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The following information was originally posted to the Bull-Terriers Yahoo group a few years back, and is used with permission of the list moderator and Dr. Moon-Fanelli. It addresses many of the common concerns about spinning.

Date: Wed Apr 11, 2001 3:45 pm
Subject: Spinning Bull Terriers

After sending my previous post, I do wish to emphasize that potential participants in the BT study should contact me at my Tufts e-mail address and not through this list since I will probably only have time to check this list on rare occasion. I do hope that my occasional presence on the list won't inhibit anyone from speaking their mind --I'm pretty easy-going and any research worth doing usually keeps one humble and open-minded!

After perusing a couple posts, I would like to make a few comments. After all, if I'm asking for your help, seems like it's only fair to pass on what I've learned from the you folks and your dogs.

Docking tails DOES NOT cure spinning. It can be helpful, however, in cases where dogs continue to mutilate their tail. Constant physical discomfort will continue to focus the dog's attention on its tail and perpetuate the problem oftentimes over riding all attempts at behavior modification and pharmacological intervention. Thus medical conditions must be addressed when treating compulsive disorders.

Our genealogical data thus far indicates that tail chasing in Bull Terriers is likely polygenic, and with luck only a few major genes may be involved. The next stage (which is where we are at now) is to collect blood specimens from pedigrees of dogs that have known spinners in the line. Our long term goal is to identify loci important in this disease and then use that information to contribute data to the development of diagnostics, a treatment and possibly a cure for the disease. Once sufficient data are collected Dr. Ostrander is committed to obtaining funds to undertake a genetic screen of the families. Our expectation is that this will result in identification of chromosomal regions which contain susceptibility genes. 

Once a gene(s) is found it will be up to Bull Terrier owners and breeders to decide how to use the information. When dealing with breeds that have a limited gene pool, your best bet is to avoid breeding carriers to carriers. It is not advisable to remove carriers from the already limited gene pool as this will likely just result in another, different, genetic disease. Thus the breeding stock doesn't need to be reduced, but rather the information will help breeders to make more sensible breeding choices. At the point where a gene(s) is found, we will make the information available so that diagnostic tests can be developed by others. Such tests will not be offered by Dr. Ostrander's lab which is strictly a research facility.

One myth I would like to clear up is that spinning is different from tail chasing. My research indicates that spinning and tail chasing are one and the same thing. Most dogs express tail chasing and spinning interchangeably and I often find that chasing focused on the tail precedes rapid spinning bouts. I have identified two behavioral categories of tail chasers that differ in the frequency and degree of expression. Some mildly affected dogs (sub-clinical) may only tail chase on occasion and in response to specific stressors (or stimuli that increase levels of arousal). These dogs can be readily interrupted, seem aware of their surroundings and the behavior can often be controlled by eliminating the offending trigger. These dogs are generally not a concern from a behavioral standpoint. They are however of interest to me in terms of the research.

Other dogs may tail chase anywhere from 2-3 times per day up to 80% of their waking hours on a daily basis. These moderately to severely affected dogs are often unable to function normally and their relationship with their owner may be impaired.  The range of age of onset I have observed extends from 2 months to 10 years of age. However, the typical age of onset generally occurs between 6-16 months of age. The onset may be sudden with no apparent eliciting trigger, particularly in young dogs. In other cases the onset may be sudden but associated with exposure to a clearly identifiable trigger. Alternatively, the onset may be gradual with the dog showing mild, occasional and easily interrupted bouts (subclinical) that over time and in response to environmental pressures gradually erupt into the full-fledged condition. Both the dog's genetic background and environmental influences likely influence the variation in development.

For those interested, please see the following reference:

Serum concentrations of zinc and copper in Bull Terriers with lethal acrodermatitis and tail chasing behavior. Uchida, Y; Moon-Fanelli AA, Dodman NH et al. AJVR VOL 58 Aug 1997. Based on a small sample size, the zinc and copper results from this population did not support a common cause for tail chasing and lethal acrodermatitis. Evidence for a causal relationship is also not supported by geneological data at this time. 

Also, I should mention that an extraordinarily large number of Bull Terriers trance. Some tail chase while others do not. While trancing is an abnormal behavior, I now view it as separate from tail chasing. In other words, if any of you have a Bullie that's currently walking in slo mo under your Norfolk Pine as you read this---don't panic that this will eventually evolve into tail chasing!

Hope this clarifies some questions. Again, if you wish to participate in the study, please contact me at my Tufts e-mail as I won't have the luxury to visit this list on a regular basis. If you need help with a behavior problem, please request a PETFAX consultation form by calling 508-839-5395 x84640. If you have questions about my research,  I'll be happy to supply a quick answer.

Alice Moon-Fanelli, PhD
Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist
Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine
Dept of Clinical Sciences
200 Westboro RD
North Grafton MA 01536

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