There are several potential causes of tail biting in dogs. Before assuming that the behavior stems from a psychological issue, it's important to rule out underlying medical problems. Tail biting can often occur secondary to annoying health issues. Here are some medical causes of tail biting in dogs:
Allergies to Something
Many dogs have allergies which may develop from exposure to certain allergens such as food or things found in the environment. Finding the underlying allergen causing the problem can be a challenge, which is why vets sometimes opt to simply try to manage it with the use of antihistamines.
If food allergies are suspected, a food trial using novel protein sources or hydrolyzed proteins may be suggested. While this food trial is done, it's very important to refrain from feeding the dog any treats or other foods other than the prescription diet. Follow your vet's directions for guidance on this.
Possible Skin Problems
A variety of possible skin problems may cause excessive tail biting in dogs. Possible etiologies include moist dermatitis, stud tail, neurodermatitis, allergic dermatitis, to just name a few.
In some dogs with long, thin tails, excessive wagging and banging of the tail in enclosed areas (small room, crate) against walls or furniture, may cause injuries to the end of the tail. This may cause licking and biting of the end of the tail.
Seeing the vet is important. The vet may need a skin scrape to help confirm or rule out some of these dermatological causes. Challenging cases may require a referral to a veterinary dermatologist.
The Presence of Parasites
Fleas are one of the top causes for itching in many dogs. One of a flea's favorite biting areas is at the base of the tail. Don't just assume your dog doesn't have fleas if you haven't seen any; fleas are very good in concealing themselves amidst all that thick fur. Some dogs are allergic to flea saliva and even the presence of an isolated flea may trigger intense itching and biting at the tail.
Other parasites that may cause itching in the dog's rear end area are tapeworms which release eggs sacs through the dog's bum. These may cause itching that trigger licking and biting targeted towards the dog's rear. The egg sacs look similar to little grains of rice. The drug of choice to remove tapeworms is praziquantel. On top of this, it's important to practice good flea control considering that fleas play a role as intermittent hosts in the development of tapeworms.
Problems With the Glands
Dogs have special glands located under their tails right around their bottoms. These glands should ideally empty when dogs pass sturdy stool, but sometimes they fail to empty as they should due in part to chronic loose stool, excess weight, conformation, etc.. When these glands become impacted, dogs feel discomfort and this may lead to excessive biting directed towards the base of the tail. Often, there's also scooting.
If your dog is chewing excessively towards the base of the tail, have your dog see your vet or an experienced veterinary technician to have those glands checked out and possibly expressed if needed. Sometimes, these glands may get infected and your dog may need a course of antibiotics.
Other localized problems involving the dog's bum include local irritation, cuts and presence of foreign items.
Hip pain or any pain affecting the dog's hindquarters can be a culprit for tail-biting behaviors in dogs.
Disk disease, such as a luxated or subluxated lumbar disk can be a culprit that leads to tail chasing and tail biting. Other than causing pain, this latter condition may trigger tail biting because of the way the dog perceives the associated neurological deficits.
Pain can be tricky at times to diagnose, and some vets may decide to do a trial of anti-inflammatory drugs to determine whether it has an impact in decreasing the behavior.
Incorrect Tail Docking
If your dog belongs to a breed whose tail is typically docked, consider that sometimes tail chewing in a docked dog may be a sign that the tail docking was done incorrectly.
When a dog's tail is docked, a clamp is placed across the tail at the correct length before the tail is docked. Sometimes though, when the cut happens to go through one of the vertebral bones of the tail, not all of the remaining parts of the vertebrae are removed properly. On top of that, any tissue that was clamped down on should be removed and the tail should be stitched up.
Problems start when the remaining piece of bone or the skin edges aren't properly trimmed. When this happens, the affected dog may develop annoying sensations, according to veterinarian Dr. Ralston. This type of sensation may be compared to the phantom pain experienced by human amputees and may cause excessive itching, licking and biting of the tail.
In affected dogs, you will typically notice a bald spot at the end of the tail where the skin wasn't trimmed correctly. Treatment may involve the use of anti-anxiety medications or surgical intervention to fix the problem which consists of removing the distal portion of the tail and repairing the skin as necessary.
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