What is Fly-Snapping Syndrome?

August 27, 2014

Langley's dog fly snapBy Langley Cornwell

I wanted to write this article because one of our pups has developed a new tic. At first we thought it was just another oddity specific to him, but when I researched the characteristics of his new tic, I discovered it was a real syndrome: Fly-Snapping Syndrome.

There are times when we are all relaxing in the family room and suddenly Big Al will repeatedly snap at the air as if a swarm of insects are flying around his head. He seems to focus his eyes on the area right in front of his face, and move his head around as if he’s looking at flies, even though nothing is there. Then he’ll often become fixated on staring at his front legs, as if he expects to find something crawling on them. He may start licking his front legs, and then go back to staring into space and snapping at imaginary flies. Our dog’s episodes of snapping at invisible insects can be infrequent, or can occur repeatedly throughout the day.

What are Compulsive Behaviors?

Fly-Snapping (also called fly-biting) is one of many compulsive behaviors that dogs commonly display. Other compulsive behaviors include tail chasing, spinning, pacing, toy fixation, shadow or light chasing, repeated licking, chewing or scratching, flank sucking, excessive water drinking and nonstop barking. Some dogs display compulsive behaviors over and over to the point where the behaviors interfere with their normal lives.

Compulsive canine behaviors include any repetitive actions that dogs perform unprompted. Normal dogs may engage in similar activities, but they usually do so in response to specific triggers and not compulsively.

What Causes Fly-Snapping Syndrome?

Canine Fly-Snapping Syndrome can be an obsessive-compulsive behavior problem, the result of genetics or caused by an array of issues that range from eye problems to a form of epilepsy. The fact is, veterinary neurologists and other experts do not all agree on the cause(s), so the syndrome is generally labeled as an idiopathic disorder, which means the cause is unknown. The thought that fly-snapping is a kind of complex partial seizure is a theory that is gaining traction, but the evidence has not been substantiated.
Langley's dog Big Al fly snapping
The belief that Fly-Snapping Syndrome is a form of epilepsy stems from the knowledge that hallucinations can be an indicator of epilepsy in humans. Furthermore, epileptic seizures can cause isolated actions in both humans and canines.

My husband and I studied our dog the other night when he was having a fly-snapping episode. As he studiously chomped at the air, it was impossible to determine whether he was seeing imaginary insects or experiencing involuntary movements. When he starts fly-snapping, his actions are so focused and convincing that I’m leaning towards the belief that he is actually experiencing hallucinations; but of course, he can’t tell us.

How to Help a Dog with Fly-Snapping Syndrome

If your dog seems to bite at imaginary flying insects or shows any other common compulsive behaviors, the first thing to do is to rule out possible medical conditions. After we got Big Al checked out by our veterinarian, there were several things we learned to do.

As soon as our dog starts to snap at the air, we distract him. It’s usually something as simple as calling his name and inviting him up on the sofa with us. We’ve also had good success with redirecting his attention to a puzzle-type toy stuffed with CANIDAE Life Stages Bakery Snacks. Sometimes we’ll ask him to perform a previously learned trick. Anything that distracts him or redirects his attention will usually break the spell.

Since we noticed Big Al’s fly-snapping episodes, we’ve also been diligent about providing him more mental and physical stimulation. We’ve increased the duration of our walks and added more interactive games to our daily routine. All of these things seem to be working for him.

If you have any advice about managing Fly-Snapping Syndrome, please share your suggestions in the comment section below.

Photos: “Big Al” by Langley Cornwell

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell

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  1. Dan says:

    I have a 7-year old Bichon frise. She’s biting at the air, licking and scratching. This is upsetting to us and we don’t know what to do. The snapping at the air is new behavior and seems to be increasing its frequency. I hope it’s not canine epilepsy. We will take her to the vet next week, but in the meantime, I am just needing words of encouragement from those who are dealing with this issue in their pups. Thank you for any hope you can offer.

    1. Dan Parkison says:

      Our 2 year old Bichon has a similar diagnosis. It started slowly 6 months ago—then increased in frequency and intensity. Much research has shown this syndrome to be diet related. Since changing her diet to a VERY strict vet prescribed dog-food and nothing else….her symptoms are decreasing more every week. New research has shown that almost every dog with fly-biting syndrome has gastro-intestinal problems.

  2. Danica says:

    My mini schnauzer takes seizure medicine 3 times a day for this. It works. They are called partial focal seizures aka fly biting.

  3. Miss Opt1mistyc says:

    I’m now more concerned than ever after reading this clip on fly-snapping syndrome. My Chihuahua gets som frustrated with this behaviour that he will jump up as if frustrated and burrow himself under cover. He’s been doing this for about two months when I started going to work but now it’s excessive associated with licking his front paws so much that I’m afraid he’s going to kick them raw. I’ll follow the advice of distracting him but I feel so sad and concerned for him.

  4. William says:

    Dog has fly-snapped in past but I attributed to the headlamp I wore which may have attracted actual bugs. But, tonight, he stopped & stared near the half moon in the dimming cobalt blue clear sky. He became scarred and started running away into the woods. Returned with whistle but kept nervously fixing his gaze skyward with tail between legs. Thought it was him noticing the moon at first, but then I thought of my own visual condition: floaters! Against that kind of sky, floaters would be pronounced (I don’t notice mine any more). They would resemble giant flying worms to him, which would explain his reaction. But, his reaction was also consistent with that of seeing an hallucination, too. I hope it’s not the latter; that would seem to be very troubling.

  5. Matthew Stuber says:

    My mom’s dog sneezed like crazy, then the next day it had to go the vet and did the same thing in front of the vet. The vet thought that it foxtail in the nose, so it was sedated and probed with not success. The dog was shaved on the paw for an IV and has come home barely wanting to walk and constantly worrying about the leg. He is fly biting like crazy and I’m sure he is hallucinating. It’s like he came home a different dog completely. He ignores us and doesn’t growl when we pick him up like he used to. Going to talk to vet tomorrow, but not eager to take him back to that hellhole. I could hear him crying when I picked him up for the probe and he cried all the way home too. Not happy since.

