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Why Is My Dog Biting Their Tail? 6 Vet-Reviewed Reasons and Remedies to Stop It

Chris Dinesen Rogers

By Chris Dinesen Rogers

dog chase tail

Vet approved

Dr. Maja Platisa Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Maja Platisa

In-House Veterinarian, DVM MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Excessive itchiness and irritation isn’t pleasant no matter the cause, and your dog may try to relieve an itchy tail by biting or licking it. It may seem counterintuitive, but canines don’t really have any other options. However, it’s apparent that your dog is uncomfortable and needs your help if they keep reaching for this area. On the other hand, maybe your dog is not stimulated enough or is bored and finds that chasing their tail is entertaining. 

Tail biting can have several causes. Our list of potential explanations identifies which ones could be causing the discomfort, as well as some potential solutions. Some are manageable for pet owners, but many require veterinary advice for the most effective treatment and prevention. If you’re not sure why your dog is biting their tail, or if they do not allow you to examine it properly, consult with your vet promptly.

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The 6 Reasons Why Dogs Bite Their Tails

1. Skin Infections

dog biting his tail
Image Credit: KPhrom, Shutterstock

Dogs with thick, bushy tails may bite at their tails because of an underlying skin infection. Dense fur can be an ideal breeding ground for bacteria and fungus, particularly if the area is not exposed to oxygen due to matted fur or has trapped moisture. However, even tails with short fur can get infected. The tail area is also very closely associated with the anus, meaning it can be easily exposed to bacteria present in the feces, especially if your dog is suffering from diarrhea. Constant moisture, skin irritation, and bacterial contamination can cause skin scald and make your dog’s tail and surrounding skin very painful and inflamed. 

Fecal scald is a moist dermatitis that may appear as if the skin is burned, inflamed, and irritated and potentially have discharge. Treating skin conditions promptly is essential because of the risk of worsening skin infections with time, particularly as many dogs will lick the infected and painful area, reintroducing bacteria from their mouth and physically damaging the already sensitive skin. 

A localized skin infection in one area of the tail can also be referred to as a hotspot. These are caused by anything that irritates the skin or leads to self-inflicted damage through licking, such as the presence of parasites, bacterial or fungal infections, allergic skin disease, or something else. Your dog’s tail area may be more itchy than usual if there is an issue with their anal glands, such as an impaction or an abscess, and they are scooting their bottom on the floor.  

How to Fix It: No matter the type or cause of the skin infection or the exact location on or around the tail, it’s important to get your dog checked by the vet as soon as possible. By trimming your dog’s coat and cleaning the area with a gentle, diluted antiseptic solution, your vet will allow for some quick relief for your pooch. They will identify the cause of the infection and treat it adequately, making your dog comfortable. Your vet will give you detailed instructions on how to manage the area in order to keep it dry. 

If your dog won’t let you and your vet near their tail, they may recommend sedation to treat the affected area.

The dog's tail has an infected wound
Image Credit: Nymphe, Shutterstock

An infected wound will itch more and cause your dog to bite at their tail more frequently. The inflammatory response is causing these signs in your pet. Do not try to treat this condition at home without your vet’s professional advice, as they may worsen quickly and will cause pain and discomfort to your pooch. These conditions are easier to treat if caught early. Your vet may prescribe oral antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, steroids, and topical creams to speed healing and relieve your pet’s discomfort.

Putting an Elizabethan collar on your pet will likely accompany many of the treatment options. The more your dog bites at their tail, the higher the risk of complications and secondary bacterial infections. Determining the cause of your pet’s behavior is imperative to minimize the time they’ll have to wear the E-collar.

We also suggest drying your dog thoroughly after they swim or come in from the rain, particularly if they are muddy or got into something sticky.


2. Minor Abrasions or Irritation Due to a Foreign Material

Minor abrasions or irritations can trigger an itch and irritation that may cause your dog to bite their tail. The skin may not have any changes whatsoever in the beginning. However, if left untreated, it can lead to redness, scabbing, discharge, or swelling, alongside itchiness and eventually a skin infection. Of course, your pet’s instinct is to lick at the sore and itchy spot

The same caution exists as with our previous entry to avoid secondary bacterial infections. Sometimes, things can get stuck in your dog’s fur or even puncture their skin, causing infection, swelling, and discharge. 

How to Fix It: Speak to your vet and get your pooch checked out, as there may be areas of irritation under the fur that are not easily identifiable. If it’s just a question of irritation and itching without any skin changes, your vet will identify the most likely underlying cause and recommend steps on how to reduce this. 

Mild antiseptic cleaning wipes can provide excellent prevention for irritated skin. Use a product formulated for canines and follow the instructions from your vet. They can prevent a minor abrasion from becoming infected and more uncomfortable for your pet. Your vet will examine your pup’s tail in detail for any signs of an infection if the biting continues.

If the biting isn’t confined to your dog’s tail, there may be generalized skin disease. Upon performing diagnostics, your veterinarian may recommend bathing your pet with a medicated shampoo that may help reduce the irritation and control the signs. Make sure to rinse your pet thoroughly after bathing. Consult your vet again if you don’t see any improvement.


3. Open Wounds

Fresh wound on a dog tail
Image Credit: FootMade0525, Shutterstock

An open wound can become infected quickly, leading to uncomfortable itchiness, swelling, discharge, and redness. We suggest taking your dog to the vet so they can examine your pup’s tail to see if there are any breaks in the skin. If you try to check your dog’s tail at home, be careful because a painful wound may cause an otherwise docile pet to growl or snap.

