Air snapping or fly-biting as it’s also known, is not uncommon in dogs. But what does it mean, and do you need to take action? Pippa Mattinson investigates.
It’s always a bit worrying when a puppy or dog behaves in a way that seems odd.
Air snapping is one of those slightly strange behaviors that can seem cute when a tiny puppy occasionally does it. But then becomes worrying if it persists.
Air snapping can take several different forms, and each may have a different cause. So it’s important to address these differently
Snapping at the air can fall into one of the following four categories
- Habit or compulsion
- Underlying disorder
Air snapping as a warning
This is not normally seen in puppies but IS commonly seen in older dogs that are being pestered by puppies.
The older dog will give all the normal signals that it doesn’t want to play. The puppy of course ignores these.
The older dog will then escalate the warning by curling its lip.
If the puppy continues to ignore the warning, the older dog will then air snap towards the puppy before escalating further into a growling snap.
Don’t ignore the warning
More rarely this behavior will be displayed towards people. And the behavior may be triggered by anxiety or irritation.
It’s very important that dogs are not punished for giving these kinds of warnings. But that the situation that triggered them are addressed.
So older dogs, for example, must be given opportunity to get away from puppies and small children.
Air snapping in play
Sometimes puppies will snap at the air during play.
It’s harmless enough but if it happens frequently, may be an indication that the puppy needs more mental stimulation.
Think about how you might spend more time training your puppy, and playing structured games that keep his brain occupied.
If a dog is bored enough, often enough, air snapping could become a habit.
Air snapping as a habit or compulsion
When air snapping is repeated over and over again it’s often referred to as ‘fly biting’, or ‘fly catching syndrome’.
Repetitive fly biting or air snapping is not normal and you need to chat to your vet about it.
Air snapping can sometimes be part of a group of behaviors that come together under the heading of Canine Compulsive Disorder.
There are treatments for this kind of behavioral disorder that can work well if started early on. So don’t delay before contacting your veterinarian
Air snapping as a symptom of an underlying disease
Sometimes, air snapping can be a symptom of a more serious underlying disorder.
Such as the Chiari malformation which can be found in dogs with flattened skulls.
It has also been associated with gastrointestinal disorders and with seizures (see references below).
What should I do about air snapping?
If you puppy shows signs of repeated air snapping, or if your older dog develops this habit, it’s a good idea to have a chat with your veterinarian.
Make an appointment within the few days.
Sooner if your dog has any other symptoms.
Video the behavior
Dogs rarely oblige and give a nice demo of the problem when they are taken to the animal hospital.
So do take a video of the behavior with your smartphone, if you have one, to show the vet.
In most cases, air snapping or fly-biting is not a big deal.
The chances are it’s just a sign of boredom and won’t persist past puppy playfulness.
But it’s better to get advice sooner rather than later if you notice this behavior in your dog. So that it can be treated if necessary.
- Dennis O Brien DVM Fly-biting
- Wrzosek, M. et al. Retrospective multicenter evaluation of the “fly-catching syndrome” in 24 dogs: EEG, BAER, MRI, CSF findings and response to antiepileptic and antidepressant treatment. Epilepsy & Behavior 2015
- Michele James DVM Underlying Gastrointestinal Disease May Manifest as Neurologic Signs in Canine Patients
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