Why Do Dogs Chase Their Tails?

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial
Published: March 12, 2019
Vet Reviewed by Jennifer Coates, DVM
Why Do Dogs Chase Their Tails?

Reviewed for accuracy on March 12, 2019, by Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM

Your dog never fails to make you smile with his silly antics. He chases a tennis ball for hours on end and barks at every squirrel that enters his backyard. He also loves to chase his tail, an action that sends him spinning in dizzying circles.

He has to know that his tail is a part of his body, so what’s so interesting about it? Is it a normal dog behavior or the result of anxiety or something else?

Why Do Dogs Chase Their Tails? Is It Just Normal Dog Behavior?

Sometimes, a dog chasing their tail can just be a normal behavioral act. “It’s fun! They also are learning about their bodies, and it is natural for a dog to explore their body,” says Russell Hartstein, animal behaviorist and founder of Fun Paw Care.

Puppies tend to partake in this behavior more than adult dogs, as they are still learning about their bodies. In general, puppies are also more prone to playing and can turn practically anything into a dog chew toy, which sometimes includes their tail.

Tail-chasing might also be caused by boredom or lack of exercise, says Dr. Stephanie Liff, DVM and Medical Director of Pure Paws Vet Care in New York City. Dogs require a lot of stimulation and exercise to keep themselves in peak physical and mental condition. If your dog is feeling a little bored, he might just come up with a fun tail-chasing game to keep himself occupied.

If you feel like this might be the reason behind your dog’s sudden interest in his tail, make sure he’s getting all the activity and attention he needs. Make a regular habit out of taking him outside with his favorite dog toys a couple times a day, and take him on an extra-long walk a few times a week.

You might just find that the tail-chasing goes away completely with a little extra playtime.

When Should You Contact the Veterinarian?

If your dog’s tail-chasing lasts for minutes on end, occurs very frequently, can’t be stopped with gentle redirection or leads to injury, or you notice other bizarre behaviors, immediately contact your veterinarian to schedule a visit.

Tail-chasing can be caused by medical issues, such as allergies, fleas, and trauma to or diseases of the tail or spine. “It is something to mention to your vet, just to run through potential medical causes and make sure your pet is not afflicted by those issues,” Dr. Liff says. Your vet can also ascertain if your pet is stressed or anxious and can offer help with those issues as well.

Could It Be Compulsive Behavior?

Compulsive tail-biting can also be caused by canine compulsive disorder (CCD), says Dr. Liff. Just like obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can manifest in humans as obsessive cleaning or counting, CCD in dogs can lead to compulsive tail-chasing, fur-licking, or fabric-sucking.

“Typically, dogs with compulsive disorders have [other] signs [too], such as high anxiety and hypervigilance,” says Dr. Liff. An obsessive dog suffering from separation anxiety may chase his tail to help calm himself while his owner is gone.

Or, your dog may chase his tail when he feels overcome with anxiety when a stranger approaches the house or during a loud thunderstorm.

In some cases, tail-chasing may also be a form of idiopathic epilepsy, says Dr. Jennifer Coates, a veterinarian in Fort Collins, Colorado. “There appears to be a genetic cause in certain breeds of dogs, like the Bull Terrier.”

This dog behavior is considered abnormal when it interferes with your pet’s basic life functioning and is causing harm, according to Hartstein. In other words, when you just can’t get him to stop.

Can Canine Compulsive Disorder Be Treated?

Your veterinarian can help determine if behavior modification techniques will help treat your pet’s compulsion, says Hartstein, but sometimes a prescription pet medication may be required.  

As your dog’s primary caretaker, carefully observe your dog’s behaviors and try to pinpoint the root cause or trigger of your dog’s tail-chasing. This may help you and your veterinarian come up with some management techniques.

For example, if your pooch gets anxious when you leave him alone, try to distract him by offering a dog interactive toy. The best type of toys for this are dog puzzle toys, like a KONG classic dog toy stuffed with something extra-delicious.

If your dog gets anxious when someone walks by the house or an animal comes into the backyard, Hartstein recommends diverting his attention with a rousing game of fetch with his favorite toy.

If your dog becomes extremely anxious during thunderstorms or fireworks, for instance, consider using a Thundershirt anxiety and calming aid for dogs. It provides gentle hugging pressure that may relieve dog anxiety.

If your dog’s anxiety or compulsive behavior can’t be managed through puzzle toys or calming aids alone, Hartstein says your veterinarian might recommend a dog anxiety medication.

You can also ask your veterinarian about herbal dog supplements, such as HomeoPet anxiety relief animal supplement or VetriScience Composure behavioral health dog chews, which can be purchased over the counter.

Tail-chasing might just be a reflection of your dog’s fun and spunky personality. But, it’s important to watch out for potential problems and intervene if you suspect it’s a symptom of something more serious.

By: Rebecca Desfosse

Featured Image: iStock.com/Alona Rjabceva

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