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 cat 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.  We have courses on helping cats and dogs get along, and a program on helping cats get along

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.  Take our online course on Understanding and Helpful Fearful Animals.

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.

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 certified applied animal or veterinary behaviorist or behavior consultant.