Is This REALLY Funny? Dog Attacking Its Own Foot…

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By Dr Sophia Yin

If you’re one of the millions of people who have seen this video, you either laughed or you were appalled. The video received instant fame when it was on America’s Funniest Home Videos many years ago, garnering many audience chuckles; however, from a veterinarian’s perspective, this dog’s behavior raises some serious red flags.

Based on just this small clip with no history or other information, I recently showed this video to three neurologists and all three felt that the number one rule out for the twitching of the hind leg was that it was caused by a mis-firing of neurons in the brain, in other words, a seizure.

Says Dr. Curtis Dewey, an associate professor of neurology at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, “My first thought is that it is a focal seizure that should be treated with anticonvulsants.” That means that the mis-firing occurs in a very localized area of the brain rather than a larger area that could lead to a full blown grand mal seizure. Generally speaking, seizures tend to keep occurring and they also tend to increase in frequency, since each seizure increases the likelihood that another will occur. And overall when compared to the more common generalized seizures that cause dogs to collapse and convulse, says Dewey, “focal seizures tend to be harder to control.” So, this dog could be experiencing this twitching quite often.

But if its a seizure causing the leg to twitch why would the dog attack his leg? Since I can’t read the dog’s mind, I don’t know, but it’s not difficult to imagine how a weird sensation might make an otherwise rawhide possessive dog (or even one who is not possessive), act as though the leg with the odd sensation was something suspicious. Cat’s react like this relatively frequently. For instance, if you’ve ever seen a cat who’s wearing a cast due to a broken leg you might see some odd behavior. If the cat doesn’t like the cast for some reason—such as it’s uncomfortable or just weird— all kinds of hissing and attacking can occur, as if the cat thinks the leg is possessed and coming after him! This is clearly not a state of mind conducive to quick healing!

Dewey brings up another reason why the dog might attack his leg, and that is that the leg might even be painful. He suggests that a dog showing these signs be examined for a mass pushing on the nerves coming out of the spine.

Of course there are other behavioral or physiologic possibilities that are non-painful too and we don’t even have the full picture. Humans with Tourette syndrome have uncontrollable movements and those with diseases such as schizophrenia have hallucinations that can cause them to react aggressively. While neither disease is physically painful, they are psychologically trying.

Overall, my take on this situations, is, that clearly the dog is upset enough to become aggressive much in the same way that a child repeatedly teased might learn to resort to hitting. So at minimum, when deciding if something is funny, one should consider whether you are laughing at a medical disorder and whether the behavior is damaging mentally or physically to the dog.

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17 responses to “Is This REALLY Funny? Dog Attacking Its Own Foot…

    1. My English pointer dog is also doing this plz help me . she is 1year old and has started doing this a month ago plz help

  1. They probably couldn’t say much unless owner gave permission due to doctor-client relationship. But if they did get permission it would have been cool to post the info somewhere where behaviorists and neurologists could view it. On the other hand, I wonder if they went to their vet before or AFTER they send the video to America’s Funniest Home Videos!

  2. While it may seem funny how the dog is confused that the foot is another object to chew voraciously, it is clearly an abnormal action. Any thing abnormal should scream unhealthy in mind and or body!!!! This dog very likely has abnormal functioning in the brain or body and needs veterinary help. Would you laugh at a parkinson’s sufferer slapping themselves during an intention tremor to reach a glass of water? I hope not.

    My best hope is that more veterinarians will call attention to these “funny” videos and point out the pain and problems that the animal is going through.

  3. This video is not funny, it is sad. The dog is not showing normal behavior. A normal dog does not have his leg come up like this and then try to attack it. There is something wrong with the dog. He needs to be seen by a specialist.

  4. dogs are really so amazing that they are getting confused all the time.this dog is really amazing…..really a funny material.

