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Avatar universal

Chasing Imaginary flies

Hi there,
I have 2 little cross Pekingese/chihuahua's and they are almost 3 years old.
One of them has suddenly started snapping at imaginary flies around her head, even to the point that she thinks she actually is catching them.
It only seems to happen at night, usually as the sun goes down until she settles down to sleep for the night.  
Should I be concerned?

Many thanks!
10 Responses
675347 tn?1365460645
You say when she has this fly-snapping bout, she is fine afterwards, and settles to sleep, and there is no more of the same behavior until the next evening? When she starts doing it, is she in a bright environment, or a low-lit one?
The reason I'm asking is there is a certain type of seizure which can affect the vision, causing tiny spots of light to cross the visual field. These may be more noticeable to her with a slightly dimmer or darker background (ie evening light.)
I have forgotten what these seizures are called. I don't think it is anything to panic about or to get upset about, or an emergency situation at all,  but I do think it might be a good idea to take her to be looked at by a vet. They can run tests, to see what might be the cause. If they do diagnose seizure activity, I believe this type of seizure does respond to anti-convulsant medication. In order to help diagnosis, the vet may try a short trial of anti-convulsant meds.  

How is she before the fly-snapping starts? Is she lethargic beforehand, or showing any symptoms of not 'being quite herself'? Maybe not. I think that would likely mean the problem was less severe. (If it is caused by this in the first place.) But still, I would have the vet see her. It is always better to slightly over-react to a problem, than to ignore it, and then be told later when worse symptoms develop: "If only you'd done something about this many months ago"....

All that said, it may not be this. It may be simply a habit she has developed (perhaps started by REAL flies, and then continued, to amuse herself!) Oddly enough, we don't credit dogs with the ability to make things up like this, as to do so, implies a good sense of humour!but my Jack Russell years ago used to amuse himself by chasing and pouncing on imaginary mice! then turning to me with what could only be called a grin, as he held a non-existent mouse down on the ground with his paws!
Avatar universal
LOL! That is delightful hearing what your Jack Russell did, thank you for sharing that!

Your response: "You say when she has this fly-snapping bout, she is fine afterwards, and settles to sleep, and there is no more of the same behavior until the next evening? When she starts doing it, is she in a bright environment, or a low-lit one?"

(Jenni) Yes, this is definitely happening in dim light, or low-lit.  There is no change of behavior before or after and she responds to me if I call her and looks at me as if I'm interrupting something important!  It did start just after I had changed her shampoo and it had caused her skin to be terribly itchy and irritated (which I have changed the shampoo, but the snapping at flies is still there).
But it does make sense what you say about her "....certain type of seizure which can affect the vision, causing tiny spots of light to cross the visual field. These may be more noticeable to her with a slightly dimmer or darker background (ie evening light.)"

I will get her checked out, thank you so much for your response.
441382 tn?1452810569
"Fly-catching" has different causes.  It can be a part of the pre-ictal stage of epilepsy, meaning that dogs can go through a period of snapping at the air before the actual seizure itself occurs.  It can be caused by hallucinations due to neurological problems.  

It is, however, more commonly associated with a doggie version of an obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Just like some humans have strange things that they do for reasons known only to them, some dogs do the fly-catching thing.  

ALL seizure activity is serious, and while most of it is not serious enough to be a threat to the life of the animal, it should all be taken seriously and a veterinarian should be consulted if your dog ever does have an actual epileptic seizure.  

There are three degrees of seizures.  The petit mal seizure is often not even realized to BE a seizure.  It can be characterized by excessive drooling, whining, a brief loss of balance or perhaps an incident involving seemingly spontaneous urination.  These symptoms last only a few seconds, which is why they are often either overlooked or missed entirely by the dog's owner.

The grand mal seizure is what people think of when they picture an epileptic seizure.  It involves severe tremors, paw paddling, convulsions, loss of consciousness, and often uncontrolled urination or defecation.  These symptoms last usually one to two minutes, although when it's your dog having the seizure, it's the longest one or two minutes of your life.  It seems to go on forever.

The third type, status epilepticus, has the same symptoms as the grand mal seizure, however the symptoms last a much longer time, well in excess of five minutes, and when the symptoms go on for this long a period of time, they do pose a threat to the life of the dog.  ANY AND ALL seizure activity should be reported to the vet, but when a dog is status epilepticus an emergency trip to the clinic is what you do.

