Watching your dog chase and bite their tails is all fun and games until it starts to look excessive and abnormal. Read more below to find out why your dog likes to chase their tail and what can be done to correct it.
Why do dogs chase their tails?
Dogs chase their tail usually because they are bored and in need of stimulation. They probably see their tail as a toy they can play it. In some instances, however, dogs will chase their tail because it is causing them discomfort. Maybe they accidentally hurt their tail and they need to soothe it through licking.
Is it attention-seeking?
If your dog is bored, it may chase its tail to grab your attention. Seeing that you usually laugh at them when they go in circles, reminds them that this behavior is acceptable and will elicit them praise and attention. They probably just want to play with you for a while, so take them for a walk, play with them, or give them pets when possible.
Is it medical?
For the most part, tail-chasing is not a medical concern. It is a common thing for dogs to do, but it is still advisable to keep an eye on them in case this behavior escalates. For instance, if you notice that they are doing this too frequently and they do not stop even after interfering, then it is safe to assume that there is an issue that needs to be addressed. They could be in pain due to injury or parasites, or they have compulsive behavior or anxieties.
Compulsive behavior in dogs (what it is)
Canine Compulsive Disorder or CCD is the dog version of OCD. It may sound odd at first but this behavior is totally plausible for dogs. According to American Kennel Club, CCD is “identified by normal dog behaviors that are performed in such an extreme, repetitive way that they are difficult for the dog to stop and can interfere with the dog’s ability to function.” In this case, excessive tail-chasing can be a form of CCD.
Before you start worrying about CCD, it is important to establish what is normal and what is not. For example, if your dog is chasing or biting their tail in expected situations (like seeing their tail for the first time), and they can stop and forget about it, then that is normal. If, however, they start chasing their tail unexpectedly and do so for a long time, then that is a different story. CCD is not about the action itself, rather, it is about their ability to control it.
Animal behaviorists also believe that compulsive behaviors are a result of lack of physical and mental stimulation, high anxiety, frustration, and insufficient attention.
Reasons dogs chase and bite their tails:
Boredom is the most common reason why dogs like to chase their tails. This can happen when they are left alone and need a way to burn excessive energy. To them, this is also a form of entertainment as they probably see their tail as a toy. Sounds cute, right? But if this happens a lot, then consider increasing their physical activity. Start by playing with them at least once a day outside, or by walking them more than their routine. You can also encourage them to play mental games by providing stimulating dog toys. Anything that can distract them is a great way to reduce boredom!
Parasites (fleas and ticks)
Dogs will chase and bite their tails if they feel any discomfort in the area. Parasites like fleas and ticks cause itchiness and irritation. In this case, if your dog is determined to chase and bite its tail, they probably want to reach the spot to soothe it. If you notice your dog chewing on its tail, check for signs of parasites and talk to a veterinarian immediately.
Fleas and ticks are commonly found in woodland and grassy areas. Once bit, ticks will burrow deep onto their skin, which will require proper removal. To learn more, we broke down different types of parasites your dog can get here. We also included instructions on how to safely remove ticks at home. Professional care from veterinary professionals is highly recommended.
Dogs are very energetic, we know this. So when dogs are not stimulated enough, they accumulate excessive energy that results in zoomies. This frantic behavior causes them to run and spin in circles; tail-chasing can happen at this point. Zoomies are big bursts of energy that dogs release when they have too much build-up energy in them. It often occurs when they spent too much of their time indoors with nothing to do.
Breed and age
Certain dog breeds can also be a factor in why they like to chase their tails so much. From what we determined, dogs diagnosed with Canine Compulsive Disorder (CCD) are more likely to exhibit excessive tail-chasing behaviors compared to other dogs.
The cause of CCD in dogs is said to be linked to genetics. According to a study conducted by The Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, in compliance with other medical universities, an identified gene “confers a high risk of compulsive disorder susceptibility in breeds bearing that gene.” Certain breeds like German Shepherds, Dobermans, and Border collies have a higher chance of getting CCD.
