By Dr. Becker
Humans with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are burdened by persistent, irrational thoughts that drive them to perform ritualized behaviors such as constant hand washing or repetitive checking to insure the stove is off or the door is locked.
According to a new study out of the University of Helsinki, Finland1, dogs that spin in circles, appearing to chase their tails have a disorder similar to OCD in humans.
Other canine behaviors in the same category include biting the air at invisible insects, obsessive pacing, trance-like freezing, and licking or biting their own flanks.
A group of Finnish researchers surveyed the owners of 368 dogs from four different breeds (bull terrier, miniature bull terrier, German shepherd and Staffordshire bull terrier) and collected DNA from 181 dogs. Their goal was to see if they could link environmental factors to tail chasing behavior, and also to test for the existence of a genetic predisposition.
The researchers found that while no association existed between the specific gene they tested for and tail chasing, there is definitely a genetic component involved that needs further investigation. According to study authors:
"Although the definitive mode of inheritance is often difficult to estimate from pedigrees due to missing phenotypes, our pedigrees in all breeds suggest a strong genetic influence with multiple affected dogs across generations and even within several litters."
Environmental factors that seem to benefit tail chasing include dietary supplements, in particular vitamin B6, C and magnesium, and spaying/neutering.
I'm not surprised the widespread nutritional deficiencies we see in the majority of dogs consuming dry dog food contribute to behavioral disorders. Also, spayed and neutered dogs usually have less energy and are therefore calmer, which may be why they exhibit less tail chasing.
Similarities between Human OCD and Canine Tail Chasing
The researchers also found a number of features of tail chasing dogs that are similar to obsessive-compulsive humans, including:
- People with OCD and tail chasing dogs begin acting out their behaviors at a young age
- Both are inclined to engage in more than one compulsive activity
- Nutritional supplements in the form of vitamins and minerals are beneficial in reducing the behaviors in both people and dogs
- OCD is linked to childhood trauma and stress; tail chasing is seen more often in dogs that were separated too early from their mothers
- Certain people with OCD are on the shy, inhibited side, and this tendency is also seen in tail chasing canines