  6. jenny says:

    I have an English bulldog that just started lip licking fly biting and is having head tremors vet wants to refer to neurologist and I have read a couple comments about nexgard which he is on monthly! Please any suggestions I am not sure if I should take him to neurologist or wait and see if it goes away on its own!

  7. Dani says:

    Hi! This sounds similar to what our Yorkshire Terrior has. Lately he’s been constantly licks his upper front arms and barking at our breakfast bar. And this afternoon I saw him chasing his back feet almost making him fall down. He hasn’t been snapping at thin air though.
    Thanks for your info and time!

  8. Shay says:

    I have a Pomeranian/mix and he is going through these spells and I am trying to figure out how to stop him from having them episodes at times I notice it said they could be having a seizure I have seizures myself the info u gave was helpful

  9. Anne says:

    My dog has the fly biting syndrome. I changed his food first which helped some.I put him on capsules made from hemp oil from Canna Pet. It helped him alot and he may have a episode a couple times a year. The vets only gave me drugs to dope him up. With Canna Pet he is like himself.

  10. elaine bromley says:

    Do dogs have floaters, like the human eye?

    1. William says:

      Floaters is what I suspect most in my dog, but he’s only about 2 yrs. He ran into & through the woods in a panic. Never saw him that fearful…which makes me more concerned about the possibility of hallucination. / Back to floaters: I have severe floaters, but have had for so many yrs I just ignore them now. Based on what I’ve learned about human eyes (I’ve also had a detached retina & strabismus), it would seem likely that dogs could likewise have them….but only a vet can give a qualified opinion. (I hope it’s only a floater problem.)

  11. kev says:

    hello all
    i wanted to shed a bit of lihjt on fly biting syndrome it seems alot of you out there are experiencing this problem. my bulldog bitch as just started doing it. seems to be brought on after feeding and at night no noise etc to trigger the episode.

    I have found that flaxseed oil is good for fits or ticking the dose of flaxseed is 1 tablespoon a day iam also adding virgin coconut oil 1 teaspoon a day. and cbd oil 3 times a day 3 drops or so. seems to be helping

  12. Pamela Mahowald says:

    Our veterinarian said our dog has this, but our dog doesn’t snap at all. He just looks up like he sees something and his eyes are looking for something. Is this the same thing?

  13. christine woo says:

    Apr 04, 2016
    Fly Biting: Is it a Seizure or a Digestive Disorder?petMD Logo
    by Dr. Jennifer Coates . I am from Singapore who has a shiba Inu that display chomping at air or imaginary flies . When symptoms happen it would be non stop even he could not be able to sleep for 48 hours
    After forwarded the above article to my vet she finds it interesting and gave my dog Mylanta similar to antacid 3 ml four times a day and also xepasone for ichy .
    It helps to reduce the frequency . Also when my dog starts to display sympton I quickly put a plastic hood for dog over his head which really claim him down . Now he goes to sleep at night with hood on whenever this behaviour come.

  14. Desiree luke says:

    My Pomeranian named B-MO has been doing this act all day he looks around in the air with his ears up like he here’s flies all around he doesn’t snap at them instead he jumps up from where he’s laying proceeds to run off and just start biting on himself like the freaking fly landed on him but there’s never been any fly nor Insect around him but after he does this little episode he seems very tired and falls asleep and when he awakes he does it all over again please tell me my best friend is NOT going to die?

  15. Vicki says:

    My dog is an 8 yr old terrier mix who has been fly snappy most of his life. When it’s real bad he hides beside the toilet or someplace small and safe. I have had many test to no avail but what works for me is to give him a benadryl pill and hold him until it calms him down. This has been the most effect and cost efficient treatment to date.

  16. Dede says:

    Adopted 95% deaf 8 month old Rottie. Not a happy life before here. She’s now 2 1/2 yrs. She has had oc/dc about light always. (chasing at shadows and light). Now, episodes of “fly biting”, which I just found out tonight was something other dogs had to. Have narrowed down hers is brought on my big time by her meds. (great product, revolution.)
    Other Rotts before her just fine on this her no. Switched meds to isolate. Went to a heartworm chew great. Flea/tick pill… we’re 4 hrs into it the mania. It was the flea/tick pill. Thanks
    p.s. to all the people that posted prior. TY . You let me know that it’s just not my beloved Paikia that “bites at the flies” I can’t see. 🙂

    1. LAURA ADAMS says:

      you switched to Revolution or that was the problem ? my dog is on it and i am having the fly snapping problem

  17. Chris says:

    We have a German Shepherd that is 4 years old. He was diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy after a $5,000+ neurology work-up. His fly biting and OCD paw licking/chewing stared at age 2 after his Panosteitis (Self-limiting bone disease) resolved. He was put on Phenobarbital and then later added Potassium Bromide. The neurologist said he would act like a 6 month old pup forever basically. The fly biting remained. More blood work and increasing of medications. Again after 2 years of the same medications and still have episodes of fly biting and paw OCD, I had enough. The episodes were every 2-3 months and would last 2 weeks or so. It became the “norm” that he would have accidents in the house and cleaning urine and stool was a daily routine on the hard wood floor. It was as if he was 6 months old forever. I went to a canine behavioralist that diagnosed him on the “Autism Spectrum”. She added Ativan to his medications. I then started my pup on home made food thinking it was an allergy or reaction to dog food. No luck. So, my fiancé and I wheened him off the phenobarbital so that the doctor could have him on Prozac (as both affect the liver). We both are RN’s and have done research on these canine issues and what could possibly help. The Prozac has HELPED! He is sleeping again at night and leaving his foot alone (knock on wood). He seems to be doing well on the Prozac, and our other German shepherd that is 6 years old seems to enjoy his company more now!! Hahah does anyone else has a similar situation with their dog on Prozac? Or with the fly biting and paw destroying behavior??? Thanks!!!!

  18. Snapping Chow says:

    I have a chow mix who is about 14 years old. He always did a bit of “fly biting” if there were dust particles in the air or flies, but in the last year he does it constantly even at night time when he the lights are off! He also paces and constantly licks one of his legs.

