Our dogs can’t tell us what’s wrong with them or why they are doing what they are doing. So we have to use the evidence we have before us and make our best guesses.We feed them when they are hungry and try to keep them away from things that could harm them.
But our best guesses are sometimes not enough. Chewing on their tails is one of those things that can elude our sleuthing, but nonetheless needs to be addressed.
They are getting sufficient food, exercise, and play. So why is your dog acting out this obsessive or compulsive canine behavior?
There are many root causes for tail chewing, and that is what we will discuss next.
Root Cause #1: Emotional Issues
Maybe you shouldn’t start by focusing on emotional issues as the root cause behind your dog’s behavior, but it’s important to consider.
Just as a person bites their nails when under stress, your dog may bite or lick their tail excessively enough to cause hair loss. A dog’s tail presents an easy target for them to obsess over.
In such situations, a trip to a behavioral trainer and the vet is in order. With their help, dog parents can get to the bottom of emotional issues.
Stress and emotional issues can be the cause of obsessive tail licking and biting. Dogs that live in confined quarters for extended periods can experience this kind of anxiety. Without toys or having to be without their human, they can become bored and chew their tails.
Aside from inadequate stimulation and stress, dogs can also experience anxiety when left on their own. If your fur baby doesn’t see you for a long time, they may develop separation anxiety and beginthe chewing/licking behavior to relieve stress.
Get help! The vet may even have to prescribe antipsychotic drugs in extreme cases.
Root Cause #2: Parasitic Infestations
Two of the most common seasonal afflictions for canines are fleas and ticks. You can easily tell if yours is playing host to these parasites. Your dog will keep scratching at a spot on their body. Often they don’t feel relief until they bite hard enough to break the skin. That’s because they are trying to dislodge fleas bouncing around in their fur or the ticks attached to it. Also, the presence of these parasites can inflame a dog’s skin.
But those aren’t the only parasites your pet may have. Tapeworms, for instance, will bring discomfort to the anal region. Consequently, dogs will begin gnawing at the base of their tails. Both the discomfort and the chewing are severe enough to make the animal whine in pain.
So, how do you bring relief to a dog by eliminating these parasites? Asking a vet would get you recommendations of several products that target fleas and ticks. You can also try out this method for ridding your pooch of fleas. In addition to that, clean their bedding and the furniture in the house regularly. That will reduce the likelihood of flea reinfestation.
Root Cause #3: Allergies
Not unlike you, your canine companion can also have allergies. Likewise, canine allergens can vary. For instance, some of them are environmental by nature. The most common ones include:
Usually, though, dog allergens are food-based.
Food allergy is quite common in canines. Itchiness can be the result of exposure to food-based allergens. Many dogs cannot digest:
- Some vegetables
Try varying just a single ingredient in your dog’s diet, and keep everything else the same. That way, you can determine what’s causing so much trouble. Or, you can have a veterinarian do an allergy test.
Once you do find out, you’ll have to eliminate potential trigger foods. Use these tips on the right way to switch to dog food that doesn’t contain those ingredients. Alternatively, you can ask your pup’s vet to recommend a special diet for them.
Besides their diet, the secret to some dogs’ allergies may lie in saliva. Often, they don’t react to the arrival of ticks and fleas. However, that changes once the parasites begin to bite. It’s their saliva that your dog’s immune system reacts to.
A saliva-based allergy is worse for puppies than it is for adult dogs. Those between three months and six years will have the most severe reaction.
If it isn’t what you’re feeding them or a parasite, your dog could have a product-based allergy. For example, your dog’s shampoo could inflame their skin, leaving your pup irritated and itchy. After all, you’re practically immersing your fur baby in the product! In the end, they will chew at their tail to alleviate the discomfort.
Root Cause #4: Anal Problems
A dog’s anal gland could also be what makes them chew their tail. The most common indicators are that your dog is:
- Licking and chewing the anus
- A swollen anus — yeah, you’ll have to check!
