Are you going crazy listening to your pet dog bite their tail or the base of their tail all night? If the noise or action makes you uncomfortable, imagine what your canine fellow must be going through. Since they can’t talk, you need to be able to understand their feelings in an intelligible way. You might get a little frustrated about their tail biting behavior, but this behavior could signal several other potential conditions your pup might be suffering from.
Why is My Dog Biting Their Tail?
Although it’s common for your pet dog to show scratching, chewing, and licking behavior, sometimes the reason behind these habits can be causing them much more harm than you realize. If a canine spends too much time licking or biting at themselves, they can create open wounds or sores, which can get infected. Therefore, you need to look for the causes of tail chewing in dogs – especially in your dog.
Some of the common causes are:
- Parasites, such as worms, ticks, and fleas
- Skin allergies – which may be an effect of environmental changes (changes in your home that are affecting your pup)
- Food allergies (to their current food or changes to their current
- Hotspots and other infections
- A sudden injury that you’re not aware of
- Impacted anal glands
To help any pet parents better understand how these issues may affect their canine companion, we’ve expanded each condition below to give you a more elaborate explanation of why your dog might be biting their tail:
Why Your Dog is Biting Their Tail
Parasites: worms, ticks, and fleas
Parasites are a common seasonal ailment for dogs. You have likely seen your canine scratch at a particular spot, and fleas were bouncing around when you wanted to see what’s going on! It’s not that tough to get over these parasites with proper grooming, regular baths using medicated dog shampoo, and a visit to the vet for the right medication.
Nothing is surprising about these parasites dwelling on your canine’s tail, making them scratch or bite at it repeatedly. But, ultimately, it’s the itchiness that causes excessive chewing of the tail. This even leads to whining behavior.
Allergies in dogs are pretty common. From food to environmental allergies, numerous things can cause an allergic reaction in your pup. If you believe an environmental issue may cause your dog’s tail to chew, look around you. Do you use any household chemicals? Is there any mold in your home? Have you noticed your dog itching or sneezing while they’re playing outside?
Any of these things could be what’s causing the environmental allergen in your canine, leading to the tail-biting behavior you’re observing. To test this, your vet may carry out an allergy test to see what your dog is suffering from, but you can also try and figure it out at home if the allergy doesn’t seem too severe. Consider any changes you’ve made to your dog’s environment, and note the locations in your home where you catch them licking or biting at themselves.
Between the ages of 3 months to 6 years, your dog is more likely to chew at this tail, but it is an activity they can grow out of. Puppies are more prone to this behavior because they explore the world with their mouths. If you have puppies at home, ensure they are not allergic to the products you use on their skin. Sometimes that can be why their skin becomes inflamed and irritated, leading them to bite their tail to ease their discomfort.
Stress and anxiety
Dogs can easily become stressed, and it’s not uncommon for a stressed dog to experience anxiety. It could be due to separation anxiety, which can occur when their pet parent leaves for work. As a result, they might start showing destructive behavior following long periods spent on their own without any company or mental stimulation. These episodes of separation anxiety may lead to self-stimulating behavior such as licking or biting on their tail out of stress.
While the destructive behavior is completely unacceptable in a trained dog, you should do everything you can to ensure that the chewing behavior is not encouraged. For example, take your dog on more walks, play with them more, and don’t leave them alone all day. This way, you and your pup get a light workout and can occupy your canine, too.
Food allergies are different, and some symptoms can be extremely difficult to spot. When it comes to fleas and skin allergies, you may notice rashes, red bumps, itching, and other factors that give away the problem. However, depending on the severity, food allergies can be a little sneakier.
Your dog isn’t going to be sneezing as they would with pollen, and nothing is jumping off of them like when they have a flea infestation. For food allergies, they can be severe – showing up as vomiting, wheezing, lethargy, and excessive itching/biting – or milder. Milder allergies may only make your dog a little bloated, give them a bout of diarrhea, or cause them to scratch or chew at their skin more than usual.
The downside here is that chewing can become compulsive, which leads to missing patches of fur and irritated skin. You might not even realize that your dog’s food is causing the issue because they always eat the same product. The problem is when the company changes the ingredients or your pup has always been allergic, and you didn’t know.
If you think your canine is suffering from a food allergy, your vet might recommend that you switch to a hypoallergenic food brand. These can be more expensive, but they will help determine if the food is the issue. For example, if the tail-biting in your dog stops after changing their diet, it means that they were suffering from an allergy to something in their old dog food.
Canine Hot Spots, also known as acute moist dermatitis, are inflamed places on your dog’s skin and can be irritated by chewing or scratching. This often causes the inflamed area to become a skin lesion, which may get infected. Hot spots are likely to develop on your dog’s body surface, with the tail being one of the easiest targets for hot spots to appear.
Your pet may repeatedly scratch, bite, and chew their tail until they have an open wound. Typically, hot spots manifest in warm and moist conditions, where your dog is more susceptible to infections.
Impacted anal glands
As a dog parent, you should know that your dog’s anal glands are very important for their overall health and a useful social tool. Their anal glands help them socialize with other dogs and get to know them. They also use anal glands to recognize dogs, which is why dogs sniff each other’s rear ends.
When we humans meet, we shake hands, hug, or greet each other in other ways. But dogs secrete a fluid from their anal glands for other dogs to smell and use to recognize them or become familiar with them so that they can be friends.