    Since it’s constant snapping (I am not kidding, this goes on for over an hour if you don’t distract him) I am at my wits end. I barely sleep anymore since he does it all night. The only thing that seems to help is putting a blanket or t-shirt over his face and he calms down until it falls off. We’ve tried more exercise, but even when he’s with us all day long on vacations and walking for 6+ hours he still does it! Maybe a bit less since he doesn’t do it when on a walk outside, but as soon as he’s back in side it starts again. We have a garden and take him on 2 walks a day (around 30m each)

    He’s already on high quality grain free food and we got blood work from he vet that said he was in pretty good health (although he was a bit low on iron but the vet said not to worry)

    I just can’t live with this and I can see it stresses him out too. I don’t know what else to do. We think it might be something with his eyes since they are clouded over and he’s old now, but how can we fix that?

  19. Diane Smith says:

    My four year old dog started fly snapping after she came home from a groomer that nicked her tummy in several areas. I believe this trauma is what caused the problem. Distracting her is what I do when she starts. She does it when she gets over-ed too. For instance when we are around people she does not know, exactly when I don’t want her to do it. People think she’s a biter, yet she is very gentle and has never bitten. We also recently moved into an apartment where she has no back yard to play ball in. She’s very athletic and needs exercise. I got her a rope/knotted toy that she will jump for when she’s in the mood and that helps.

  20. Ivy says:

    I adopted our rottweiler 8 years ago (she was 4 then). We had noticed the invisible fly biting pretty soon after adopting her. We took her to the vet, and she suggested a specialist. We opted out. She doesn’t have the episodes nearly as much as she used to. Her fly biting was neger aggressive. She would lick, bite lick bite lick bite on and on. She would also lick and lick her front legs. I do believe it happened more in the summer than winter. She is a senior now, but I see no sense in seeing a neurologist. She is getting older and seems happy otherwise.

  21. Connie Sterritt says:

    My German Shepherd began fly-snapping at 6 months. First time I noticed was immediately after returning home from first day at doggy daycare. He has been to regular vet, diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome, has been to neurologist who wanted $3000 for workup and MRI, seen by holistic vet, diagnosed with “hot liver” and treated with herbs, acupuncture, and physical therapy. He still snaps. His triggers are loud tv or music, hair dryer, and especially the hum of electric toothbrush, also long trips in the car. I think it’s the humdrum sound of the car on the road. He had been on Darwins raw food for 2 years when I read the article from Canada about the digestive issues found in these dogs. Got him on Thorne Research Gastroplex probiotics, and he seemed to improve, but still snaps(even as I am writing this). Another trigger I have noticed since the beginning is he DEFINITELY reacts badly to difference in barometric changes. When there is a storm on the way and barometric pressure drops it will send him into a snapping mess! (But he does not get freaked out by thunder, it doesn’t phase him). He just turned 3 yrs old and weighs 100 lbs. He is happy and healthy, well adjusted, and goes to doggy daycare. The coaches tell me if he has a spell at school and it’s noticed by another dog, that dog will sit with him till Silas is ready to go play again. Another thing I have noticed is he is better in cooler weather, worse in hot weather. Again, may be the hum of air conditioner in summer vs I use mostly the fireplace in winter.

    1. Plowgal77 says:

      Yes. I left my redbone at a Shelter for 5!days. He has been home three days and I first saw him doing this yesterday. Today, he started it again. Plus, he seems depressed since he returned home. I thought he was just maturing but this air snapping thing after sneezing is very bizarre. It started yesterday.

  22. Jen says:

    Our French Bulldog also has fly-biting episodes. Since sustaining some eye trauma recently, they’ve gotten worse which leads us to believe he is actually seeing something (rather than neurological activity). Episodes were historically triggered when he gets over-excitied but now they happen when he is calm too. One thing that works well is if we cover him with a blanket and sit with him for a few minutes to reassure him. He usually falls asleep then is ok when he wakes up. Good luck with your pup!

    1. sandra phelan says:

      do you medicate at all my french just started doing this seems when she gets over excited

    2. Amber says:

      Our 6yo frenchie started this after he slipped a disk in his neck. He has also gone deaf. And in the last 4 months pees all the time all over our new carpet. Drs want thousands to figure out what’s wrong but tell us there may not be anything they could do even with a diagnosis.
      He sleeps a lot more, doesn’t play as much and hides in tight places a lot as well.
      I’m at a loss.

  23. Richey says:

    I have a deaf 3yr old rescue Samoyed mix. He is so fixated on ???? that I have trouble distracting him. Even if I toss a toy in front of him or bounce it off him. I’ve seen him what i thought was asleep, just start snapping.
    He sometimes goes days not doing it at all, and then will do it on and off all day.
    He is eating grain free dog food at the advice of our Vet.
    Seeking answers

  24. kathy says:

    I have a 3 1/2 year old Field Cocker that definitely has this fly snapping issue. Again, it happens when she’s quiet and napping or sometimes at night, she just starts snapping away.
    I will definitely try to distract her as I read in this article and see if that helps. It sounds like in reading many articles no one really knows how to treat this short of meds and just testing things. Beats Me!

  25. Karen says:

    I have two rescued cockapoo/lhasa apso mixes that we’ve had for just over a year now. They are both very timid, one licks his feet continuously and the other constantly wants to lick your face and spends the majority of his life terrified of things he sees/bites at the air if he’s not sitting with us. I have been reading a lot into it alot and it sounded most like OCD. I was sitting with him one day while he was having an episode and the light was shining in perfectly that I saw the exact piece of dust in the air that he was following, I started following it as well and it’s 100% what he was looking at terrified and then tried to bite. Since then I try to look from his viewpoint when he’s doing it and notice there is either piece of dust/hair from his face or eyebrows in his view. I’ve also realized that the lights seem to bother him when they are bright and he’s better with lamps than overhead lights. I’ve been trying to keep our house as clean as possible, his hair short and out of the way and distract him when he does it. His hair has alot of static right now and when he’s rubbing it I know it must be because he can see it, I’m hoping I can find some sort of gel that will hold it down because when I wet it is seems to help. I know this may sound silly, but it makes sense with the OCD and imagine seeing things floating in the air/light beams coming at you and not knowing what it was. I’d want to hide too and would also be miserable. They are afraid and need to be comforted that it’s okay, it takes time and patience but seeing them calm is certainly worth it.