The general behavior of your dog immediately before, during and immediately after you see the fly-catching behavior will be your clue as to what the cause is.  If you notice any of the other symptoms of seizure activity immediately following the behavior, even if it is the symptoms of a petit mal seizure, should be reported to your vet.  If the dog displays no other symptoms of seizure activity either before or after the fly-catching episode, then chances are it is a doggie OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.  

Obsessive--compulsive disorders in dogs are not at all uncommon.  Some of the will incessantly lick their paws.  Some will lick other things, like windows or floors or even something with a texture to it.  Some will dig incessantly.  Some dogs will chew on rocks.  Some will snap at imaginary flies.  Because many of these behaviors are annoying to humans, the dog's owner will reprimand the dog for engaging in the behavior.  It has been discovered that the dogs are, in many cases, totally aware of what they are doing and feel an overwhelming need to do it, because these dogs will sneak off away from their owners to be able to engage in the behavior in the privacy of another room where the owner can't see them to reprimand them.  Dogs who have OCD often have other behavioral problems like separation anxiety, they may be fearful of loud things like thunderstorms, they may not like to be petted or have a lot of physical contact with humans.   With the fly-catching OCD, it may manifest itself when the dog finds itself in a situation that brings out the psychological disorder.  For example, if the dog is afraid of noise, it may snap at flies during a thunderstorm or while someone is hammering or while a lawnmower is running.  It may happen  if someone who doesn't know the dog insists on subjecting the animal to a prolonged period of petting or other unwanted physical contact.  

I know that I suggest this with many things, but as with anything else that is basically a mystery, the best way to determine the cause is to keep a journal.  It doesn't have to be an elaborate production a la "Gone With The Wind", but keep notes as to the activities going on in the dog's life that day.  What is the weather like?  Was anyone in the neighborhood doing any construction-type work that would cause loud noise?  Anyone having a party?  Thunderstorms?  Fireworks?  Was the dog left alone for a prolonged period of time with known separation anxiety?  Then make a note as to whether the dog exhibited the behavior or not, and which possible triggers occurred either before or after the behavior.  Eventually you will determine what, if not all, at least most of the triggers are for the behavior.  

In the case of an OCD like fly-catching, it isn't serious and only becomes a problem if it becomes so incessant that the dog is unable to function normally because of it.   It is, however, entirely possible to re-program your dog to not perform the obsessive-compulsive behavior any longer.  When you see the dog doing it, interrupt it and redirect its attention to something else.  Long periods of play are great for redirecting them.  When they are finished they are tired and often lay down and go to sleep, forgetting to snap at the flies or lick their paws or whatever their OCD is.  The more interaction you can get with them,  the more it redirects their mind.

My dog "Rosie" is a Sheba-Inu. She just turned 4 yrs old. Last year we had work done on the house. Added an extra room. So there was alot of banging and hammering for an extended amout of time. I was always home with her when the workers were here. She would tremble and practically end up in my lap for the duration. After the workers left and things settle down she was fine. She is a people " lover" . Loves attn.  We had introduced her to other dogs at 8 weeks old by bringing her to the dog park to socialize. She would at time be " doghandled" by the bigger dogs especially when first appearing at the dog park. They would all flock to her sometimes as many as six at a time. Suround her and sometimes nip at her hind legs. As she got older and bigger she was able to stand up for herself.  Until one day all the other dogs had left the park. Two remainded. They were black terriers. Mother and daughter. The mother confronted Rosie head on while the daughter went for her hindend.  Rosie reared up and would have done some serious damage to the daughter as she had the dog on the ground and by the throat in an instant. Had I not intervened I believe that dog would have been a goner.
       Back to my original story.  We had a familly emergency and had to leave. We had to kennel her her at a nice place. We would get snapshots of her with other dogs playing during the day at various times for "play-time". We when picked her up we were told that she had hardly eaten for the duration of her stay. We get her home she was nervous and anxious. A cpl days later we took her to her Dog Park. She was now the aggressor. We decided to not take her back.  During our walks now I have to watch her when getting near other dogs on a leash. She will lash out. There are a couple of dogs she likes and will try to play with.  She has been exibetting the " fly biting syndrome" off and on for over a year.  I should mention its been two yrs since we had to kennel her. She has recently started back up lashing at the air and seemingly seeing something that is not there.  Snapping at the air as if she is seeing something. I distract her and it stops. This lasts off and on for a few weeks and then it seems to subside for a few months and then comes back.  She has never been afraid of thunder and lightning. Doesn't faze her a bit. We have talked to the vet about it and she seems a bit nonchalant about the situation. We have also spoken to her groomer. Groomer says she noticed a " new tic".. She is now lapping het tongue in the air the whole time she is grooming her and washing her.  That doesn't bother me. What does bother me is her " fly snapping" and seeing things that aren't there. There  is alot " nonsense" things I have mention here and have probably gone on way too long but I wanted to give you her history.  Basically we have gotten little or no feed back from the vet.  Is there a vitamin or some kind of herbal remedy that would make this behavior subside. The vet suggested she be put on an anti anxiety drug. Is that neccesary. We are reluctant to do that. What would you suggest? Sorry this was so long and drawn out. We love our dog and want the best possible life for her.
Avatar universal
My dog used to chase the shadows of butterflies.  And he snapped at flies as well.  It was just part of his persona- something he liked to do.  Could it be that simple?  If your dog is on some kind of meds, though, probably time to wean off of that and find a natural supplement to replace it. My dog was on Prion for a few weeks, (we were only giving 1/4 the dose recommended)...and my dog would stare strangely into space, even cocking her head as if she was fascinated by an imaginary fly or animal in front of her-  we took her off of that, pronto.  Anyways, flea, tick, heartworm, worming meds,...all that stuff are poisons/pesticides, so pharmaceuticals might be the culprit.  There are a lot of natural supplement alternatives for pest control that don't involve pharmaceuticals.  I'd definitely look in that direction and throw out unnecessary pet meds for a natural alternative.
Avatar universal
Thank you so much for such a detailed reply, Ghilly. Very good idea on the journalling and I will start one this week.  
She is a very bright dog and an amazing hunter with a sharp eye and nose.  When I work on my laptop with her on my lap, she will stare intently on the mouse cursor, and when the cursor stops moving (ie, I'm reading something), she will pounce on the screen, thinking it is a real fly!  Once I opened a Yahoo commercial and many butterflies fluttered across the screen, that was her ultimate!

