What is fly biting?
A rare condition, fly biting, also called fly catching or fly snapping syndrome, is a condition in which your dog will appear to focus their gaze at something in the air and will ‘snap’ or bite at it. It is often accompanied by barking, jumping, licking and excessive swallowing.
What causes fly biting?
If your dog is snapping at the air but is not being playful or feeling threatened, it may be a sign of a neurological condition, behavioural problem or eyesight issue.
Repetitive episodes of fly-catching behaviour may occur if your dog experiences hallucinations as a result of a partial seizure, also called a focal onset sensory seizure. These are partial seizures which can alter your dog’s consciousness, causing them to appear to hallucinate, causing the fly biting. In some cases, these seizures can be accompanied by aggression or rage, while others may simply appear disorientated for a short amount of time.
There is research to show that dogs who present fly biting behaviour may be experiencing esophageal discomfort due to intestinal abnormalities or problems.
Compulsive behavioural disorders:
Similar to ‘tics’ in humans, compulsive behavioural disorders, while uncommon, can occur in dogs who are anxious or bored, and can be a sign of aggression. In these cases, fly-snapping may be a way of getting attention. If your animal can be distracted from fly snapping behaviour, and if it only occurs in specific situations, it is likely that this is learned and not due to a medical condition.
Your dog may be experiencing problems with their eyesight, which can explain the fly biting behaviour. Any alterations in vision, such as cysts or vitreous floaters, can be disorientating for your dog, while it is possible that conditions such as migraines could also be responsible for the behaviour.
The condition is most common in Cavalier King Charles spaniels, and is thought to be an inherited disease.
Can it be cured?
As fly snapping is usually a result of another condition or illness, treatment usually is designed to deal with the underlying causes.
If the fly-catching is a symptom of a damaged GI tract, there are a number of treatments – from dietary changes to food-allergy testing and the use of enzymes and probiotics – that can help to resolve and relieve symptoms and reduce inflammation.
If the behaviour is found to be as a result of compulsive behavioural disorder, drug therapies can help your dog to remain calm. However, if you can easily identify why or when your dog exhibits fly catching behaviour early-on, you may be able to stop the condition from progressing with behavioural therapies to offer your dog alternative coping strategies.. Similarly, ensuring that your pet receives enough exercise and mental stimulation can go a long way towards decreasing their stress levels.
If eyesight problems are causing the behaviour, the condition will need to be diagnosed and then treated by surgery or laser therapies to correct the vision.
What should I do if my dog is snapping the air?
While fly catching is common in puppies who are excited or playful, if the behaviour continues as your dog gets older, you should consult your veterinarian to ensure your pet has no underlying GI, neurological or eyesight conditions.