Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I just got a kitten three weeks ago. She’s normal in every way except that sometimes she will lay down and chew or suck on her tail. Apparently she likes it — she purrs while she does it and it puts her to sleep — but I’m a little worried about it. If I take her tail away from her mouth, she wakes up and looks everywhere for it. I’m a little lost, and I’d be grateful if you could tell me what to do about this.
Siouxsie: Tail sucking is unusual, for sure, but there are plenty of cats that do it.
Thomas: Experts tend to think that the reason some cats suck on their tails is because they were weaned away from their mother’s milk too early, or because they were orphaned and didn’t have the chance to suckle on their mom at all.
Dahlia: Tail sucking provides a sense of security, just like regular nursing. You can tell it makes her happy because she purrs and relaxes into sleep while she’s nursing on her furry appendage.
Siouxsie: Your baby may get over her tail sucking behavior after a while, but it might stay with her for her entire life and manifest more often when she’s stressed.
Thomas: You don’t have to worry about your kitten’s tail sucking as long as she’s not doing it constantly and it’s not irritating her skin and causing sores to form.
Dahlia: Do keep an eye on her litterbox behavior and make sure she’s pooping normally. If she acts like she’s got an upset stomach — say, maybe her appetite is a bit “off” or she’s throwing up — she may have a hairball. Usually an over-the-counter remedy like Petromalt or Laxatone will help the hairball move smoothly through her system and get her feeling up to par again.
Siouxsie: Do check the skin on the end of her tail every day, just to make sure she’s not developing sores. With constant aggravation and sucking, these wounds could become infected pretty quickly. If her sucking gets to the point where she’s self-injuring, your vet may have some ideas about how you can keep her from going to town on her tail, at least until the wound is healed.
Thomas: We don’t think you should try and stop your baby from nursing on her tail unless the licking and sucking reaches that self-mutilation level.
Dahlia: You might want to thank your lucky stars that she’s chosen to suck on her tail rather than on your blankets or clothes. Some cats are prone to “wool-sucking” behavior, in which they suck, chew, and even eat fabric! This behavior is more common in Siamese and other Oriental breeds, but it can happen in ordinary mixed-breed cats too.
Siouxsie: If you notice that the nursing behavior seems to be escalating, your kitten may be reacting to stress in her environment. Take steps to address that stress, perhaps through bringing pheromone diffusers into your home, ensuring that she has enough horizontal and vertical territory, and introducing new pets or people slowly and carefully.
Thomas: The bottom line is that as long as your baby girl is happy and healthy, we really don’t think you have to worry about her silly but oh-so-cute habit.
Dahlia: As a testimony to just how common tail-sucking is, there are dozens of videos online showing cats of all sizes, types and ages enjoying a good, sloppy nursing session with the tip of their tails. Here’s one that we thought was especially cute:
In a reader? Watch the video here.