Why Does My Dog Chase Her Tail?

Here's when to worry.

why do dogs chase their tails

Dogs are playful and goofy, and seem to do the strangest things just for fun.

That’s probably why when your dog chases his tail, you might think your pup is just being silly and weird.

But The Dodo spoke with Dr. Vanessa Spano, a veterinarian at Behavior Vets in NYC, who revealed that the behavior can actually be a sign that your dog is having a problem.

“Tail-chasing in general is abnormal,” Dr. Spano told The Dodo. “[It] can be a sign of behavioral concern.”

Why dogs chase their tails

It’s easy to assume that your dog is spinning around in circles chasing his tail simply because he’s trying to catch the furry, wiggly thing attached to his butt.

But it’s not that harmless.

“It would be termed a ‘stereotypy,’ which is, by definition, a repetitive behavior without any apparent function,” Dr. Spano explained. (Other examples of stereotypy include endless pacing back and forth, or spinning in circles.)

Tail-chasing can be a sign of several physical and mental health conditions, like:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Frustration
  • Pain
  • Skin irritation
  • Neurological issues
  • Seizures

What to do when your dog chases his tail

Since tail-chasing could be a sign of so many different issues, Dr. Spano recommends reaching out to your vet first to try to pinpoint your pup’s exact trigger, because that will determine just how you can help him out.

“It is important to understand the context of the situation in which this stereotypy is occurring,” she said.

According to Dr. Spano, the most common underlying cause of tail-chasing is stress or frustration.

In those situations, you need to figure out what it is that’s making your dog feel uncomfortable, and remove it.

If your dog is chasing his tail because of an anxiety disorder, the best thing you can do is work closely with your vet to develop a treatment plan, since it’s a serious condition and can worsen if not treated.

And if he’s chasing it because of medical reasons or physical discomfort, you’ll still need to have your vet check him out, because his treatment will all depend on what his actual diagnosis is.

Of course, you might not always be able to tell what’s bugging him.

“If the situation is unavoidable, or the stressor cannot be identified, it is recommended if you catch your pet about to engage in that behavior, try to disengage them by having them perform an ‘incompatible behavior’ instead,” Dr. Spano said.

Basically, this means that just as your dog is about to start chasing his tail, you give him a command — like “sit,” for example — and reward him when he follows that command.

That way, you’ve distracted him from chasing his tail, and gotten him to focus on something else entirely.