Ask Dr Claire

American Staffordshire Terrier dog chasing his tail multiple times daily

For the last 4 months a 2.5 year old male American Staffordshire Terrier dog, has been chasing his tail many time daily. Eg. If he is lying down relaxing comfortably on his bed, suddenly he jumps to his feet, his head turns sharply left gazing towards his tail, which also at the same time points sharply towards his face, he spins 2-3 times, then immediately sits. This occurs approx. 7-8 times per day. His facial expressions appear to be indicative of him feeling discomfort. This also occurs when he is outside playing or hanging out outside either by himself in my company.

The cause of tail chasing is largely unknown, however there are some breeds who are more predisposed to it and American Staffordshire terriers are unfortunately one of them.

When a dog chases their tail occasionally it can be considered normal behaviour, but if it last a long time (minutes), it’s frequently over the day, or they cause self harm it’s considered a compulsive and pathologic behaviour.

Some medical conditions that could result in tail chasing include:

• anal sac issues (these sacs sit either side of the anus)

• skin issue

• trauma to the tail

• spinal cord issue

It is important to make sure there’s no medical cause for the chasing and bahaviour that you’re seeing rather than putting it straight to a behavioural issue. A hands-on examination from your local vet is a great way to start and can quickly rule out anal sac and skin and tail trauma issues. Further tests may be needed to rule out a spinal cord or back/pelvis pain issue, one approach is to try a safe dog appropriate pain relief meication trial for a week or so and see if that affects the behaviour at all.

In the case of the behavioural problem of tail chasing there is no one treatment fixes all. In fact, it can be really hard to manage in some dogs and it can get worse with age.

Sometimes anti-seizure medication is effective (it can be an epilepsy type condition), sometimes distraction type behaviour training may also be helpful. A veterinary behaviouralist would be best to consult for this as long as a medical issue has been ruled out.

It would be great to keep a diary how often and when it happens, also if you are able to distract your dog at the time and see if you can learn any patterns or possible triggers.

He needs to be given things to be kept busy, such as a Kong stuffed with treats, different chew toys, regular daily exercise and play time. Keeping him busy at the time you’d expect some tail chasing can also be a help (the diary will help identify any patterns that may trigger it so you can distract prior to when it starts).

Also good to know that due to a possible genetic component in American staffordshire terriers, known Tail chasers shouldn’t be used for breeding in case they pass on the trait.

If you’d like to chat in person, you can get a vet on a live video call or start a chat to discuss in more detail now.

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Chat soon,

Dr Claire