Dr. Cohen- I think my dog might have some sort of “Fly Snapping” syndrome. He’s a small mixed breed dog (20lbs). He had a lepto vaccine on Friday. The next day, he started snapping at imaginary flies. He only does it when he’s idle… or resting. He will start to stare off into space at the ceiling, and then snap a couple of times at “flies” that arent there. I read online that it could be a sign of epilepsy. Could it just be a reaction to the vaccine? It seems like more than a coincidence. Otherwise, he’s fine. It just worries us because he has never acted like this before (he’s 3 years old).
Fly snapping, shadow or tail-chasing are all obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) and can be corrected with behavior modification. It is considered by some as a type of seizure disorder but this conclusion is not supported by all veterinary neurologists. If it were a seizure manifestation only then anti-seizure medications like phenobarbital would stop the behavior. Since fly biting can be corrected by behavior modification, I do not believe 100% that it is indeed a type of seizure.
As to whether or not the vaccination was the cause, I think that any “stress” can bring about an underlying illness or disorder. The trip to the vet., the injection and any discomfort brought about by both could have brought this underlying problem to the surface. I would recommend that you increase your dog’s exercise and activity by increasing the number of leash walks and time spent on each walk. Time is a precious commodity and there is very little of it these days but it is very important for your dog’s health to walk him 4 times daily for at least 45 minutes each walk. If you both can jog, this would work as well. When you see that your dog is going to fly snap, put his leash on immediately, and take him for a walk. Immediate action is needed to stop this behavior. Reward him when the behavior stops by praising him and/or giving him a treat. Please keep me posted as to your dog’s progress. Good luck!
–Dr. Elizabette Cohen
Fly Snapping, Part 2
Fly snapping and/or fly biting are repetitive behaviors and look like your dog is trying to bite the air in order to catch imaginary flies. Some neurologists have labelled “fly biters” as a kind of complex focal seizure where hallucinations are seen. If this is the only abnormal behavior that your dog is experiencing, then behavior modification should work.
However, if fly biting happens in addition to other forms of seizures or epilepsy then anti-seizure medication like phenobarbital should be prescribed by your vet, and blood tests are taken to monitor the phenobarbital levels in addition to other blood tests that specifically check the liver function. Unfortunately, all medications have side effects and phenobarbital can lead to liver problems. It is wonderful when behavior modification solves problems because it has no side effects.