    1. Mary says:

      Hi Karen I just read about your dog flybitting , and you made sense about the partials of dust , I notice the same thing , dust in the air I have since bought a air filter to pull out the dust partials and that helps I try to keep dust free and I keep curtains shut so no sun light comes in he freaks out over shadows on the wall or at night when the trees blow , my dr put junior 3 year old very active choc lab on ( gabapatin) 2x day it has calmed the flybitting down BUT is still doing it and drags his but constantly where I have to get his anal glands emptied every 4 weeks , changed his food to hills environmental BUt cost $100.00 a month its killing me soooo I started ( natural balance ( vegan ) just this weekend NOW today he was licking at his bUT and I looked and I pulled this what looks like a ( worm) out I put it in a Aggie to show vet tomorrow cause it’s not open today, it’s Sunday! Now I’m freaked out and I just want to find a vet that has treated flybitting before and I don’t know one and having no luck trying to find one , I’m beside myself please answer me tell me more about your dog I live in Denver pa where r u from?

  26. Leena Blatt says:

    I personally think that all dogs get this in the geriatric years but some get used to it and doesn’t let it bother them and other dogs can’t let it stop bothering them. Something neurological. BULL DOG gets used to it where a WIENARIMOR can not. Just something I’ve noticed.

  27. Tracy Haselwood says:

    My dog Mann Mann has always done the fly snapping thing… But yesterday the agitation… Fear like symptoms.. Looking as if his seeing things…. Constantly looking around as if paranoid got worst. Actually out of control. Has pacing like his undecided which way to go… Needing all of either mine or my significant others attention. I was cleaning the kitchen and my fiancé was sleeping… He kept whining and running to sit in front of the door, like he does to stop one or both of us from leaving the apartment. I thought he had to go to the bathroom after I took him out and went back to cleaning he started again. The fly snapping seems to have progressed into something out of a nightmare, are these symptoms related… Or do u think their separate??? I don’t know what to do… A vet trip isn’t in the budget cuz my truck needs repairs…. Is this life threatening?? My dogs are my life, I don’t have kids… Just them…. Im sick with worry. Please help.

  28. Erica says:

    Also interesting to note is that he acts exactly the same way when there really IS a fly or a bee or anything. If he is laying near or against me and I burp quietly or my belly rumbles, he snaps. You know that forefinger rubbing lightly against thumb pad that makes a mosquito noise? Snaps like crazy at that, too. Can’t help but snap at dust in the air when its visible. So real stimuli brings it on, this tells me it is a neurotic tic but imaginary stimuli (as far as I can tell) brings it on as well.

  29. Erica says:

    My Cavalier King Charles Spaniel /poodle mix has had this problem from a young age, maybe 6 or 7 months old. We tried seizure meds, then anxiety meds, both of which seemed to lessen the episodes, but never do away with them. It was bad when he was little. He would snap snap snap like they were after him, and then run for cover and shake with what seemed like fear. I used to lay against him, pinning him down, and cover his eyes while talking softly to him. Because he seemed terrified and it went on and on and in. This actually seemed to calm him down once he stopped fighting it. Then, it lessened to where we saw it, but didn’t worry too much about it, bc it didn’t seem to bother him so much or cause him fear. Now he’s 9 and it’s back in full force and breaks my heart. He has a thunder shirt that helps a little. I had to pin him down again the other day, which I haven’t done in years. Thing is, he was SO MUCH better afterwards. Which is weird bc usually a bad fit lasts days on and off. What I have noticed, that no one else has mentioned, (that I’ve seen) is that it seems to be brought on by anxiety. This most recent struggle started with a haircut which uncovered his anus (sorry, but this is unfiltered truth) which drives him crazy. He tucks his tail and hides for days after a haircut that exposes his anus to air. Thats when this bad snapping started again. Usually it goes away as he gets used to it (or as the hair grows back) but the snapping doesn’t seem to be getting better this time. I guess we’ll be going back on some meds soon if it doesn’t improve. But, while it certaily LOOKS like hallucinations, and true fear of them, could anxiety bring thrm on?

    1. Mary says:

      Hi I was reading about your dog and flybitting and yes I believe it is anxiety my dog seems to flybite more when worried , or people around the house besides me and my husband my dog is a 3 year old chic lab I distract him and that helps and weird BUt I have a head massager with prongs that’s stick out and I massage ( juniors) head and wow it works so now I do this every night for him to calm down and relax to go to sleep , and he’s on a med called ( gabapatin) but although it controls the flybitting he still does this , I wish so bad I could find a dr that has treated this before and I haven’t yet !!!! Shadows freak him out , especially trees blowing and shadowing in the night , I have no freedom anymore due to this , I’m afraid to leave him , no one will be there to snap him out of this I just don’t know what to do anymore please respond back thankyou Mary

    2. Tiffany says:

      Hi Erica

      I’m glad to hear someone else mention it being brought on by anxiety. I have a 5 year old Bernese. She started doing it a few months after my daughter was born. We had also moved to a temporary very small apartment two days before I gave birth as we were gutting our house. We were in the small apartment for about 7 months and the fly snapping started after 6 months. There were also signs that my dog was stressed and maybe a little depressed. She was put on phenobarbital. We have been back in our house now for five months. She was doing well in the beginning but slowly the fits began increasing again. I am trying her on cannabis oil and have lowered the phenobarbital by about 20% I have also switched her to raw. The past few weeks seem to be better. She is a very sensitive dog and seems to get stressed easy. She is very much my baby and I think all the changes have been tough for her. I do find that if I can minimize stress she seems a lot better.

  30. Debi says:

    Hi. Thanks for the info. My rotti just recently started this behavior (2 weeks ago). Four days ago she started acting very lethargic and quit eating. She now has been diagnosed with Addisons disease by our Vet. Maybe this was a coincidence but I will update you if the meds she is taking make a difference. Her Vet did say these were seizures but I would think if they were seizures, you couldn’t distract them so easily away from it. Maybe dogs are different.

