Oct 13, 2011 3:06 PM by Bonnie Markoff, DVM, ABVP
Sarah has asked us about tail chasing by submitting a question to us through the KSBY Central Coast Experts page.
Puppies and kittens will show all sorts of funny and cute behaviors that are just part of being a little kid. Tail chasing, sudden sprints across the living room floor and playing with a reflection in a mirror or window are all normal for youngsters. These kinds of behaviors become suspicious when a dog or cat matures.
Unusual behaviors in adult dogs and cats can come from several sources. In some cases, they are just habits that have never been broken. Oftentimes they are what we call displacement behaviors - things animals (or people) do when they are stressed or uncomfortable. People tend to tap their fingers, wring their hands, cross and uncross their legs or even get up and pace. Dogs tend to yawn, avert their gaze, keep changing position, or try to sit completely on top of their owners. Cats look for high spots and areas where they can hide. They may become completely immobile or may turn very aggressive when uncomfortable. If you see your adult pets chasing their tails or seeming restless at home, see if there is something happening that might be making them nervous - do you have guests? Are you yelling at a sporting event on TV? Is another pet closer to you than usual? Is another person closer to you than usual? Is there any thunder or other loud noises outside?
It is not unusual for brain disease to manifest itself in odd behaviors. Dogs and cats that seem to be chasing flies or other imaginary things in the air can be having a pre-seizure event. Sometimes animals can stare in a single direction or act like they are smelling or hearing something that is not there. Doberman's are known for sucking on the area in front of the back leg, known as flank-sucking. I have seen both dogs and cats with brain tumors simply wander aimlessly around the house until distracted, and others have walked in circles endlessly.
If your pet is exhibiting an unusual behavior (and not just "child's play"), you should seek veterinary assistance as early as possible. Anxiety and stress can be helped in the early stages. Dr. Jennifer Evans at Animal Care Clinic has a special interest in behavior issues.
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