Other dog breeds susceptible to CCD are:
- Jack Russell terriers
- Great Danes
- English Bull-Terriers
- Shetland Shepherds
- Anatolian sheepdogs
- West Highland white terriers
As for the dog’s age, younger pups are more likely to exhibit tail-chasing behavior due to their excessive energy and curiosity. The funniest reasoning is that they do not know that their tail is attached to their body. This funny curiosity is more common in puppies who are just discovering their bodies for the first time. Dogs who are going through puberty may exhibit this curious action too.
Play (especially puppies)
Dogs are the most curious and lively when they are young. Since puppies have more energy in them compared to adult dogs, they require more playtime. As the big and fascinating world slowly unveils in their excited eyes every day, their tail could be a subject to their adorable curiosity. If you think about it, puppies have no preconceptions of what their entire bodies look like, so it is only natural for them to get excited when they discover their tails!
Other than CCD and parasites, there could be a bigger reason why your dog is obsessed with chasing and biting its tail. Tail-chasing, according to Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, can be a form of “sub-epileptic” or partial seizure behavior. This means that there could be a problem in the dog’s central nervous system. It is best to consult a veterinarian right away if this is the case.
Repetitive behaviors are usually triggered by anxiety. Tail-chasing can serve as stress-relievers for them.
Below are common reasons for anxiety in dogs, according to Central California SPCA:
- Fear of being home alone or separation anxiety
- Loud noises
- Being around strange people
- Other pets like dog aggression
The first thing to rule out when excessive chasing and biting of the tail occur is to determine whether your pup is experiencing pain. Dogs like to soothe themselves by licking, so if they badly want to reach and bite their tail, then maybe there is something that is bothering them.
Tail masses or tumors are rare to have in dogs. So rare that vets only see a few a year. Tail masses are usually cysts, warts, or infected skin. Malignant tumors, on the other hand, can be “any tumor typically found on the skin,” mast cell tumors are malignant forms of hair follicle tumors, sebaceous tumors, or soft tissue sarcoma. Malignant tumors require surgical removal by a professional.
Not all tail tumors are malignant though, some can be benign. Although benign tail tumors are not life-threatening, surgical removal is still considered especially if it is on a delicate part of the dog’s body, or if it causes bleeding.
Here are other common tail injuries according to VCA Animal Hospital:
- Happy Tail
- Fractured Tail
- Nerve Damage
- Limber or Cold Tail
No matter how funny and adorable dogs look while chasing their tail, it is advisable to refrain from praising them. Giving them praises only reinforces this behavior which they may attribute as good and acceptable. Doing so, can escalate and result in injuries or behavioral problems.
How to stop your dog from chasing and biting its tail
- If your dog is bored, play with them or take them for a walk.
- Give your dog toys that can stimulate them physically and mentally.
- If they are doing this to seek attention, ignore them and do not acknowledge such behaviors.
- If they were injured or were bit by parasites, refrain them from chasing their tail by administering first aid and have them wear a collar or cone.
- If they are anxious, provide a calming environment by giving them a massage, physical contact (cuddling and pets), or music therapy.
- Calming coats and blankets can be used to ease anxiety.
- If the behavior persists no matter how much you interfere, then seek professional care immediately.
The most common and hysterically funny moment dogs do is chase their tail and endlessly go in circles. Surely you have laughed at this behavior before and passed it off as a goofy thing your pet does, unfortunately, this should be discouraged. Although this behavior is all harmless fun, other factors can make this behavior a source of concern. Some possible reasons why this behavior is concerning are due to dog anxiety, obsessive compulsion, parasites, or injuries.
If this is only due to boredom, then fret not, you only need to play with your furry companion more! But if this is happening at an alarming rate, then it is best to check with a veterinarian.
At the end of the day, playing, stimulating, and interacting with your dog is the best way to prevent this behavior from occurring.