Ask A Vet: What Does It Mean When a Dog Chases Its Tail?


Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on Dr. Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB is a board certified veterinary behaviorist who counsels guardians whose pets’ issues are beyond the scope of training. Think of her as a pet shrink…at your service. Ask your own questions in the comments!

Q: What does it mean when a dog chases his tail?

A: When dogs (of the 4-legged variety) chase tail, it’s a warning sign.

There are certain breeds that have a higher tendency to show spinning, circling or tail chasing behavior, among them, Bull terriers and herding breeds. However, in any dog, tail chasing is not a normal play behavior -  it’s a sign of something going on and needs to be addressed as soon as it starts.

Of the many issues that could be going on, many of them are medical, so the first course of action is to have a veterinarian examine the animal thoroughly – including dermatological, neurological and eye exam. It could also stem from dermatological problems, anal gland infections, trauma to the tail, intestinal parasites, etc.

If the cause isn’t medical, it is likely one of two behavioral exhibitions. The first is a compulsive disorder. As with most compulsive behaviors, it is really difficult to interrupt the behavior and attempt to can cause your dog redirect aggression towards the owner. These animals require a full behavioral treatment plan, and in some cases, medication. The second behavioral reason – not uncommon–is attention seeking and excitement spinning. Many owners give the dog attention or even clap or laugh when their dog is chasing its tail because they think it’s funny or cute. You should really not encourage a dog to chase its tail – you should have it checked out for medical problems.

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