How to Fix It: Even if it’s a minor cut, it’s important to get it checked by your vet. They will trim off the fur, clean the area, and recommend if the wound needs suturing or if it can be managed in other ways. They may prescribe an antimicrobial spray or ointment, alongside systemic painkillers or antibiotics. You should apply the product as directed and for the prescribed period of time. Your dog will wear an Elizabethan or an inflatable collar, so they are not able to reach their wound and lick it. Check the status of the wound several times a day. If it isn’t healing as directed, consult your vet. They may recommend additional measures.


4. Fleas or Other Parasites

Some canines develop severe skin irritation in response to flea allergy dermatitis. It is an allergic response to flea saliva after the parasite has bitten your dog. It can cause extreme itching, scabbing, redness, and hair loss, particularly on the tail base, back, and rear legs. It’s often combined with other allergies and can easily worsen a pre-existing skin disease. 

Dogs that are not allergic to flea saliva, will still be quite itchy if they have fleas. That’s why it’s essential to apply vet-approved and appropriate flea and tick prevention regularly throughout the year. Other skin parasites, such as various types of mites, also cause skin disease, and in some cases could be a sign of an underlying illness or a compromised immune system. 

The level of itching depends on the mite in question, and usually, the affected areas involve the head, ears, feet, and belly. Presence of intestinal parasites, such as tapeworms, may lead to itchiness around the anal area, when they migrate out of the rectum, causing the dog to bite and chew their tail. 

How to Fix It: Speak to your vet about regular flea, tick, mite, and intestinal parasite control. Get your dog checked out, so they can establish the cause behind the itching and tail biting. Prevention is the best way to treat flea allergy dermatitis. If you live in warm parts of the country, you should be using these products year-round based on your vet’s recommendations, but even in other climates, there may be fleas inside the warm house even in cold winter months. Topical products, collars, and medicated treats offer an effective way to stop a problem in its tracks.

If your dog is already infected, you must act quickly with the help of your vet to break the life cycle to control the infestation. It’s worth noting you should repeat the treatment and keep up with it regularly to eliminate the problem. You must also treat your home in some cases.

In case of mites or intestinal parasites, your vet will confirm the diagnosis by performing certain skin and fecal tests or microscopic examinations of skin samples or larvae found around the dog’s bum, and they will prescribe the most appropriate treatment for your pooch.


5. Skin Allergies

man buying pet food
Image Credit: LADO, Shutterstock

Dogs can also be allergic to various proteins and substances called allergens, either in their food or treats or present in the environment, such as grass pollen, tree pollen, molds, dust mites, and others. 

Allergies may manifest themselves in seemingly odd ways. Signs typically include excessive licking, scratching, self-inflicted skin changes, hair loss, and frequent ear infections. Sometimes, allergens may cause digestive signs, such as vomiting and diarrhea. 

How to Fix It: A definitive allergy test doesn’t exist for dogs, and every test has its pros and cons. There is a recognized diagnostic process performed by vets and veterinary dermatologists in order to first rule out non-allergic and more common causes of skin disease before focusing on allergies. There are certain tests that may help in better differentiating the cause, but they need to be interpreted by a specialist in the field. 

A diagnosis of allergies is sometimes based on exclusion, although there are certain diagnostic tests that may help to narrow it down, such as food elimination trials, intradermal testing, and radioallergosorbent blood test. In case of a suspected food allergy, your vet may recommend an elimination diet to identify the allergen. Your vet will likely suggest a diet with a novel protein like lamb or a specially formulated hypoallergenic diet.


6. Separation Anxiety or Boredom

Some pets engage in self-destructive behavior because of separation anxiety. It may begin relatively soon after an owner leaves their dog home alone, or it could happen as soon as you start performing your usual routine before leaving the house, such as when you grab your keys or your couch. This behavior may include inappropriate elimination, excessive barking, and damage to your home, as well as compulsive behavior like biting at the tail. Boredom is another possibility as well.

How to Fix It: Dogs must have mental stimulation or enrichment for their well-being. Otherwise, they’ll find ways to occupy their time. Sometimes, it can become self-destructive. The solution is to engage with your pet more often with walks, games and visits to doggy parks. Interactive toys are also effective at stemming this behavior. However, separation anxiety often requires working with a canine behaviorist, and it’s not a quick fix.

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Tips to Prevent Tail Biting

Prevention is always the best medicine. Getting your pup used to being handled is part of the process. Start your pet as a puppy getting accustomed to having their feet, ears, and tail touched and handled. You can make it a positive experience with a treat so that your dog is less likely to resist it and will learn to tolerate it well.

Tail biting and licking usually aggravate issues like cuts, injuries, and hot spots instead of curing them, and it often indicates generalized skin disease, anal gland issues, presence of external or internal parasites, foreign materials, or a skin infection. If you notice your dog biting at their tail, examine the site and visit your vet promptly to stop it in its tracks. Don’t wait until your pooch is in obvious distress and discomfort.

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Conclusion

Tail biting can have many causes. Some involve a change in your dog’s routine to offer stimulation, while others definitely require an urgent visit to the vet. Remember that it’s your responsibility to provide proper care for your pet. Your dog can only respond instinctively to health issues, and it’s up to you to ensure their good health.


Featured Image Credit: otsphoto, Shutterstock

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