Tail chasing is a common playful behavior in normal puppies and kittens. A tail is an entertaining distraction when no other playmate is nearby or in moments of excitement. Tail chasing can also indicate itchiness or inflammation near the tail base, lower back, genitals, or anus. Physical discomfort associated with these areas may be traced to many problems such as external parasites, internal parasites, and anal sac disease. Tail chasing may also be a genetically based behavior problem in some dog breeds such as the Bull terrier. Tail chasing is rarely a problem behavior in cats.
Tail chasing may appear amusing but should not be encouraged by praise or attention. If encouraged to continue, the behavior may persist into adulthood and can progress to obsessive-compulsive extremes, resulting in self mutilation. In its extreme form, tail chasing and biting is directed most frequently toward the tip of the tail, although any accessible part of the tail may be involved. A tail chasing pup or dog may be highly agitated, growling viciously as it chases and bites its own tail. Compulsive disorders, particularly those like compulsive tail chasing that can result in serious injury, may require psychoactive medication. Some breeds, such as the Bull Terrier and German Shepherd, may be genetically predisposed and have higher incidences of compulsive tail chasing.
This behavior should be investigated early in young dogs so as to eliminate the possibility of underlying physical problems. Young dogs should be firmly reprimanded with a stern “NO!” and immediately distracted with an acceptable alternate activity, such as a chew toy, obedience drill or a walk outdoors. If tail chasing has already progressed to injury, immediate veterinary attention is advised. Steps to prevent further injury include medication and behavior modification, as directed by a veterinarian who specializes in pet behavior problems.
© Stefanie Schwartz 2011