  31. Leena Blatt says:

    I just rescued a 10 year old English bull dog that was on Prozac because she obsessively liked her paws from anxiety being locked away from the rest of the family and pets for years. Her fir was red from staining it all most looked like blood. She is completely different dog 3 months later and gets constant attention. I wanted to take her off the Prozac slowly so no withdraws. She is good for some time but gets the fly biting episode eventually and I give her a Prozac and she is fine after that. I am fearing her getting even older than she is and getting sick. I love her so much. Any comments would help.

  32. Sondra Ray says:

    I have an Australian cattle dog and spent the evening at the vets doing blood work opted out of iv flush treatment thinking he ate something poisonous and glad I did he has all the symptoms you’ve discribed..so they gave me muscle relaxers is there a drug available and if his blood work was all normal would he have a GI problem?.

  33. Amanda says:

    I don’t have any advice, but I find this so interesting. Our dog has started doing this recently and we just discovered that it is a “thing.” I also found this statement interesting: “Then he’ll often become fixated on staring at his front legs, as if he expects to find something crawling on them.” Our dog is also doing this along with the fly-snapping. He is getting less exercise and attention now that baby number two is here, so maybe that is part of it, but I’m so curious to know more now. I’ll try distraction, but I would love to know what is causing this.

  34. Tina says:

    Consider checking your dog for GI disease. Veterinarians in Montreal found that 5 out 7 dogs with fly biting behavior had GI disease. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3500118/

  35. Claudia says:

    Hi, my former boxer/american bulldog mix used to display similar imaginary actions as a pup, she would not only fly-bite, but would actually seem to be chasing something flying trying to catch it around the yard and similar if we distracted her from it she would go on about. When we asked the vet about it, the response was that doggies have imagination too, just like kids, some more than others. my dog did grow out of it about a year of age or so. Did your dog grow out of it, or anyone else’s?

  36. Mike says:

    Hi there, we have a toy pom and he has what many are calling a seizure or fit, the only problem is this, he is actually scared of the imaginary flies he sees and runs away from them many times, which leads me to believe these episodes are not fits?

  37. Jessica Taylor says:

    I have a min pin who also has fly biting seizures. I put him on a low protein diet and this seemed to help lower the frequency of the seizures. Distraction also helps him. I recently bought him a collar on Amazon.com made by Adaptil, this has also helped a lot.

  38. Mary says:

    My dog junior has fly biting all started when we gave him nexguard chewable for tic and flea I’m doing the same thing by young his walks and redirecting his action his dr had him on wellness brand food turkey and potatoe that’s it no treats but he also is aloud to have the can food to this brand so I make meatballs as treats he’s off all meds for licking/itching but is having a major hard time with that he licks so bad so I put baby socks on him and it stops him for a while , he was doing really well but is seeming to have a hard day today it goes off and on and it’s exhausting to me to try and have him stop this !!! He’s a chocolate lab 2 years old I’m very sad about this don’t know what else to do, I give him plain hard bone with can food inside of it frozen, I give him all kinds of toys and attention it’s sad

    1. Claudia says:

      Hi Mary sorry to hear about your baby Junior, I googled the food u mentioned to see ingredients in it, good to see it grain free, but I have recently have found a lot of different websites where they mention rosemary extract as a dog food preservative (also listed in the food you feed Junior) to induce seizures, maybe you can further look in to the ingredients in the food you are currently feeding to see if anything else may be prohibiting the seizures to go away. maybe an allergy test to narrow down to all the different things that your dog may be allergic to. here is this link about rosemary and dogs http://www.all4k9.com/articles/is-there-rosemary-in-your-dog-food/
      I’m sure you can find more information. i hope this can guide you somewhere with better or more educated solutions.

      1. Mary says:

        Claudia omg I just read this from Sept 2016 it’s now April 2017 I am horrible on the computer I can never find this website again, here Iam again 2017 talking about my dog with flybitting I took jr back to a new vet since and they put him on hills food that cost me $100.00 it’s killing me along with my baby junior and his flybitting I’m still trying to help him he drags his butt all over and has to get his glands emptied every 4 weeks and fly bits even though the vet now has him on ( gabapatin) which was helping but here we r again I’m desperate to help him and I just came across this about the rosemary so I’m gonna investigate that and thankyou , junior is now 3 years old lovvves to play ball and I walk him up to 4 miles a day broken up just to distract him from flybitting this is breaking my heart I have to help him he loves me so much I now have found a little solution I have a ( head massager) it has long prongs and I massage his head and calms him dow every night so he sleep peacefully , this is taking up my life I can’t go no where or hardly do anything I have to help jr … I need to find a dr that actually treated this before please respond back and thankyou

    2. Teresa says:

      Thanks for your post. Our 4 yr pudelpointer started fly snapping recently and I’m wondering if it’s from Nexgard also. She took it monthly for 4 months and starting right after her 4th dose. Has the fly snapping gone away after the Nexgard cleared from your dogs system? I’m been treating her with milk thistle to clear the toxins.

      1. Olivia says:

        I’m so glad I found this thread. My dog started doing this a few days ago. The vet gave him a new flea medicine last month. I called to find out what the brand was, and sure enough, it’s Nexgard.

        Have either of you seen any improvement after discontinuing it?

        1. Mary says:

          My dog has never been the same since the nexguard , I can’t stand to see the commercial on tv because my life has dramatically changed since , I am a prisoner of my dogs disease , he flybitea and I can’t figure it out I distract him constantly he licks and bites himself constantly we r on hills environments food that cost me $100.00 a month beside allllll the dr visits for the butt dragging and anal gland draining, ear infections , it don’t stop now they have him on gabapatin 2x day … the dog freaks without me !!!! Iam crushed and sad and depressed from all this I walk him up to 4 miles a day per my fit bit watch I’m constantly trying to wear him out so he don’t fly bite I’m crushed need help is there an answer or a dog dr out there that can help????

        2. Nancy says:

          I give my dog Trifexis and she is fly-biting too. Trifexis lists fly-biting as a side affect, so probably the same with Nexgard. What is an alternative for flea/heartworm medication?

