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Repetitive Behaviors - Tail Chasing, Licking, Over-grooming, Chasing Shadows or Lights

Behaviorists call these behaviors stereotypies; veterinarians prefer the term compulsive disorders. These are behaviors that an animal does over and over again, in an identical pattern. A familiar example is animals confined in a zoo who pace back and forth in their pens. Often, these enclosures are too small and the animals don’t have enough to do.

Stereotypies in pets can develop for a variety of reasons. This is one problem for which you should absolutely have your cat thoroughly evaluated by your veterinarian, and perhaps by a veterinary neurologist, dermatologist, ophthalmologist or specialist in internal medicine. Your pet may have a skin infection, a vision problem, or something wrong with his nervous system.

Stereotypies can also develop for behavioral reasons. A common cause is stress or conflict. Perhaps your cat is being harassed or bullied by another pet. Maybe your cat has just joined your family and is stressed from trying to adapt to his new living situation. Moving to a new house can also be a stressor that can trigger a stereotypy as can an unpredictable lifestyle.

Or, like confined animals in a zoo, these behaviors can also develop if your cat’s environment and lifestyle isn’t meeting his behavioral needs. Perhaps your cat is left alone a lot, or doesn’t have enough to do to occupy his time. For some great ideas on how to provide enriching toys and environments for your cat, see our program Helping Kitty Be Good, available in a DVD or audio CD format.

Behavioral researchers have found a strong genetic component to some of these behaviors, such as tail chasing in bull terrier dogs.

Once medical problems are ruled out, often these problems can be successfully treated using a combination of behavior modification and drug therapy. They are not simple problems, and frequently require consultation with your veterinarian and/or an experienced and knowledgeable behavior consultant .


To learn how to provide an enriching environment for your cat and to prevent problems such as climbing on things, elimination and destructive scratching problems, get our DVD Helping Kitty Be Good. Here you’ll learn what cats want and need to be healthy and happy in your home.

Animal Behavior Associates - Helping Kitty
4994 S. Independence Way
Littleton, CO 80123

Phone: 303-932-9095
Fax: 303-932-2298