- A skunky smell
Should this reaction be based on their diet, get the vet to recommend therapeutic food for your pup. That’s also a solution vets use for dogs with a history of anal gland problems.
Otherwise, they deal with it through:
- Anal gland expression
- Pain medication
- Surgery — for abscessed or infected glands
Root Cause #5: Skin Disorders
Sebaceous glands are what keep our skin moist, waterproof, protected, and clean. They are present right below the surface, and the same is true of our dogs. An overproduction of sebum can also be why they’re so busy biting and chewing on their tail.
To determine if that is the case, observe your pet’s skin. Does it look inflamed, red, or flaky? And finally, do you smell a foul odor wafting off their skin? If so, then the itchiness could be due to seborrheic dermatitis.
Vets have tests that can determine if your dog has seborrhea. Ask your vet if you can add fatty acid supplements to their regular food. Doing so will address the dryness and itchiness of the skin. Those nutrients are also great for the health of your dog’s coat.
Root Cause #6: Pain
Some dogs also respond to pain in the tail region by chewing the hair off it. The pain can be due to:
- Foreign body, such as a foxtail or thorn, stuck in the skin
- Lower back pain
- Broken tail
- Hip dysplasia
Observe your dog’s excessive tail grooming to determine the reason behind it. Something or the other must be making your dog physically uncomfortable.
Root Cause #7: Wounds
Many canine breeds produce curious and outgoing individuals. These dogs love exploring the outside world. However, their exploratory tendencies can also land them into trouble. Say, you take yours out for a walk. When they come back, you see your pooch biting their tail raw. What could have occurred?
They may have a skin wound on their tail, which is causing them pain. To alleviate the problem, your dog may start to lick or bite, exacerbating an already open wound! Thus, the first thing to remember is to check for injuries after every walk. The other thing to do is clean the wound and treat it.
Root Cause #8: Attention Seeking
Generally, dog parents will react when their pooch engages in tail biting. They will focus on the pet. Dogs are quick to notice this behavior and may see it as a way to get attention from you.
Socially-deprived dogs may be looking for ways to receive attention from their owners. They might not even mind if that attention is of the negative kind. To figure out if your doggo could be outsmarting you, answer these:
- So, do you have a young, energetic pup that you leave behind at home?
- Are you usually gone for the better part of every day?
- What do you do when you get back?
- Does it normally involve plopping on the couch with your phone and food?
- Would you be ignoring your pup while doing that?
- Do you find your doggo biting their tail even more when you’re around?
- How do you react when they chase their tail?
- Is it entertaining for you to watch them do that?
- Do you laugh aloud when you see them acting all goofy?
A yes to most of these questions could mean that your dog bases their actions on your response. Whether you laugh at them or yell to stop chewing on their tail, you do notice them, and that’s their main objective.
In addition to the reinforcement of the habit with your attention, there’s one other thing happening. Your doggo is also experiencing self-reinforcement. Your dog is dispersing some of the pent up energy within and releasing frustration.
But what can you do when this happens? Start with the visit to a vet. Have them rule out the most likely medical causes. Then get their recommendation for a behaviorist.
Why should the excessive tail abuse worry dog parents?
Compulsive chewing and biting behaviors can be very harmful to your dog. One main reason would be the development of a hot spot. The longer your pooch worries at a place on their tail, the redder, wetter, and more irritated it will get. Acute moist dermatitis or hot spot formation can increase in size rather quickly. Besides expanding to cover more of the doggo’s body, these spots can also become incredibly sore.
Hence, you’ll need to protect your fur baby from causing their tail further harm. Get to a vet!
There’s a difference between a dog chewing hair off the tail and chasing their tail! Get a look-see at these adorable pups doing the latter:
Excessive tail biting might not involve the same solutions. After all, they could be engaging in this behavior for very different reasons. But one fact does remain the same. As dog parents, we hope to find our doggo’s correct solution and keep them healthy and happy. In the end, regardless of the kind of solution your fur baby needs, stick to it. That’s the only way you ensure that it will work!