Monday, July 30, 2012

Ask the Vet: My Dog Does Strange Things by Kristel Weaver, DVM, MPVM

If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then dogs must be from Pluto!  This article focuses on some dog behaviors that make us go “huh?”

My dog has these scary fits of wheezing and snorting with a scrunched face.   What is he doing?
These fits are called reverse sneezing and we think they occur when a dog has a tickle or irritation in his or her throat.  Allergies, mites, infection, a foreign object (like a blade of grass), or even excitement can cause reverse sneezing. Small breeds tend to do it more than large breeds, although it can happen to any dog and has been reported in cats. Reverse sneezing is normal and not harmful. If you feel like your dog reverse sneezes excessively bring it up at your next veterinarian appointment.

Why does my dog eat grass?
We think dogs eat grass for a variety of reasons. Some dogs only eat grass when they have an upset stomach and the grass makes them feel better or helps them to throw up. Other dogs like the taste of fresh grass and graze on it regularly. Other theories are that grazing is an ancestral behavior, that dogs have a nutritional deficiency and yearn for fresh greens, or that dogs eat grass out of boredom. If your dog is vomiting and acting sick while eating grass I recommend you take him or her to see your veterinarian. Otherwise eating grass is a normal dog behavior. Avoid using fertilizers or pesticides on your grass if your dog is a grazer.

Why does my dog scoot around the house, dragging his bottom on the floor?
Dogs scoot when something is itchy or uncomfortable around their anus. For example, full anal glands, allergies, or dingle-berries (my favorite term for feces stuck in the hair) may cause discomfort and lead to scooting. Parasites, a skin infection, or an anal gland abscess can also cause scooting. If your dog is scooting, I recommend having your veterinarian check him or her out.

My dog is obsessed with chewing on his feet, why?
The most common reason for dogs to lick or chew on their feet is allergies. Dogs may lick their feet because of an allergy to trees, grass, bushes, flowers, etc, or certain foods. Other than allergies, dogs may lick their feet because of a wound, infection, foxtail, tumor or arthritis. Talk to your veterinarian if your pet is licking his or her feet more than normal, the paws are red or swollen, or if it is interrupting daily events such as walks, play or sleep.

Whenever my dog meets another dog, he instantly goes to sniff the other dog’s butt.  Why are dogs so rude about sniffing private areas?
Sniffing another dog’s backside appears to be the socially acceptable method for dogs to greet one another and say hello. We really don’t know why they do it, just that it’s normal. Dogs have multiple glands around their anus, including their anal glands, which produce unique odors, and approximately one third of a dog’s brain is devoted to processing smells, so we speculate dogs gather information about the other dog by sniffing under the tail. If only they could tell us!

When your dog is doing something that seems odd, it might be that he is just “being a dog”.  What do you think dogs think about us? After all – we’re “only human”! Next month we will cover the strange things cats do. Send me your questions about wacky feline behavior to, subject line: My cat does strange things.

Dr. Kristel Weaver is a graduate of the Veterinary School at the University of California, Davis where she received both a DVM and a Master’s of Preventative Veterinary Medicine (MPVM).  She has been at Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center & Urgent Care in San Ramon since 2007.  She currently lives in Oakland with her husband and their daughter, Hayley.


  1. Love your blog Kristel. Makes me laugh.

  2. My husband calls our cats dingle-berries. I cracked up when I read the (scientific?) term in your article today. I had to share it with him. Too funny! :)

  3. Dear Kristel

    I'd love to hear your take on why dogs (or at least my dog) rub their faces on nasty things like poop, dead animals, foul-smelling patches of grass, etc.

    I have a Sheltie, he once found a dead pigeon and he wasted no time rubbing his face on it :(


    Jorge P.

    1. Jorge,

      My dog does it too and it's a gross habit! There are different theories on why dogs roll in smelly things - like to camouflage their own smell when hunting, to share information on what they found with their pack or that maybe they enjoy that odor and are putting on perfume. - Dr. Weaver

  4. I really enjoyed this article- thank you! I have question regarding what I have been told is called "The Zoomies": My dog runs around in a circle or immediate area really really fast with her bottom tucked under and ears pulled back. Sometimes it seems like she is in a playful mood and wants to get our attention but other times there doesn't seem to be a obvious reason for it. Any ideas? Thanks!

    1. Sounds like it's just your dog's way of expressing excitement and playfulness - not uncommon behavior among dogs! Often they will act this way later in the day, between 5pm and 7pm as this is the time to "hunt". Ultimately it is one of those strange, funny things that dogs do that endear them to us!