          1. Jenny says:

            Did your dog get better after you got the nexguard out of its system? My bulldog is also on it and just started lip licking or as everyone is calling it fly biting and also head tremor my vet is wanting to refer me to a neurologist and I am not sure what to do?

    3. Tracy says:

      My dog started having sezures after I gave him similar medicine.

      1. Betsy says:

        This is amazing. My 12 year old lab/chow mix started air biting today….shortly after I recalled he was past due for his Nexguard chewable. We live in the woods & although he has never had fleas or ticks, I let the vet talk me into this med. I plan to discontinue immediately and will bookmark this site for follow up. Thanks to all who have contributed.

  39. Karen Hartigan says:

    Thank you for sharing your observations. I have had a full vet work up and she is in great health. She shows all the symptoms of OCD, has allergies (shots weekly) and I try to redirect her attention. Because she is deaf, verbal ques don’t work. She is only 18 mos. old and I adopted her from a rescue. My vet has put her on puppy Prozac. Any other suggestions are needed before I spend a boatload of money for a neurologist and testing. Prayers and suggestions are welcomed.

  40. Albion says:

    Anyone ever have an ocular migrane? If humans can get them, why wouldn’t other species? Anyone who”s had one knows exactly what I mean. The spells usually last for my Penny about as long a’s one of my OMs. She’s ea silly distracted from it but always goes back. If I were a dog without understanding, I might do the same. Just a thought.

  41. Julia says:

    Air biting may be a syndrome but I decided to start treating it as a habit. The nature of a habit is that it begins with “triggers”. I started with a chart to do some serious observation, noting as many of “sandy’s” movements as possible. Finally I got a glimpse into what happens just before the air biting started. The movements were very subtle but it was the beginning of what appears to be improvement. I began by changing my own habits : sitting with him in different places , I began different handling techniques, moved a few things on the sofa where he seems to regularly start the behavior. Yes very time consuming but Im look at it as another form of bonding.

    1. Shannon Ferretti says:

      Did this help you? I’m trying to find methods to addressing my dog’s fly-biting that doesn’t involve upping her dose (she’s on a generic of Keppra 3x daily).

      1. Nancy says:

        why do you think the air-biting is affecting the dog and that you need to give it medication? I ask because my dog is an air-biter but I don’t see that it bothers her in any way so I wouldn’t think of putting her on meds.????

  42. Kelly C says:

    We have a 9 year old pug who has started to do this. How did your vet rule out anything medical? What sort of tests were ran? Thank you in advance.

  43. Pam Hoskin says:

    My lil chihuahua does the same thing. I am a pediatric neuro nurse and I don’t think it’s a seizure. I can call his name and it stops. A seizure would not stop. He plays with my other dogs and gets plenty of activity. I notice it more at night. One other thing is he licks his feet after and wipes his eyes but eye doc said all is good. He sleeps under covers and that stops it. I guess neuro MD next but I don’t want him drugged out either.

    1. Rae says:

      I have a 5 year old Jack Russell who started this after he fully matured.
      I have spent countless hours observing this very strange behaviour.
      I have read everything on Fly Snapping and Im convinced it is not a neurological condition at least in my dogs case, he is not in a trance like state when he does it.
      When he snaps he always looks up first, not ahead, he will sometimes fixate on his paws starring at his front foot, looks up, then snaps, or licks his paw because he see’s/thinks something is crawling on his front leg.
      When he sits with me and I started covering his eyes with my hands from looking up, I didn’t cover his eyes I just blocked the light ( shading his eyes from the light from above ).
      My Jack has very long eyebrows and very long eyelashes, I cut his eyebrows down so no hairs are sticking up and it reduced his snapping a great deal, I will never ever try to cut his eye lashes but it may be that the they to may be part of the cause.
      Any woman that has worn fake eyelashes will tell you that if they are to long the eyelash can produce a flickering at the top of the sightline of the area of vision.
      Dogs don’t reason I’m told, subsequently IMO they would naturally snap at the flickering.
      Dogs I believe are much higher tuned into their senses than humans, they use their higher developed sense of sight, smell, and hearing to sense danger, and to hunt.
      I am still observing, but I am closer to believing the cause may be his long eyebrows and long eye lashes that are causing this distractive behaviour.
      I encourage everyone to consider this possibility.
      Please do not try to cut your dogs eyelashes, eyebrows are ok, but never eyelashes, they are needed to protect your dogs eyes.

  44. Glenn says:

    We’ve got a hyperactive Chihuahua named Bella. My wife just noticed her starting this out of the blue. It’s got me worried to death, but I’m hoping it will subside soon. I’ll keep you all posted on what we find out in due course.
    Thank you for this article.

  45. Racheal says:

    This article helped my daughter and I out a lot. Thank you so much for writing it. Her dog, Angel has seizures often. She is under a doctors care for a possible liver shunt. The seizures are so upsetting. Recently, however she attacks the air around her. She does not let my daughter cuddle with her any more, sort of like, maybe she is trapped. This article helped us to know that their is hope for our little Angel.

  46. Sandra says:

    I would like more info from blogger Bre, from ARIZONA. I have an epileptic dog, who not only air-bites, but chews loudly (nothing in the mouth), clearly annoying. We have her n a rx for epilepsy, very mild, but it isn’t helping the air biting. I need more specific info re: the CBD oil, brand name? I went to Amazon, couldn’t find it. Please post back here!

    1. Bre says:

      Hi Sandra! I’ve noticed that Amazon took all CBD oils off and stopped selling them about a year ago. Since I live in AZ I am still able to go to the dispensary and purchase CBD oil but I’m im not sure what state you live in. I encourage you to try the Bach Flower Rescue Remedy for Pets, that is on Amazon and in stores and helps. The fly biting has been linked to GI issues and famotidine 10mg half tab once a day for my 7 lb dog has proven to be effective as well. May want to discuss these with your vet. Good luck

    2. Amanda says:

      Our dog is fly-snapping, staring at his legs (as mentioned in the article), and also chewing loudly and smacking his lips (almost seems like he’s licking his teeth or something). I don’t have advice, but it’s interesting to find it’s occurring in other dogs who are fly-snapping.

