Most dog owners readily admit to smiling at the silly sight of their dog chasing his tail. But when an occasional tail chasing episode becomes a habit or if it devolves into tail biting or chewing, what was once viewed as cute may, in fact, be worrisome.
Consider then, the six most common causes of canine tail biting and chewing.
1. Parasitic infestations: Fleas and ticks are both seasonal annoyances and afflictions for countless dogs. Rather than reacting to the presence of the pests themselves, some dogs are allergic to the saliva in their bites, resulting in dermatitis (skin inflammation). A dog with an undiagnosed flea or tick allergy may repeatedly bite at the affected area, breaking the skin, in an attempt to find relief from the itching. Tapeworms can also cause extreme discomfort -- this time, in the area around your dog’s anus -- often driving him to gnaw or chew at the base of his tail which, in turn, leads to even more pain.
2. Allergies: Environmental allergies – including outdoor pollen and household chemicals, mites and mold, shampoos and soaps, and contact with other animals – are also extremely common in dogs. Studies show that reactions are most severe between the age of three months and six years, and that, like people, a pup’s first instinct to an allergy’s itchiness is to scratch it, which can ultimately progress to biting and/or chewing.
3. Hot spots: These are areas where repeated scratching or chewing, exacerbated by warmth and moisture, has led to the creation of open wounds on your dog’s body. Easily recognized by the presence of blood, pus and matted hair, should stray bacteria enter the site before it’s been properly treated, the result is a secondary infection. If your dog is biting at the base of his tail so often that he draws blood, a secondary infection may not be the root cause of his problem but a symptom of some other issue. Only your vet can determine precisely what that issue is.
4. Stress, anxiety and boredom: Any or all three can lead dogs to exhibit a variety of repetitive and often destructive behaviors – including biting and chewing their tails. For some, it’s because they’re left crated too long while their owners are gone during the day. For others, it’s because they’re not getting enough physical exercise, interactive playtime and mental stimulation – all of which can be easily remedied by providing them with sufficiently satisfying outlets for their pent-up energy.
5. Injury: Any type of rear or hind end injury, such as a broken or fractured tail bone, may, under normal circumstances, go unnoticed by even the most conscientious of owners. Perhaps your sole clue will be the sight of your dog, wracked by intense pain, licking, biting and/or chewing the affected area. Only a visit to the vet and x-rays can accurately pinpoint the problem.
6. Impacted anal glands: The final, possible reason for a dog to bite at the base of his tail until it bleeds is an impacted anal gland. Scooting – when he sits and drags his butt across the floor or any other surface – is the most obvious sign. Other symptoms may include an especially foul odor coming from his rear end, constipation and, in severe cases, blood or pus in his stool.
Whatever the reason behind your cherished canine companion’s tail biting or chewing, once it’s been addressed and treated, he’ll be free to enjoy his life in good health and high spirits.
Many dogs have a condition called pica, which means they favor eating such non-food items as toys and feces, dirt and grass. Most experts, however, consider consuming grass to be fairly normal dog behavior that usually doesn’t cause many -- if any -- problems.
Why then, do our canine companions go for grass?
Some simply enjoy the taste and texture of it. Their wild relatives are known for eating whatever vegetable matter they find in the stomachs and intestines of the prey they catch while also feasting on roots, grasses and berries. Mimicking their relatives then, it makes perfect sense that, in addition to grass, your dog may delight in downing safe, raw-plant snacks like green beans and strawberries as well as slices of apple and banana.
On the other hand, however, numerous studies have shown that grazing on grass may provide dogs with the fiber and/or trace vitamins and minerals that aren’t found in sufficient quantities in most commercial dog foods. Consider asking your vet to help you select a product – dry or wet -- that’s backed by both science and research and that best meets your own dog’s specific needs.
If your dog’s a devoted grazer, keep him from chewing on grass that’s been chemically treated because it could prove poisonous to him. You may not use pesticides or herbicides on your own lawn but one of your neighbors may, and if applied on a windy day, these toxic substances could reach your yard through wind or water runoff. Be wary as well of public areas like parks, where the grass may have been treated with chemicals (if so, signs usually indicate it). Provide your pup instead with a patch of healthy wheat grass or purchase dog-safe grass or herb-growing kits at a pet supply store and grow your own.
