Prospective Evaluation of Fly Biting Behavior in Dogs: Unveiling Underlying Medical Disorders

Have you ever noticed your dog engaging in strange and repetitive behaviors, such as snapping at imaginary flies? This peculiar action, known as fly biting, has intrigued pet owners and veterinarians alike. A recent study sheds light on the possible medical causes behind this behavior, revealing some fascinating findings. In this article, we will delve into the discussion surrounding fly biting in dogs and explore the potential underlying medical disorders that may contribute to this puzzling behavior.

Unveiling the Medical Disorders Linked to Fly Biting

The study conducted on seven dogs with a history of fly biting behavior suggests that there may be an association between fly biting and gastrointestinal (GI) disease. Interestingly, the research revealed that three of the dogs consistently displayed more fly biting episodes after eating, indicating a potential connection to postprandial discomfort. Furthermore, video analysis showed that all dogs exhibited a sequence of head raising and neck extension before the actual jaw snapping occurred. This pattern resembled Sandifer syndrome, a rare movement disorder in infants associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The presence of head and neck extension in both dogs and infants seems to be a shared characteristic in these related conditions.

Unveiling the Parallels to Sandifer Syndrome

Sandifer syndrome involves abnormal movements of the head, neck, and trunk, often associated with GERD. The study suggests that some fly biting dogs adopt similar head and neck movements due to esophageal discomfort or pain. Moreover, endoscopic examinations revealed findings consistent with gastroesophageal reflux in two dogs. In humans, the presence of reflux-induced breaks in the esophageal mucosa provides reliable evidence of reflux esophagitis. However, it is important to note that GERD can also occur without visible macroscopic lesions. Unfortunately, further investigation of GERD in these dogs was not possible due to the unavailability of certain diagnostic procedures.

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The Connection Between Pain, Anxiety, and Fly Biting

Pain and anxiety can often produce overlapping symptoms in dogs. Some of the dogs in the study displayed behavioral changes associated with anxiety, such as pacing, hiding, and increased attention-seeking, alongside their fly-biting episodes. Remarkably, the treatment of underlying medical conditions resulted in the disappearance of both anxiety-like signs and fly-biting behaviors in some of these dogs. The findings emphasize the importance of examining potential painful visceral medical conditions in dogs initially thought to be experiencing anxiety.

Insights from Previous Research

While the study provides valuable insights into the medical evaluation of fly biting in dogs, it is crucial to appreciate prior research on this intriguing behavior. Throughout history, different theories and approaches have been proposed:

  • In 1962, McGrath associated “jaw snapping” with ocular disease in dogs, suggesting that floating or movable opacities in the eyes could be the underlying cause of fly biting. However, no further investigations were conducted to support this hypothesis.
  • In 1972, Lane and Holmes observed “auto-induced fly catching” in Cavalier King Charles spaniels. They suggested the need for radioelectric electroencephalography to further investigate fly biting cases, but no such study was ever undertaken.
  • In 1979, Cash and Blauch reported cases of jaw snapping in various dog breeds. They found that periods of spontaneous remission occurred, and behavioral changes such as paw licking, fractiousness, and peculiar eating habits accompanied the jaw snapping. Pharmacological treatments showed limited success in these cases.
  • In 1987, a case of fly biting was alleviated by a diet change targeting flatulence in a Cavalier King Charles spaniel. Experimentation with different foods revealed that certain ingredients triggered or alleviated the behavioral problems.
  • By the 1990s, fly snapping was linked to psychomotor epilepsy associated with metastatic thymoma in a dog.
  • In more recent times, fly biting has been classified as a compulsive disorder (CD) or an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), highlighting its complex nature and the need for further research.
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The Path Forward: Embracing a Scientific Approach

With limited publications and theoretical causes, this prospective case series represents an important step in unraveling the mysteries surrounding fly biting in dogs. The study’s data strongly suggest that fly biting may be a manifestation of underlying medical disorders, with GI disease emerging as the most prevalent condition. To encourage a more scientific approach, the authors propose replacing the term “fly biting” with “neck extension” syndrome. This shift helps to dissociate the behavior from anthropomorphic interpretations and paves the way for comprehensive investigations into the potential link between GI discomfort and neck extension syndrome.

As responsible pet owners, it is essential to recognize that fly biting in dogs may signify an underlying medical issue rather than a mere quirk or annoyance. By understanding the possible connections between fly biting and GI disease, we can seek appropriate medical attention for our furry companions. Remember, if your dog exhibits fly biting behavior, consult a qualified veterinarian to ensure a thorough evaluation and provide the best care for your beloved pet.

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