It’s natural for cats to groom themselves, including licking their tail. However, some cats seem to groom themselves excessively, which is known as overgrooming. Overgrooming can be caused by a behavioral issue or a medical one. 

If your cat is licking their tail excessively, you’ll need to determine the cause. Then you can move towards finding a helpful solution. 

Why does my cat keep licking his tail?

Does it seem that your cat is licking their tail every time you see them? They may even have bald spots or sores on their tail, because they’ve licked it so often. This means your cat has an issue that they need help with, but what causes them to lick their tail? 

Tail Tales

Before we get into why your cat is licking their tail, it’s important to understand the tail itself. The tail is made up of 18 to 23 vertebrae. There are also muscles in the tail, which control its movement. 

Cats use their tails for two important purposes. The first is balance. Think of a tight rope walker with a stick. The stick helps them keep their balance. Your cat’s tail acts the same way, providing a helping hand when they need to maintain their balance. 

Your cat’s tail also indicates what they are feeling. It’s used to communicate with you as well as other cats.

A cat that’s angry may hold it’s tail straight up, and swish it back and forth. A happy or relaxed cat will hold it’s tail in a u shape. 

Trauma

One reason cats lick their tails, or any area, is pain. Have you ever hit your shin or your elbow? The first thing you did, other than say some choice words, was probably to rub the area with your hand. 

This is a natural human response to pain. The act of rubbing the area helps to relieve the pain, even if we don’t understand why. Cats don’t have hands, so they must use their tongue. 

If your cat is licking their tail, they may have experienced tail injury or trauma. Your cat’s tail can actually break, which causes significant pain. 

The tail can also be wounded, particularly if they fight with another cat. Your cat will lick their tail to keep the wound clean, and to relieve the pain. 

You can check for trauma by examining your cat’s tail. However, the tail is a sensitive area, and most cats don’t like their tail to be touched. Offering your cat a treat can make the tail examination process easier. 

Look for any cuts or wounds on the skin of the tail. You can also check for any broken areas by running your hands down the length of their tail. If they’ve suffered an injury, they will let you know they have a sore area on their tail. 

Fleas

Fleas can be absolute torture for a cat. They itch, which leads your cat to lick and scratch. Some unlucky cats have an allergy to fleas, which causes even more itching and skin irritation. 

Because cats are such excellent groomers, they will go to great lengths to remove fleas from their coat. In fact, you may not even see any fleas on them, because they are constantly removing them. 

Both indoor and outdoor cats are at risk of getting fleas. Cats with fleas will often get a rash on sensitive areas, like their belly or the base of their tail. This is due to flea bites. 

In addition to checking your cat for fleas, look for red or black flecks. These specks are flea poop, and often easier to spot than the fleas themselves. You should also look inside your cat’s ears for any signs of fleas. 

Intestinal Parasites

Intestinal parasites can also cause your cat to bite their tail. These parasites, often known as worms, are common in cats. They can cause the butt to itch, as worms come out in their poop. 

When the butt itches, the cat will lick their tail, as well as the butt itself. It’s possible there’s a referred sensation that leads them to do this. 

Allergies

Just like humans, cats can have allergies. They can be either environmental or food allergies. Common cat food allergies include beef, fish, chicken, and dairy. Common cat environmental allergies include dust, grass, and pollen. 

Allergies can cause your cat to itch. Both types of allergies can cause skin rash and irritation, which will lead your cat to lick certain areas, including their tail. Other signs your cat has allergies include runny nose, sneezing, cough, wheezing, and nasal congestion. 

Stress

Stress is a common cause of overgrooming. Licking is a comfort mechanism for cats. Its similar to you hugging yourself. When they lick, it helps them to calm down and feel happier. 

When a cat is chronically stressed, they may lick to the point they create bald spots or sores on their skin. Other signs of stress include stomach upset, peeing or pooping outside their litter box, and poor coat condition. 

They may also have changes in appetite and bathroom frequency. They may also become destructive, clawing or scratching floors and furniture. 

Some cats become withdrawn and shy when they are stressed. These cats will hide, and avoid interacting with people when feeling stressed. Others become aggressive, and may even scratch or bite their owners when they are stressed.  

Stud Tail

Stud tail occurs when your cat’s oil glands produce too much oil. The tail will be oily, and you may notice acne on the skin. It’s most common in unneutered males, because their hormones cause greater oil production. However, it can occur in any cat. 

If you notice your cat’s tail looks oily or has a waxy build up, they may have stud tail. The build up of oil causes the skin to itch, which of course, leads them to lick their tail. 

Boredom

Cats require entertainment. A bored cat is a lot like a bored child, they are sure to get into something they shouldn’t. Some cats will begin overgrooming when they are bored. 

