Circling dogs – no laughing matter Print E-mail
News - Rubrieke
Wednesday, 25 September 2019 09:53
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Dr Liesel van der Merwe is a small animal medicine specialist. Send her your questions: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Dr Liesel van der Merwe

Canine compulsive disorder, stereotypical behaviour disorders and movement disorders that can affect dogs are no laughing matter. The YouTube videos we see with dogs or cats behaving very strangely are often related to a neurological disorder.

Compulsive or stereotypical behaviours are exaggerated, inappropriate and repetitive actions in animals. Compulsive behaviours in animals are only observed in domesticated animals, so environmental stress as well as possible genetic factors may play a role.

Compulsive behaviours occur in many dog breeds and include repetitive pacing, tail chasing, fly catching, freezing, staring and licking or sucking (fabric or their flanks).

These can be compared to obsessive compulsive disorders in humans as they share similar characteristics, such as early onset, repetitive nature and response to medication.

Tail chasing behaviour is specifically very common in bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers and their crosses. The literature also reports a predisposition in German shepherd dogs with age of onset typically between six months and two years. 

The behaviour typically becomes worse over time. Bull terriers specifically have lower responsiveness to the owner when they try to stop the behaviour. I have seen dogs circling in the back seat of a car. Boredom and stress seemed to be factors in dogs showing more tail chasing behaviour.

However, the end result showed that no amount of exercise or amount of time spent alone or with people influenced the behaviour. Neither does the dog’s gender, age of arrival at the house and type of food have any association with tail chasing.

Despite a suspected genetic component due to the strong breed predilection, no direct evidence has yet been found. Flank sucking, which is a compulsive condition in Dobermans, has some genetic evidence, with the CHD2 locus, which has also been associated with autism in humans.

In general, the behaviour does not negatively impact on the dog. They can still perform their daily activities. However, there are some animals which injure their tails and this irritation or pain sensation is a further stimulus to circle and tail chase.

Treatment must be aimed at the brain and not the tail. Treating the tail injury – if it does exist – is symptomatic only. It is vital to ensure that there isn’t an organic reason for the behaviour in the initial consultation with a veterinarian.

Medications used to manage this condition fall into the group used to treat depression, amongst other anxiety conditions in humans: Fluoxetine, serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs).

It typically takes up to six weeks to see the full effect of the medication, but generally, in my experience, clinical signs are often starting to decrease by two to three weeks. The earlier treatment is sought, the better.

These compulsive disorders can sometimes be confused with partial or petit mal seizure, where consciousness is not completely lost but behaviour changes. Additionally there are a host of movement disorders in dogs – usually breed related, which also cause strange inappropriate behaviour.

Differentiating between these conditions is a skill and requires attention to detail as well as knowledge. If you suspect that your dog or cat has such a condition, take a video and start making notes about when, where and how long the behaviour lasts.

Also, go onto the Internet and do some research. There is a lot of information out there. Your veterinarian can help you sift through all this data.

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