Dogmom192, she has had no pharmaceutical meds for at least a year, if not more, so it could be something so simple as something she likes to do, and perhaps it is turning into an OCD as Ghilly suggested.

I will keep you all posted with my journal, thanks again for your replies, you have all calmed my fears!

441382 tn?1452810569
It sounds to me like it's definitely an OCD in her case.  My collie has the same thing, we always say that she's killing green fairies when she does that.  In her case she does it when she gets excited about something.  If you get her keyed up about something, for example, if you ask her if she wants to go out, if you're not quick enough getting the leash out and putting it on her, she'll catch flies until you've got the leash on and are on your way with her.  With her, it's a sign of impatience.

I can just picture your dog going after the butterflies on your computer screen!  LOL  How funny!  And Ginger, your dog with the imaginary mouse is just priceless!!  LOLOL!!

Avatar universal
There's a daily supplement to throw in the food bowl made by Springtime, Inc. that is supposed to help dogs with nervous or neurotic behaviors:  it's called "Stress Free Calmplex."  It's all-natural, and not a medicine, but a daily food supplement.  A lot of times problems evolve from a lack of a mineral or vitamin or amino acid of some sort in their diet, (even with the best food) - just their particular body chemistry needs a little more of something.  Anyways, there are lots of testimonials on their website about the product- so you could read about and see what you think.   I know with my dog, she had a leaking problem, (which was becoming chronic at times) but a natural food supplement added to her diet made all the difference in the  world,  (no more leaking).  Might be worth looking into-  often times nutrition/intake is at the base of problems.
Avatar universal
Hi all,

I house sit my folks place whilst they travel. My folks have been away for the past month and one dog has begun fly snapping quiet often and follows me everywhere. Howls during the day when I'm not home and I have taken her to the vet had full blood tests done they came back being a little high in liver/kidney everything else all good. The fly snapping happens throughout the day n worsens at evening and she keeps me up most of the night sooking at the door. The vet have me valium for her to help sleep n relax which I have been giving her for the past few weeks at night. My folks have returned home two days ago and the dog is still fly snapping and sooking. My folks are worried about her especially as she is stressed and fly snapping a lot. Can anyone suggest what to do ???
974371 tn?1424653129
First of all, this is a very old thread and you may get more responses starting a new thread.
This can actually be, or be, a symptom of oetit mal seizures.
Avatar universal
I have notice that anytime my dog fly bite he is having problems with his stomach. It has happened 4 times. He started fly biting again 3 days ago and this time it progressed to gnawing on things around the house. I know when he is having problems with his stomach when he passes gas and it smells so bad. Usually I give him olive oil for constipation and he stops the fly biting. When I starting searching I found a website that was a study on fly biting and they think also that it may be caused by the GI problems..
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