Why is our dog chewing on his tail to the point of scabbing and what would be the course of treatment to get this to stop?

Original Question: Hi there my 2-year-old Bichon named Windsor has been chewing on his tail frequently to the point of scabbing. There is no hair loss. Over the course of his little life this has reoccurred 4 times. Each time we do a different treatment. Vanectyl-P was the first course and took care of it right away. Recently the treatment was Isaderm gel and Cephalex antibiotic and we switched his food to Z/D Prescription Hills in case it was allergies. He also had an X-ray done to make sure it wasn’t broken and there was no foreign body found either. His vet said we could try Apoquel but doesn’t want to start that because he is still young. Other than him chewing his tail he eats sleeps and drinks normally. It doesn’t seem to want to go away and it affects Windsor’s overall happiness. Any idea as to what we should try or do next? - Leandra

Why is our dog chewing on his tail to the point of scabbing and what would be the course of treatment to get this to stop? Apr 26, 2018

Hi Leandra,

Thanks for your question.

The most important thing here is to stop guessing. We need to start determining what’s going on. The first thing I want you to do is visit your veterinarian and have a skin scraping performed. This is a quick inexpensive test where they scrape the top layer of the affected skin and look at it under a microscope. This will help determine if a parasite, bacteria or yeast is present on the skin.  If we achieve a diagnosis, then we’ll do away with all the guesswork. This needs to be done before any discussion of diet or further treatment is entered into. If this doesn’t yield an answer, then you should consider performing a biopsy on the area and obtaining a definitive diagnosis.

If yeast is present then you can start shampooing daily with an antifungal shampoo. Leave the shampoo on for 10 to 15 minutes before rinsing it off. You’ll have to do this for a number of weeks because yeast is very stubborn. If this doesn’t work, and that should be confirmed by a repeat skin scraping at the end of the treatment to determine if yeast is still present, then you can look into giving antifungal oral medication. This type of medication can be a bit hard on the liver so you’ll want to do some blood testing before starting and also during the treatment.

If the skin scraping also reveals bacteria, I would recommend that you use an antibiotic concurrently. The shampoo may help resolve this issue as well. If the bacteria is still present on a repeat skin scraping then I would recommend you perform a culture and sensitivity on her skin sample. This is a test that will grow the bacteria that are present and tell you what type of antibiotic kills it. I’m seeing more and more cases of skin infections caused by resistant bacteria.

You’ll notice in my answer so far I have not mentioned diet at all. Stop thinking about diet at this point and try to obtain a diagnosis first. The diet only comes into play if we’re dealing with allergies. You cannot be certain about allergies at this point until the infections are identified and eliminated. Quite frankly it bothers me when professionals in this industry start to recommend treatments when they don’t even have a test that confirms what the problem is. It is difficult to diagnose allergies because all the infectious entities need to be eliminated. So I recommend everyone stop guessing, perform the test, confirm the diagnosis, and implement the correct treatment otherwise this problem will persist.

If after the infections are resolved and you are still seeing some redness, inflammation and itchiness, then I would consider allergies. I would recommend that you look at our resources about allergies. We have videos and articles that discuss it in depth from diagnosis to treatment.

Lastly, behavioural issues need to be considered as well. I have come across dogs that will chew their tails due to anxiety. You can speak to your veterinarian about a referral to a behaviourist and consider starting a discussion about anti-anxiety supplements and medication.

I hope this helps. Good luck.

Dr. Clayton Greenway

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