When they’re not feeling well, dogs may, on occasion, gulp down grass as a natural emetic to force them to vomit. If you hear ominous rumblings in your dog’s belly and if he seems gassy and somewhat lethargic, don’t be surprised that the moment he gets outside, he starts chewing and swallowing mouthfuls of grass. Their long, tickling blades and slender strands may prompt him to regurgitate whatever was causing his upset stomach. If so, as soon as he’s vomited, he may resume his usual activities almost immediately without exhibiting any further signs of discomfort. The flip side to a dog’s sudden vomiting, however, is when he’s unaccustomed to eating grass at all let alone on a regular basis.
Some animal experts suggest dogs eat grass because they’re bored and that it gives them something to do. This occurs most often in dogs – especially puppies and young dogs -- who don’t receive enough exercise and whose natural exuberance requires a more satisfying outlet to release all of their stored-up energy. The solution: spend more time playing with your dog and teaching him new tricks on a regular basis to keep him mentally stimulated and physically satisfied, thereby reducing the chance of his reverting to such boredom-related behavior.
But if your dog eats grass then vomits for several days in a row, take him to the vet for a thorough examination and to be tested for intestinal parasites such as roundworms or for more serious conditions like the canine parvovirus (CPV) or kidney disease.
The most up-to-date, science-based training approach, force-free dog training is not only an especially effective way to train your dog, it also builds a strong bond of trust between the two of you. But it requires time, patience, commitment, and, in particular, repetition, repetition, repetition for this approach to ultimately succeed.
What, then, is force-free training? At the heart of this technique is positive reinforcement.
When positive reinforcement is used, dogs learn to connect a desired action with rewards (food, treats and toys) and/or praise. By providing dogs with consistent rules and a fixed structure, they’re being taught to understand what’s expected of them. And by promptly rewarding them for any desired behaviors, it greatly increases the likelihood of their repeating those behaviors over and over again in the future.
Force-free training also involves teaching dogs proper manners without pain, threats, intimidation, force or coercion. It’s accomplished without the use of choke chains, pinch, prong and shock collars, physical manipulation to change their position, pushing or pulling them by the leash or collar, and kicking or hitting them with an object, a foot or a hand in a misguided effort to win their compliance.
Negative punishment – the process of ignoring or correcting unwanted behaviors -- is also an integral part of force-free training. For example: Ignoring a dog’s persistent barking for attention lets him know that his behavior won’t get him either the attention or the reward he’s seeking. Shouting at him, on the other hand, actually rewards and reinforces his barking. Time-outs are also a form of negative punishment, as are turning and walking away when a dog jumps up. If a dog’s accustomed to being rewarded for good behavior, the absence of positive attention “tells” him that he’s done something wrong.
To put this method into practice with your own dog, begin with the basics and build up to more challenging behaviors while, at the same time, establishing those unbreakable ties of respect and trust between you.
Using treats as rewards, start with such simple, one-word commands as “come”, “sit”, “stay”, “down”, “no” and “paw”. Reward him immediately after each successful response and repeat the exercise as often as needed to ensure that he’s both compliant and confident.
Then start applying the commands to new situations. Begin, for example, with “sit” when people visit your home. Instruct your dog to “sit” to keep him calm and prevent him from becoming overly excited and jumping up on them. If he obeys, reward him with either some high value treats or several pats on the head to let him know that he’s done well. Over time, this behavior will not only become second nature to him, he’ll start each subsequent interaction with visitors by automatically assuming a “sit.”
The second step is teaching him to remain calm whenever you return home after being gone. Although your dog’s natural instinct will be to welcome you back eagerly and excitedly, it’s your responsibility – as difficult as it may be -- to ignore him. Even if he barks or whines, jumps up or rolls over in an attempt to get your attention, do NOT look at him, speak to him or pet him.
Once he calms down, stops his unwanted behaviors or sits (for some dogs, this can be within minutes while others may take far longer), reward him with treats or several pats on the head. By NOT reacting to him and only rewarding him for “behaving himself,” your dog will soon learn that greeting you calmly and quietly is the correct behavior.