  5. Aside from a seizure , this reminds me a lot of some birds I worked with who bite their feet in a very aggressive way, it was a fairly common behavior among birds and seems to stem from a sort of redirected aggression. Kind of like “stay away from me, look how mean I am” then bites own foot to demonstrate…

  6. Thanks for blogging on this, I do recall seeing this video a couple years ago and being appalled. I notice in the comments here that the owners did consult with a vet – I really hope this is under control and that the owners are taking it seriously!
    Along the same lines, this video (and others of the same dog) went viral in the last couple of years as well. It is viewed similarly, lots of comments about how funny it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2BgjH_CtIA

  7. I read sometime in the last couple of years about a kind of brain problem in humans where a limb is seen as an evil and foreign, hateful object. Its some kind of brain problem but I cant remember if its a seizure or a brain damage issue. The limb is not seen as part of the self at all and feels intrusive and sinister. I thought of this when I saw the video of the dog. In humans they often have to amputate the hateful limb because there is no cure for the perception.

  8. Could dogs be so protective of their food that some are just practicing what their reaction will be if any other dog tries to eat their meal?

  9. I have a 2 year old Maltese Shih Tzu mix and she growls at her foot every time after she scratches an ear. She is a bright, extremely friendly and enter little girl I can’t believe that there is something wrong with her.

    1. Laurie Moore have you had any success in finding out more? We have a Maltese cross Bichon and she attacks both her back legs regularly every day and we notice also seems to be scratching her ear area. HEr behaviour is like the dog in this video. We know she doesn’t have fleas and no one seems to be able to see any rashes etc. our dog is not quite one year old. she also is bright and happy but since being desexed a few days ago the snarling at her back legs has got worse!

  10. The obvious clue that something is wrong is that the dog repeatedly bites its foot, but does not react to the pain. The normal reaction would be avoiding an action that causes pain. Clearly, there is a neurological issue.

  11. I just saw someone post this video clip again, and others responded with laughing emojis. It is not funny. It’s sad. As an RN, I can understand how this could be a focal seizure, but it seems as if there may be more going on here. The dog doesn’t seem to recognize its own leg. It’s as though there’s some kind of lapse in recognition that the leg is part of the dog’s body, and is an intruder after his bone.

  12. I have a 5 year old Jack a poo who has done this since he was 4 months old. He started off with his tail, food was the trigger. It grew to be more triggers over a years time. Triggers included: anxiety over someone getting his toys or routine changes. He has a couple of odd ones, like when my husband gets in or out of the bed. We eventually had his tail surgically removed because he mauled it so bad. He then started attacking his back paw. We have tried Prozac but it didn’t really help. He is a smart dog and we love him immensely. We have learned to how to handle him as best we can. Victoria Stillwell said that this is an anxiety disorder and food is usually the first trigger. It makes me sad to see the dog in the video because so many people do not understand 🙁

  13. I have a blue healer 1 year old and he recently started doing this. I have seen him do it about five times. I have to keep him outside now in a pin because I have a 3 year who likes to come up and pet him and when he has his little episode’s I’m afraid he will bite my son accidentally because he is clearly unaware of where he is and what is even going on we have tried calming him but he goes right back to it seconds late. I have watched him outside and I have not seen him do that once so its just when he comes inside. Its frightening because he will attack amy part of his body he can reach leg tail his butt but he never really bites down on himself just acts unaware of his surroundings completely goes from normal to ballistic he will roll on his back like he is fighting an invisible animal. I have a small rat terrier who is so mean to him wont let him get food have to feed them seperate and keep the terrier away from him he is jealous of my healer since he was our only dog for three years then we got the healer last year…they use to get along but over time the terrier just doesn’t want any of us giving the other dog attention at all and shows out too. I’m really concerned for my healer because he is such a smart dog, this started happening last month and I am fearful that he may have phsycodic personality because when we got him the previous owner who had him clearly abused this puppy we had to save him from worms he almost died the previous owners was letting him feed on a dead deer, sick people man…so we swooped him up and nursed him back to health and he has been strong and healthy playful but recently this started happening so I seen this and had to share my story. The video up there is horrible my dog acts way worse then that dog he knocks over furniture and snaps at anything that gets near him, we all yell his name and just stand back and make room for his little episodes because he clearly doesn’t know what’s happening or where he is. The other day he did it and I just grabbed him and hugged him around his chest and neck and pet him on his chest and softly said his name and he snapped out of it…its very sad.

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