2001-Mon Feb 20 05:48:38 EST 2017
Vetstreet. All rights reserved.
Vetstreet does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. See Additional Information ›
Many people enjoy watching YouTube videos of dogs and cats
chasing their tails and laughing at how silly they look. However, what many people may not realize is that sometimes those silly videos are actually showing pets with potential
behavioral disorders. The pets in the videos may be engaging in compulsive (repetitive) behavior without what appears to be a specific goal or purpose. However, while to the untrained eye the animal may appear to have a lack of purpose, there may be one in that animal’s mind.
This is a type of behavior that can affect both humans and pets. Humans diagnosed with obsessive compulsive behavior may wash their hands so often that their hands are chapped or bleeding or check all the locks on their doors and windows repeatedly. They appear to be unable to stop their own behaviors and report that they constantly think about performing these activities. In veterinary medicine, we have no way of knowing if an animal is actually
thinking about doing those repetitive behaviors so we do not call it an obsessive compulsive disorder but rather a compulsive disorder.
Why do animals engage in this behavior? First and foremost, you need to consult your veterinarian to rule out medical causes of any sudden, unusual or repetitive behavior. For example, neurological problems can cause circling and what appears to be
tail chasing, while
flea infestations or skin or inhalant
allergies can cause excessive
itching, licking or other problems. Dogs that chase lights, shadows or imaginary objects may need to have their
vision evaluated by a veterinary ophthalmologist and to be checked by a veterinary neurologist for possible
seizure disorders. Other types of diagnostic testing may be required.
Once medical causes have been ruled out however, owners, in consult with their veterinarian or with a veterinary behaviorist, can look to other causes. In some breeds, we have found a genetic component to compulsive behaviors. Some
Doberman Pinschers are more prone to flank suck (which is repetitive sucking, licking or chewing of the flanks), while
Anatolian Sheepdogs and
Australian Cattle Dogs are more likely to spin and/or chase their tails.
Burmese cats are more likely to
suck and knead on blankets or any soft material. Sometimes when the cat places the material in its mouth and suckles, he may also chew on and ingest the material. This behavior is known as
pica, which can occur in both
cats and dogs. In this situation, the animal ingests materials that do not provide any nutrients.
Also, just because some animals have the genetic potential to display these types of behaviors does not necessarily mean that they will manifest them 100 percent of the time. Sometimes the behavior begins at a very young age. In other cases, the animal may exhibit this behavior only when exposed to the right conditions or not at all. It has been theorized that our pets engage in these behaviors when they are frustrated or conflicted.
This behavior pattern may be the animal’s way of
coping with the stress of not knowing what to do and/or picking between two different behaviors. For example, a dog may be stressed by a situation in which he might want to chase after a favorite ball, but it has rolled next to, say, the lawnmower, which he is afraid of. The dog
really wants to get his favorite toy, but is reluctant to do so. You may notice your
dog exhibiting signs of this conflict if he goes toward the ball but then backs away. He may also whine and pant in addition to this
pacing and may start chasing his tail instead of going after the ball. Why? Because chasing his tail may be an “easier” behavior for your dog. It is less frightening than going after the ball that is located next to the big, scary machine. The next time your dog experiences this conflict, he may go straight to chasing his tail and so, over time, this may become a behavior that he automatically engages in. This kind of abnormal behavior tends to manifest (in both dogs and
cats) around social maturity between 1 to 3 years of age or during periods of stress or change.
Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!
Take our breed quiz to find your next pet.
Get all the best pet news and information sent right to your inbox!
Thank you for subscribing!
Many dogs will eat just about anything in
their path. That's why it's so important to
know the signs of intestinal…
From taking pills to clipping nails,
we’re here to help you take the stress
out of things many dogs loathe.
With plenty of patience, practice and
praise your dog might be willing to accept
— or even enjoy — this dental care…
Need a leash for regular outings or one
that can walk multiple canines? These
types of leashes are your best…
The fun and rambunctious Flat-Coated Retriever, known for his puppyish enthusiasm, makes a great family pet.
Check out our collection of more than 250 videos about pet training, animal behavior, dog and cat breeds and more.
Wonder which dog or cat best fits your lifestyle? Our new tool will narrow down more than 300 breeds for you.
If the video doesn't start playing momentarily,
please install the latest version of Flash.
Thank you for subscribing.