  47. Lee & Carol says:

    Our dog is a cross of Golden retriever x hound (maybe whippet) 7 years old
    Her episodes of fly snapping usually are more common at night. distractions sometimes work, but it means we don’t sleep!
    We have found giving her a relaxing remedy called BACH “Rescue”, a tincture from the health food store, for animals. It contains several herbal flower extracts in a glycerine and water base. Put several drops in some yogurt or other treat. it must have an off taste, as she doesn’t take it readily, has to be encouraged. Pkg says 4 drops, we have used up to 20. We probably should administer earlier in evening before she gets started.
    Usually takes half an hour or more to take effect, then she settles down

  48. Sue "The Pet Whisperer". says:

    My ‘almost’ 3-yr-old GSD just started this behavior last week. You can tell it confuses him, frightens him, and he alternates trying to run from it, and running to me trying to be an 80-lb lap dog.

  49. Kat says:

    I have a toy rat terrier, Buddy, 6 years old now, who is a seizure dog on seizure meds. Buddy also has fly snapping syndrome linked to his seizures as well as associated with Flea and Tick meds use during March – October. Additionally, I have found that when Buddy has ear problems (infections, debris etc) he also starts to fly snap. It took me along time to figure out those triggers but once I did, I was able to get a better grip on his fly snapping. My vet keeps me with a steady supply of ear products and we are currently working on the best route for flea and tick control. Just thought I’d share these alternative causes for fly snapping to help someone else out

    1. Kelly says:

      Thanks so much for your post. My pug got a dose of Revolution today and tonight he started fly snapping which he hasn’t done for awhile! Finally figuring that it could be linked to this medication!!! He also gets ear infections so I will keep an eye on that as well!!!

    2. Jackie says:

      Interested to know what ear ‘remedies’ your Vet has prescribed and what you have found helpful. The flea-tick products are what started the whole ordeal over a year ago so we no longer use those. Have had no luck with Ranitidine or Benadryl. Bach’s or Melatonin works sometimes. Seems to have started up again last month and now a lot of ‘ear flapping’ so I started using Mometamax (Rx for ears).

    3. Kevin says:

      What is the brand of the flea and tick medicine?

  50. Jess says:

    Thank you so much for writing this article I have an English bulldog almost 2 years old and she just started doing this out of no where yesterday but it got really bad just now (after a full day of walks play and toys) so I decided to google her symptoms and this was exactly on point everything that she’s doing except for the fact that she’s looking up instead of down at her feet I think this is the first time and it’s making her scared so I’m just comforting her as much as possible but she’s been hiding in my bathroom but least I know what it is now

    1. Serena says:

      What happen after, my almost 2 year old bulldog Junior had this for the first time today… trying to find some answeres…

  51. Dawn says:

    Our labrador has this problem occasionally so we changed all his food and treats to hypo allergenic and he stopped having the episodes. Wheat seemed to be a problem, esp dog biscuits. Please try this for your lovely dogs.

  52. Beth says:

    My albino great dane who already has depth perception problems had now been snaking at imaginary flies. Like the above article mention, she seems to be starting straight at whatever it is she thinks she’s is seeing. I can be standing right in front of her face and it’s as if she doesn’t see me, but sees a fly and starts snapping at it. She’s never ever aggressive with her snapping. I’m trying to figure out a way to distract her. I can’t call her name because she’s deaf. Any advice?

    1. Tammy Beaudoin says:

      My dog is deaf too. I did change his food so we wait. He does have periodic seizures but not enough to be on meds. He just started fly snapping. Poor dogs been thru hell. He was left for dead tied to a tree. No food or water when rescuers found him.

  53. Deb says:

    My 9 yr old Shih-Pom recently started nipping at blankets, sofa, etc. as if something was there. I checked when she started and absolutely nothing could be found. Not even a loose thread. Could this be the same as fly-bighting even tho on a surface??

    1. Amanda says:

      Our dog does this to the blankets we have on the furniture, as well as the air. You posted a while ago – has this behavior changed at all?

  54. Eboni Gonzalez says:

    My dog started this when she was a young adult. I was so confused by it that I litterally got a magnifying glass and laid next to her staring into the air she was snapping at. I only detected small particles of dust in the air and concluded that she thought they were flies? And my human eyes couldn’t see them.

  55. Katie J says:

    My dog has started exhibiting this behavior as well, well sort of. I think he would snap at the flies he thinks are there, but the only time he’s around flies is when they’re horse/deer flies. Which he HATES. instead of snapping he tucks tail and moves around and “listens” for them. Do you think this is just his version of “fly snapping”?

  56. Nancy Laster says:

    Thank you for your comment and I will show this to the vet!

  57. Nancy Laster says:

    My dog started this fly biting syndrome a couple of days ago and I kept thinking it was a nat or something. I began to question myself but when we went to my moms she did the same thing. Going to vet ASAP!

  58. Megan says:

    I have a little dog that started this as a puppy. It was a rescue dog, I got when he was about 10 weeks old , when he began to have seizures several times a day and the owner could not afford a vet. I took him to a specialist, at first they thought he had a liver shunt, but did not. We put him on Potassium salts, that I had compounded at the pharmancy into a liquid, which I gave 2 or 3 times a day. It stopped the seizures and we weaned him off of it . He still does the fly biting when he is stressed.

  59. Susan says:

    My eleven year old pug has just started this fly-biting behavior.
    He has been having problems with his eyes and you can see
    the cloudiness. He blinks often and his eyes water. I don’t notice
    the fly-biting behavior during the day time. Mostly at night when
    we are watching TV. So not sure what is going on. I have heard
    that fly-biting may be cause by eye problems.

