Why do dogs chase their tails? We’re all familiar with the stereotypical image. Dog chasing tail is a behavior that has been immortalized in movies and plastered in funny videos across YouTube. As far as many people are concerned, these behaviors are entirely normal.
But, in more cases than not, this is actually a sign of an underlying medical condition.
There are quite a few conditions that can result in tail chasing in dogs. Sometimes, a canine might merely be engaging in this activity due to boredom. But, more often, it is a sign of a serious medical condition that requires veterinary help.
So, how do you know when it’s time to take your dog to the vet? Here are some reasons your pooch might be chasing their tail:
Dogs Chase Their Tails Out of Boredom
Do dogs chase their tails out of boredom? This is most common in puppies. All dogs need to have fun and meet their exercise requirements. If they don’t, it is not unusual for them to compensate by playing with their tails. Because puppies tend to be more hyperactive than older dogs, it is more common to see them chase their tails than adult canines.
Puppies are more likely to chase their tails than older adults.
Some dog breeds also have a higher tendency to chase their tails than others. Sporting dogs and those that require more exercise are more likely to pursue their tails when bored.
If you notice your dog chase his tail outside, it is also more likely to be out of boredom, for reasons that we will discuss later.
It is crucial for puppies to spend time outside in order to expend their energy.
If you think that your pooch is chasing its tail because of boredom, the behavior should subside after an increase in exercise. For example, if your dog chases their tail, but then stops after you add another walk to their routine, it was likely caused by boredom.
Chasing out of boredom isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just like people, dogs will attempt to entertain themselves when bored. And, that isn’t necessarily anything negative. However, it can be a sign that your dog needs more exercise or stimulation.
Going on frequent walks can help reduce tail chasing.
Dogs May Be Seeking Attention
Do dogs chase their tails for attention? Many people praise or laugh when they see them chasing their tail. If done enough, your puppy might discover that they get extra attention when they engage in this behavior. This discovery can cause them to pursue their tail as a way to get your attention and to play with him or to please his owner.
In other words, you can accidentally train your puppy to chase its tail by paying attention to them when they do it. Often, this occurs when a puppy begins chasing their tail out of boredom. But, then discovers that you give him or her attention when that behavior occurs.
Dogs will use tail-chasing to seek attention.
Certain dog breeds are more likely to pick up on this attention than others. Smart breeds, for example, are more likely to realize that the tail-chasing is what causes the attention. Of course, how attention-driven yours happens to be also matters. Canines who are more food-driven will probably not react to the attention in this manner.
A dog chasing their tail for attention isn’t necessarily a problem. But, it is essential to make sure that your puppy really is chasing their tail for attention and not for a different reason altogether. Some may be doing so due to separation anxiety.
Usually, when a dog chases its tail for attention, they will stop when they receive the attention they’re looking for. If yours does not, the tail chasing is likely caused by something else.
Some dogs are more likely to begin chasing their tail due to their genetics. For example, Bull Terriers are prone to a genetic disorder that is linked to zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency has been linked to obsessive circling disorders and brain abnormalities in domestic canine.
Because of the potential for genetic disorders, you should always take your Bull Terrier to the vet if it chases its tail.
While many of these genetic physical and mental conditions or compulsive disorders can be treated, they are usually not caught early enough for a complete or even partial recovery from the obsessive compulsive behavior. This sad fact is due to the misconception that this is normal, which causes many dog owners not to seek out help.
Tail Chasing May Be Due to an Infection
Just like any other body part, a dog’s tail can become infected. For most dogs, this happens after an injury to their tail. They might have gotten it stuck in a door, or another animal might have bitten it. No matter how the damage occurs, it can become infected quite easily. This infection can make the wound itchy, which is why the dog chases its tail in an attempt to scratch it.
Dog breeds with corkscrew tails can develop an infection on their tail even without a previous injury, however. Dramatic corkscrew tails can dig into a dog’s skin, causing chaffing. Feces and other organic matter can then become shoved in these pockets, leading to an infection. In many cases, dogs with very corkscrewed tails, such as Pugs, have to have their tails amputated due to continuous infections.
Pugs have corkscrew tails and are more prone to tail infections than other breeds.
If your dog suddenly ferociously chases its tail, it might be due to an infection. Seeking veterinary attention in these cases is essential. While infections are very curable, they can become dangerous if not treated. This advice is especially true if your dog has a corkscrew tail, which commonly have trouble healing on their own.
Certain studies have shown that tail chasing can be a sign of mental illness in dogs. It is commonly described as a compulsive disorder. While it is not necessarily dangerous by itself, dogs that exhibit tail chasing are more likely to become suddenly aggressive or display other signs of mental illness.
You can figure out if this is due to mental illness by noting the frequency. A mentally ill dog will usually hunt their tail daily or even multiple times a day. These dogs are also generally not distractible from chasing their tail and will continue to do so even after you attempt to make them stop.
A cross-sectional analysis of YouTube videos shows that it does not occur any more frequently depending on the dog’s age or breed. However, the videos were frequently taken inside and with a TV or computer switched on. These factors suggest that over-stimulation and anxiety might contribute to a dog compulsively chasing his tail.
Dogs who spend an excessive amount of time inside are more prone to tail chasing.
The analysis also found that many owners and commenters did not recognize the tail chasing as a clinical symptom. If identified, the tail chasing can be treated with medication. But, the sad truth is that many dogs go untreated because their owners do not realize that there might be something wrong.
Similar videos were analyzed in the study to help scientists understand tail-chasing in dogs.
What Does This Mean for Your Dog?
If your dog is chasing their tail, it could be a sign that they have a more extreme underlying medical disorder. It is important to seek veterinary attention if your puppy begins do so suddenly or habitually. Many conditions that cause this can be treated but only if a vet sees your dog.
Without treatment, any possible underlying condition can quickly become worse, lowering the chance of a full or even partial recovery.
And, even if your canine isn’t chasing their tail, it is essential to spread the word that tail chasing isn’t always innocent. This common misconception costs many dogs their lives every year. Dogs who could have been treated and cured are not seen by a veterinarian because their owners do not recognize that tail chasing is commonly a sign of illness.
Sharing this dog chasing tail information and how to remedy it is vital to improving the quality of life of affected dogs.
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.