And so, if you notice that your canine is biting the base of his tail and around his rear end, it may mean something is wrong with their anal glands. The chewing and biting can be an early sign of an impacted anal gland. In some severe cases, the dog may have difficulty defecating or have pus or blood in their feces.
Your playful furry creature might injure their rear end, and you may not be aware of it. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean that you are a bad dog owner. It’s just that dogs are very good at hiding their injuries. For example, an injured hindquarter could lead to a dog chewing and biting their tail to draw attention to their injury.
Also, your dog may have fractured their tailbone. They might try to self-soothe by constantly biting at the area.
Dogs get bored easily. That’s just a fact. Often, a bored dog is likely to develop this type of unusual behavior; it’s a fun activity for them to expend some of their energy on, and it can become obsessive if they are left to it.
If your canine is biting their tail out of boredom, try to engage them in more activities to help prevent their boredom from causing this behavior. Besides, biting can harm their skin, and they might injure themselves by biting their tail.
Hormonal imbalances can lead to a dog chewing their tail. If your dog’s body is not producing enough thyroid hormones, or if they are producing an excessive amount of cortisol, they are prone to developing superficial skin infections. Some canines may develop bald patches in these affected areas, which will only be made worse by your dog’s saliva getting over their skin.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
We’ve mentioned dogs gaining a compulsive need to bite or chew at their tail a few times in this guide. The action of obsessively or compulsively doing the same action is a psychological condition. Your dog may be tail biting, tail chasing, or fly biting.
The concept of OCD in dogs was first reported by Thompson et al. (1956) in Scottish Terriers. He housed a group of Scottish Terrier dogs in an isolated cage for several months, and they began to exhibit behaviors like staring at their tail, growling, and biting.
If all of the other potential issues in this guide have been ruled out, it might be time to consider that your dog’s tail biting is a learned behavior and not an underlying medical issue.
At first, it might have begun with a health issue or some self-soothing, but it may have become obsessive behavior that they’ve learned is okay for them to participate in. If this is the case, your dog will need to be re-trained and broken of these negative habits. This will take time, persistence, and a lot of love and affection.
It’s advised to start by staving off any boredom your pup might be experiencing and ensuring that your canine’s physical exercise needs are met daily.
To keep your dog entertained, you need a lot of self-motivation to provide them with decent playtime and a more fulfilled life. Redirect their behavior when you spot it by diverting their attention towards something more interesting and fun. For example, when they stop focusing on biting their tail, praise them! Try to build enough positive associations in your dog’s mind that they leave their tail alone.
Doing this ensures that your dog’s tail obsession is replaced with something else and that they will stop bothering their tail all the time. We’re sure you’ll be able to correct their behavior yourself, but if it seems too difficult or your dog is struggling, consult a dog specialist for help and advice.
How to Stop a Dog from Biting its Tail
The first step is to recognize why your dog is biting their tail and remove the cause if possible. Then it’s down to the tricky part: Adjusting your dog’s behavior.
Begin by noting when your dog is biting or chewing their tail and any smells or objects around them. Also, note their body language and the emotions that they’re showing you. It’s possible that removing the external factors will reduce your dog’s tail biting behavior, but it’s unlikely that they will stop altogether if your dog has been chewing at their tail for some time.
After checking for environmental triggers and changing your dog’s food, it’s time to work with your vet and a dog behavioral specialist to help adjust your pup’s obsessive behavior. This is a process, and it will not yield results overnight. The fact here is that your dog now has a learned behavior, and you need to positively reduce and stop that behavior by teaching them to replace it with something else when they’re stressed, anxious, or bored.
Professional dog training is the best way to achieve this. But unfortunately, the everyday dog owner is unlikely to have the skills to re-train their dog or help them with OCD.
Determine what’s right for your canine
Have you identified the cause of your pet dog biting his tail? Then it’s time to determine the right solutions to change their behavior or start treating any underlying cause.
Your canine is unique and will require a solution based on personal needs. Many pet parents consider home remedies for dog biting tail, and while it doesn’t sound like a bad idea, we recommend you coordinate with your vet to determine the best solution. Here are a handful of treatment options that you could consider to help you stop your canine from biting themselves:
By now, you must have come across an array of medications that might suit your canine’s skin. If you haven’t visited the vet in a while, visit them first so they can help your canine with the topical treatment they need. They might also need antibiotics, steroids, or other anti-itching products to stop them from biting their tail.
Never self-prescribe your dog any medication, supplements, or ointments. Seek veterinary advice first, always.
Prevent their behavior
If this is the first few times you have noticed your dog exhibiting this tail-biting behavior, this is the time when you should intervene and take steps to discourage it. First, you can spray something bitter (but safe for dogs to consume) on their tails, so they don’t bite or chew it.
You could even use dog cones that are equally helpful in such cases. And you can always use commands like “No” and “Leave it” when you think they shouldn’t be doing something they are already doing. Unfortunately, if your dog doesn’t know these commands yet, you’ll need to teach them the commands first.
Dealing with anxiety or boredom
Some dogs might act up when they’re bored, so you need to ensure that they get enough exercise, affection, and mental stimulation. They will only stop their destructive behavior when all of their essential needs are met.