Weird Cat Reflex?
April 21, 2006 12:30 PM   Subscribe

My cat Lulu has a strange quirk - if you touch a certain spot on her tail while she's lying down, she will start kicking herself in the face. It does not seem like she wants to do this, it's more like a reflex. Could such a mechanism exist? Or is our kitty a little bit more special/brain damaged than we thought?
posted by agregoli to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Recent askme thread on "lick spots" here.
posted by nanojath at 12:36 PM on April 21, 2006

I'm not surprised that it happens. I can't remember the specific terms to do a proper search, but it's similar to referred pain or referral sensation where stimulation of a nerve will cause sensation somewhere else.

Nerves are hooked up not in discrete 1-to-1 connections, but are usually complex circuits. A sensory nerve goes to the spine and connects to an interneuron - there are a bunch of other nerves that attaches to the same one.

Some connections will automatically initiate a reflex (sends a signal back) before relaying the signal to the brain. Sometimes these signals can get crossed.

Sorry - this is really fuzzy, but it's a little like the hypothesis of why in accupuncture, stimulating a nerve in your foot can help your headache (or something).
posted by PurplePorpoise at 12:40 PM on April 21, 2006

Thank you, nanojath - except this is different altogether from the "back spot" - she has that too like all cats I've encountered, but the spot in question is actually at almost the tip of her tail.
posted by agregoli at 12:43 PM on April 21, 2006

I'm afraid we can do nothing to help until you post a video of this happening. ;)
posted by davejay at 12:52 PM on April 21, 2006

It is about the funniest thing I've seen in awhile, but I feel guilty for laughing.
posted by agregoli at 12:52 PM on April 21, 2006

Agreed on the video, we can't possibly identify the problem without getting to see your kitty kicking itself in the face. Preferably with silly music added.

Though if you want an actual answer, PurplePorpoise's response is probably your best bet. Nerve clusters are wacky.

[anecdotal: we have a test, if you hold on to a cats tail while it's walking and it turns around and attacks you, it's young. If it falls over and gives up, it's old. Using this precision methodology we have been able to determine the exact moment our cats went from frisky kittens to big fat sacks of cat.]
posted by quin at 1:08 PM on April 21, 2006

I'm at work, so it would be a little impossible to take a video of my cat at home, now, wouldn't it?

I will try and take video tonight and post it for your amusement.
posted by agregoli at 1:15 PM on April 21, 2006

I have boomarked this thread. Better be a video in a few hours!
posted by xmutex at 2:15 PM on April 21, 2006

As i think more about this: has your cat always done this? If not, is it possible that she recently injured her tail and is reacting to that injury?

I still think that PurplePorpoise's answer is probably the one you are looking for, but i didn't want to rule out the possibility of something less funny.

Because goofy tickle-spot misfiring nerves = = the funny. Kitty with a sore tail, not so much.
posted by quin at 3:09 PM on April 21, 2006

I don't know what can be done about it or if it's a sign of neurological problems, but quirks like that are prevalent in cats. Bring it up at the next vet visit.

I've befriended this 16 year old (74 in human years) kitty in my complex, and she does two strange things: when she gets excited her tail vibrates like there's an electric current running through it, and when she's drinking she shakes imaginary water off her paws even though they're completely dry.
posted by Devils Slide at 5:23 PM on April 21, 2006

I would also like a video please.
posted by Brainy at 6:00 PM on April 21, 2006

The cat next door regularly does a weird lying down double-legged back-kick-against-front-paws move that sounds similar; I can trigger it by scratching the kitty's butt, but it also happens when he just gets excited. Glitch in the kitty nervous system seems about right.
posted by mediareport at 6:50 PM on April 21, 2006

I don't think it's a sore tail simply because that's just a strange reaction for pain (inflict more pain to itself by kicking itself in face?). If the tail was sore, it would cry out or swat at you or meow more pitifully than usual when you poked at its tail.

Then again, perhaps I am trying to impose logic upon an illogical beastie. My own kitties certainly defy logic on a daily basis, so...yeah.

Oh, and I am waiting with bated breath for the video. Please don't let us down!
posted by rio at 7:55 PM on April 21, 2006

Video video video!
posted by deborah at 11:23 AM on April 22, 2006

If the cat has no other symptoms that are worrying then I definitely would save this to ask at your next vet visit. The vet may have no clue either - but you can never tell, they may ask about other symptoms and then have an explanation. Maybe you've found a nerve unique to your cat?

Or maybe her wiring is crossed. You could try rebooting and then checking your warranty.
posted by batgrlHG at 11:52 AM on April 22, 2006

My internet access is out at home, so I have no way to post a video from my camera. My apologies to the people who asked nicely.
posted by agregoli at 10:40 AM on April 24, 2006

Wanted to answer this:

As i think more about this: has your cat always done this? If not, is it possible that she recently injured her tail and is reacting to that injury?

I don't think this is an injury - she acts fine and the tail works as tails do. We've only had her for a few months, but her previous owners disclosed no history of injury.
posted by agregoli at 12:40 PM on April 24, 2006

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