The third step is loose-leash walking. This involves teaching your dog to walk beside you or at least very close to you, thus allowing you more control over him and, ultimately, over his wellbeing. Whether you’re taking a walk, going to the dog park or visiting a pet store, you can keep your dog safer if he’s right by your side and paying rapt attention to your every move.
Whenever your dog pulls or stops, simply turn and walk casually in another direction. By removing his control over the direction of the walk, then rewarding him when he turns to follow you, you’re letting him know that this is the behavior you want.
With these few basics under your belt, you and your cherished canine companion should be well on your way to becoming the best of forever friends.
Canine parvovirus (CPV), commonly referred to as parvo, is one of the most serious viruses that puppies, adolescent and mature dogs can contract. Why? Because this potentially fatal virus is especially difficult to kill, is able to exist for an extremely long time in the environment, and is shed in very large quantities by infected dogs.
There are two slightly different strains of canine parvovirus: CPV-2a and CPV-2b. While both cause the same disease, CPV-2b is associated with the most severe form. Thankfully, however, parvo vaccines such as DA2PPC and DHPP afford dogs protection against both of them.
Direct contact between two dogs isn’t needed for the virus to spread. In fact, one of the most common ways for a susceptible (unvaccinated) dog to become infected is by ingesting the feces of an already-infected dog. But due to its environmental stability, this notorious virus can just as easily be transmitted through the paws and hair of an infected dog, an unsuspecting person’s shoes and clothes, as well as any surface or object that’s been unknowingly contaminated.
Infected dogs will usually become ill within six to ten days of exposure. The virus is carried to the intestine where it invades the intestinal wall, causing an inflammation, and although the symptoms may vary, severe vomiting and diarrhea are not only the first but also the most consistent and common signs of infection. The ailing dogs’ diarrhea will often have a very strong smell, may contain large amounts of mucus, and may or may not contain blood. Some affected dogs may also stop eating, appear listless and depressed, and run a fever.
While parvo can affect dogs of all ages, it most commonly affects unvaccinated dogs under the age of one. Puppies younger than five months are usually the most severely affected and the most difficult to treat. Any unvaccinated puppy who is vomiting, has uncontrolled diarrhea, or both, should immediately be brought to the vet and tested for CPV.
A fecal ELISA test (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) is the most common way of diagnosing a dog suspected of having parvo, requires a fecal swab, and takes about 10 minutes. Although the test is accurate, a negative result doesn’t automatically rule out parvo in a symptomatic dog since he may not have been shedding the viral antigen at the time the test was taken. If this is the case, to err on the side of caution, he should be re-tested.
Sadly, there’s no treatment to date that can kill the virus once it infects a dog. And while the virus itself isn’t the direct cause of a dog’s death, it targets the epithelium of the small intestine, the lining that helps to absorb nutrients and provides a crucial barrier against fluid loss and bacterial leakage into the rest of the body. This leakage coupled with the intestinal damage, results in severe dehydration (water loss), electrolyte (sodium and potassium) imbalances, and an infection in the bloodstream (septicemia). If septicemia develops, a dog is more likely to die.
Therefore, the sooner emergency measures are implemented in a hospital setting, the greater a dog’s chances of survival. The first step involves reversing his dehydration and correcting his electrolyte imbalances through the use of an IV (intravenous fluid) drip containing electrolytes. In more severe cases, plasma transfusions may be administered as well. He’ll be given antispasmodic drugs to inhibit his diarrhea and vomiting along with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs to either prevent or control septicemia.
Fortunately, most dogs suffering from parvo will recover if aggressive treatment is started promptly -- before severe dehydration and septicemia occur. For puppies, however, if they haven’t improved by the third or fourth day of treatment, their prognosis is poor.
Vets everywhere strongly advise all responsible dog owners to protect their precious pets against CPV by having them vaccinated. Puppies will receive a parvovirus vaccination as part of their multiple-agent vaccine series, given at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age. In some high-risk situations, vets will administer the vaccine at two-week intervals with an additional booster given at between 18 and 22 weeks of age. After that initial series of vaccinations, boosters will be required on a regular basis. If an approved three-year parvovirus vaccine was used, boosters should be routinely administered every three years.