​Dog Tail Chasing Could Indicate Mental Illness

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August 22, 2012

Dog tail chasing is considered compulsive behavior and could indicate a mental illness, according to a new study led by Professor Hannes Lohi at the University of Helsinki, Finland.

Professor Lohi has revealed several similarities between compulsive behavior in dogs and humans after investigating some mental illness factors. But does this mean our pets are crazy when we catch them chasing their tail? Well, there’s more to it than that, according to the research.

The genetics research group has in collaboration with an international group of researchers investigated the characteristics and environmental factors associated with the activity.

A questionnaire study covering nearly 400 dogs revealed several similarities between compulsive behavior in dogs and humans: early onset, recurrent compulsive behaviors, increased risk for developing different types of compulsions, compulsive freezing, the beneficial effect of nutritional supplements, the effects of early life experiences and sex hormones and genetic risk.

The study shows that dogs offer an excellent animal model for studying the genetic background and environmental factors associated with human obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD). The study has been published in the journal PLoS ONE on July 27, 2012.

Stereotypical behavior in pets has not been studied extensively, even though several different types of compulsive behavior occur in different species including dogs. A dog may recurrently chase lights or shadows, bite or lick its own flank, pace compulsively or chase its own tail. Different environmental and genetic factors have been suggested to predispose to compulsive behavior.

Many stereotypes are breed-specific, which emphasizes the role of genes. Compulsive chasing occurs in several dog breeds, but worldwide it is most common in breeds such as Bull Terriers and German Shepherds.

The aim of this study was to describe the characteristics, to identify possible environmental risk factors, and to find out whether a previously discovered gene region associated with compulsive behavior is also linked to tail chasing.