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Dr. Kara
Dr. Kara, Veterinarian
Category: Cat Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 16923
Experience:  Over 20 years of experience as a veterinarian.
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My 11 year old burmese cat keeps sucking the end of her tail

Customer Question

my 11 year old burmese cat keeps sucking the end of her tail
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Cat Veterinary
Expert:  Dr. Kara replied 2 years ago.

Hello, my name is***** and I have over 20 years of experience as a veterinarian. I am sorry that you have been waiting for a response, but your requested expert isn't online which delayed your question coming up on the list for all to answer. I would like to help if you are still interested in an opinion.

Some cats have a habit where they love to suck and chew on items. This behavior is called "wool sucking". It is more common in some breeds (especially siamese and the oriental type breeds, Abyssinians, Burmese, etc) and their mixes. It is a calming behavior, much like a pacifier for a human child.
Sometimes it can also be related back to a bottle fed kitten or a kitten that was weaned too early or taken away from his queen too early. Unfortunately these kitties can get into trouble with their oral fixation they ingest too much hair or cloth material. So not only is this behavior annoying but also quite dangerous for them. The first step should be limiting access to her tail as much as possible. I understand that may be very difficult, but an elizabethan collar may slow her down tremendously.
In most cats this is a kitten behavior and they get better as they mature, in most kitties the behavior fades by 2 years of age. If this is a new behavior for her then we need to look for causes of stress or an illness that is causing her discomfort, nausea or anxiety.

Redirecting her oral fixation may help, but I think an examination and some blood testing are both needed to look for underlying health issues. Hyperthyroidism, inflammatory bowel disease or social stress would all be possible causes.

In the meantime to redirect I like to use kong toys made for small dogs filled with kitty treats or cat nip or rubbed with tuna oil or cat nip. These give her something to lick and chew on that is virtually indestructable and more socially acceptable, as well as less harmful for her.

Spraying bitter apple on her tail tip is fine too, although some cats have no problem sucking right past it.

Chastizing a cat doesn't work as you have probably found. She may find your pushing away a game. But immediate negative reinforcement may help if you can catch her everytime (or at least most of the time). Using an air horn to scare her or throw a can filled with pennies near her if she starts to suck. These are all immediate negative consequences that aren't directly related to you (we don't want her afraid of you), won't hurt her and may interfere with her pleasure enough to get her to stop her obsession.

In some cases where this does become obsessive behavior we may need to use prescription oral medication for it, such as amitriptylline or buspirone.

Best of luck with your active kittens, let me know if you have any further questions.

Expert:  Dr. Kara replied 2 years ago.
I'm just following up on our conversation about your pet. How is everything going?
Dr. Kara