that Quiz is much smarter than the other two.
posted by SMPA at 3:16 PM on June 5, 2011

Data point: our cat simply moves her tail out of the way when presented with it. She also ignores her reflection and any video or audio recordings of other cats, dogs, squirrels or birds. She will immediately lick my finger (or nose, or foot, etc) if I present it. She goes wild chasing flies and loves to watch squirrels and birds. Responds strongly to real cats seen through the window. Chases laser pointers and tin foil balls.
posted by Cygnet at 4:14 PM on June 5, 2011

One of the cats just jumped up onto my desk and settled down, so I presented her with her tail. She licked it a couple of times, but it turned out she was just trying to reach my hand and lick it. (She loooves licking people.)
posted by telophase at 4:54 PM on June 5, 2011

When my cat was smaller and I did this, she would grab the end of her tail between her paws and start washing it. Now she just gives me a dirty look. Cats are weird.
posted by contessa at 6:19 PM on June 5, 2011

Just now: Oliver, Abigail and Mingo all just sniffed their tails. Fanty licked his. Then I held Oliver's tail to Fanty and Fanty licked it.

I have done the same experiment in the past and have had cats lick their own tails. I specifically recall Oliver doing so, but there have been others.

Note: Mingo is the only tail-chaser I've known, but he hasn't done it in a year or so. Also, he's not very bright.
posted by deborah at 6:51 PM on June 5, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers. Apologies for not posting pictures. I was honestly interested in the answer and didn't want this to come off as "Let's all talk about our cats," so I didn't even consider linking to pics initially.

On demand, though, here is a picture from earlier today of Turtle and Zuzu curled up together in their bed during the unseasonably cool weather.

More awesome Zuzu-ness here.

I *am* curious about cats' awareness of their tails. They sometimes seem to use them for emphasis, and sometimes seem completely surprised by them. Hence the question.
posted by mudpuppie at 7:52 PM on June 5, 2011

When I was a kid, I would suck on my cat's tail and then put his tail in his face. He would then lick his tail clean. I did it because it was the only way I could get him to lick my finger, and as a kid, I really liked that sandpaper rough feeling.

Kids: don't try this at home. I'm sure your cat doesn't really want to clean your slobber off his tail every day.
posted by lover at 8:07 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty sure my cat has no idea her tail is hers.

When presented with it, she is annoyed because it is an obstacle to mashing her face into mine.
posted by Bokononist at 8:53 PM on June 5, 2011

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