4 Common Questions About Cat and Dog Tails

Whether they’re wagging or twitching, there’s a little bit of mystery surrounding our cats' and dogs' tails.

Ever wonder what a happy tail is? Or why some dogs have a penchant for chasing them? We’ve pulled together Dr. Marty Becker’s answers to frequently asked questions about these bushy appendages.

The Truth About Tails

Adult Akita Gay Tail


What Is Gay Tail?

This term is a bit of "inside baseball" in the world of dogs — but we’ll let you in on the secret. It refers to a tail that’s flying high when the dog is alert and engaged, Dr. Becker writes. More specifically, it means a tail that is set higher at the point where it connects to the dog’s body, allowing the pooch to carry it above his body. In some breeds, it’s undesirable in the show ring, where judges prefer to see the line of the back continue through the tail. But in others, a high-flying tail is either of little consequence or preferred — like that of the Akita pictured here.

cat long bushy orange tail


Why Is My Cat’s Tail Oily?

“Stud tail” is a condition that’s much more common among unneutered males, but it can occur in other cats, too. It’s caused by the secretions of overactive sebaceous glands — kind of like a teenager’s acne, Dr. Becker explains. It can become quite smelly and can get infected. If your cat’s tail becomes oily, you’ll want to visit the vet. Neutering can help in many cases. The vet will likely recommend a frequent cleansing of the area with a medicated shampoo and might treat it with antibiotics if it’s infected. After treatment, regularly cleaning of the area may help keep the problem under control.

happy tail Labrador Retriever iStock


What Is Happy Tail Syndrome?

Dogs with "happy tail” have a tendency to wag their tails in excitement so vigorously that they actually injure themselves, Dr. Becker writes. It’s most common in breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Great Danes, Greyhounds and Pit Bulls — all of whom have smooth, thin tails. They will sometimes bang their tails so hard against doors, fences or their kennel sides over a long period of time that the tip starts to bleed. Dr. Becker says that when an owner brings in a dog who has a tail with a bloody tip, he tells them, “Your dog smiles too much.”

Sometimes, tail chasing can mean there's a problem


Why Do Dogs Chase Their Own Tails?

This one’s a classic. Though many people assume their dog thinks he’s chasing prey that’s just out of reach, research suggests compulsive tail chasing may actually be the result of a medical condition, Dr. Becker says. A study published in the Journal of Small Animal Practice found that in some cases, high cholesterol levels might be to blame. The researchers discovered that dogs who didn’t chase their tails had lower cholesterol levels than those who did. The study also suggested that increasing the tail chasers’ exercise could help curb the behavior. If your dog chases his tail a lot, there could be other causes as well, so you should consult with your veterinarian.

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