Other signs your cat needs more stimulation in their life include sleeping more than usual, lethargy, and overeating. Some cats also become destructive when they are bored. 

Skin Infection

Skin infections can also cause your cat to lick their tail. When your cat has any type of wound or infection, it’s their natural instinct to lick the area. This is how they keep it clean. Unfortunately, excessive licking can exacerbate the original problem. 

Anal Glands

Cats have an anal gland on each side of their anus. These are small sacs that contain a pungent smelling fluid. When the cat poops, the glands are squeezed. This causes the fluid to come out, coating the poop. 

Cats use this to provide extra information with their poop. This can tell other cats many things, including the cat’s age, sexual status, and gender. 

When the anal glands don’t function properly, the become impacted. This causes the pressure to build up, which is uncomfortable for your cat. 

In addition to licking the tail itself, anal gland issues will cause your cat to lick under their tail. You may notice swollen glands, or a bloody or sticky discharge from their butt. 

In addition to obsessive licking, your cat may drag their butt against the ground in an attempt to find some relief. 

How to get my cat to stop licking his tail?

How to get your cat to stop licking their tail depends on why they are licking their tail. 

Fleas

If your cat has fleas, there are several treatment options. Flea baths are a temporary option. It will kill any fleas currently on your cat, and can kill fleas for about two weeks after their bath. 

Flea preventatives can also be used. Many of these are topical, and are simply applied to the back of your cat’s neck. It begins working within a few hours, and should kill all fleas in about 24 hours. 

You can also choose a chewable. These work from the inside out. They should work within 24 hours. 

Never use a flea medication designed for dogs on your cat, because these medications are toxic to cats. 

Allergies

If you suspect your cat has allergies, you’ll need to work with your vet. Food allergies are usually determined by an elimination diet. Your cat will only eat certain foods for a few weeks. Then, potential allergens are added back to their diet one at a time. If there’s a reaction, your cat is allergic to the food. 

Environmental allergens can be identified through a blood test. They can’t always be avoided. However, your vet can prescribe medication to ease your cat’s symptoms, and give you tips for managing their allergy.  

Parasites

Intestinal parasites can be treated with an oral medication. It’s best to have your vet confirm that parasites are the cause, and prescribe the correct anti-parasitic medication. 

Anal Glands

You can express your cat’s anal glands yourself by pushing up and in on the underside of the glands. However, many pet owners prefer to allow their vet to do this honor. 

Skin Infection or Trauma

Skin infections and trauma also require a vet visit. In the case of trauma, your vet will examine your kitty’s tail. This can include x-rays to see if the tail is broken. If your cat has a wound or skin infection, they may be given a cream and an oral antibiotic. 

Stress

If stress is the cause of your cat’s tail licking, you’ll need to reduce or eliminate the cause of stress if possible. Changes in the household or your schedule are often the culprit. If there are other animals in the home, they may not  be getting along with your cat, causing stress. 

Your cat needs a safe place to go, particularly during stressful times. A cat condo or even a wall shelf can give them their own private place. Choose an area that isn’t busy, and is relatively quiet. 

If there’s a problem between your cat and another pet, you may need to separate them temporarily. Be sure that each cat has its own food and water bowls, and provide a litter box for each cat. 

Boredom

If your cat is bored, you’ll need to give them more stimulation. Have regular play sessions with your cat. Do not leave toys scattered about. Cats quickly lose interest when the toys stop moving.

Instead, get the toys out when you can play with them, and put them away the rest of the time. The exception to this are balls, which the cat can operate on their own. 

Puzzle feeders are also helpful. They can keep your cat entertained and provide some exercise. 

Lastly, consider turning on the TV for your cat. Studies have shown that cats enjoy watching TV, particularly when it features other cats or prey animals.  

Stud Tail

Stud tail is usually treated with medicated shampoo. Your vet is your best source for treatment. In severe cases, your vet may prescribe a cream along with the shampoo. 

Regular Grooming

Keeping your cat well groomed will also help stop them from licking their tail. Cats don’t normally require baths, because they keep themselves clean. However, they do need regular brushing. Cats with very long coats may also need the occasional trim to avoid matting. 

How much should a cat groom itself?

Cats typically spend 30-50% of their day grooming. So, it’s normal for your cat to spend up to half its day grooming. However, if your cat is grooming themselves constantly, this is too much. 

Signs your cat is grooming themselves more than they should include hair loss and skin lesions. You may also notice that they are grooming themselves so often they are not performing other normal activities. 

Author

I created and currently run Kitty Cat Tips, the website that you can go to when you have questions about your cat's behavior. It's my hope that you find Kitty Cat Tips to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your cat. You can read more about me and my website here.