  60. lindsay says:

    My 3 year old chihuahua does the fly biting only when I’m throwing his toy?? Its really weird

  61. Bre says:

    Ok so my dog Fozzy started fly biting 2 years ago. My vet put him on phenobarbital. My once lively, active dog was now over-medicated, lethargic and acting drunk. I was devasted. My vet reassured me that he would get used to the meds, but I also hated how I had to bring him in for regular labs to check his liver function. The fly biting stopped so I went along with it. When he began fly biting again and she wanted to increase the dose I said no way. Why give him something that’s decreasing his life span and potentially ruining organs? He had gained weight and just wasn’t the same. I did some heavy research and found they were giving CBD (cannabinoid) oil to children with epilepsy. Yes it comes from the hemp plant, no it is not marijuana and does not get your dog high, it doesn’t have THC in it. It’s completely legal, you can buy it online. I live in Arizona so sometime I go to a dispensary to get it but mostly I buy it from Amazon. I have been giving him the CBD oil with Bach flower oil pet rescue remedy (can buy at whole foods or amazon too) for about 8 months and he’s been fly biting free! It’s crazy how many benefits the CBD oil has, it helps for anxiety, arthritis, neurological issues, etc. I strongly urge you all to read up about it and even read some of the reviews on amazon. The kind I use for Fozzy is Ultra CBD cannabinoid oil 400mg. He is an 8lb yorkie/chihuahua and I give him 1/4 of the dropper 2 times a day. There’s absolutely no side effects like with the anticonvulsant meds. so I like that and I’ve had amazing results from it. I’ve seen a lot of websites that are actually selling dog treats and stuff with the cannabinoid in it too but it’s cheaper just to buy the tincture and put the drops in your dogs mouth or food yourself.

    1. Scott Gallaher says:

      Message for Courtney with the Shiba Inu: Do you have any updates? What diet was your Shiba on? Ours is a 5 year old male on Canidae Brand herring meal, split peas, mixed in with a little natural balance canned fish/sweet potato, about 6-7 hypo-allergenic treats per day. Started a couple months when we had workers outside in back – in “their” backyard – building a porch.

    2. grace says:

      Message for Bre about Fozzy. Do you have an update on his condition? My rescue dog began exhibiting similar behavior approximately 6 months after he joined our household. Our vet suggested dog therapy, which turned out to be super expensive and ineffective. We know he’s not having seizures because we can interrupt this behavior by distracting him. The dog therapist recommended a change in his diet to a “rare” type of protein, such as rabbit or duck. That didn’t work either.

    3. How do you administer the Pet Rescue & CBD OIL to Fozzy?

  62. Courtney says:

    My Shiba Inu started fly biting at the age of two, which at rare times have now turned into seizures. I work at a Veterinary Clinic and one of the Doctors had read a study about B-12, in our case we thought that he has to much acid which created stomach ulcers so we put him on Omeprazole also. Everyday for two years he takes one Omeprazole and one B-12 and his fly biting has almost completely gone away. At rare times we will still catch him starting but after we distract him he is back to his normal self. I don’t know if this would help anyone else but it is worth a try since B-12 isn’t toxic to them.

  63. Mike says:

    Our dog is 2 YO, and has been biting imaginary flies for about one and a half years. She licks her paws until they are raw, she chews herself until her hair is removed from her rear and her tail, and scratches incessantly until she leaves welts. She drinks water as if we lived in the desert (we don’t), and is just plain miserable. She is home alone for approx. 6-8 hours a day, and Elizabethan collars and muzzles did not stop her from doing this.
    We are at a loss…

  64. Katrine says:

    My 5 year old Labrador has been doing this since he turned one. My vet struggled to decide whether it was an OCD or neurological/epileptic condition and ended up settling with the latter. At his worst he snaps on a very regular basis and I’m talking all through the day every day when it’s not being controlled and he paces, is really freaked out by it all and just wants to hide or snuggle up to us. In the early years he used to find solace by sitting outside on his own, even in the snow and he’s usually not a dog that spends time on his own outside if we’re not out there too. Previous medication includes phenobarbital medd, diazepam and now bromide meds. All of them have helped in the past but his body seems to become accustomed to them over time and they are then not so effective. My pet insurance on this condition is all used up and he is costing me a fortune each month but after a long period of stability (it virtually disappeared) his snapping is getting worse again which is why I’m back on the net to see if there has been a miracle cure since I last looked! Not only does he freak out when it’s happening, it stresses me out listening to it and seeing him freak out and the worry about the cost but it also stresses my daughter out because she can see me getting stressed! I’m struggling to see what else there is left to try without throwing more money that I can’t afford at it, but I’d never be able to re-home him and I can’t face the only other option because otherwise he is a very lovely, perfectly helpful dog.

  65. Toni says:

    Thank you so much for posting this…yesterday my Beauty started snapping at the air and then just stand there fixated on something I could not see…Im convinced as well that she is seeing “flies”..she is doing exactly like you described above..staring at her legs and snapping at the air. She wont leave my side and she kept me up till 1 am with the snapping..her demeanor has changed as well…she is usually very happy and playful and really liked to snuggle….now she just stands there looking for stuff thats not there. I dont have the money for a vet right now so Im really concerned. Today the snapping is not as bad so far but she isnt herself either. Im trying all that you suggested and hopefully it will help until I can get her in to a vet.

  66. Marla Cassi says:

    Our dog just started this syndrome. He doesn’t snap at the flies, though. He cries and then starts to growl. Putting him outside seems to help, but as soon as he comes back in, it starts all over. Petting him helps a little, but not much. He just started on phenobarbitol, so we’ll have to see how it goes. But you just feel so helpless.

  67. Kathleen says:

    My 10 y/o dog suddenly started having fly snapping and other anxiety symptoms about 10 days ago. The vet couldn’t find anything obviously wrong with her, but prescribed pain meds because pain from an underlying illness can cause anxiety symptoms.
    I then came across this article which describes most of her symptoms to a tee. These symptoms were caused by GI tract problems in the study dogs. I am now suspicious that she has something like this going on rather than a seizure type problem.


  68. Kristen says:

    Our dog also fly bites, it was so serve that we couldn’t redirect her attention. It was if she would go into a trance. We would have to touch her to get her to snap out of. We changed her diet to no grain and got her off chicken and went to a salmon dog food. This change seemed to help a little more but they weren’t gone.
    So we talked to our vet and he proscribed her phenobarbital anti seizure meds. That seemed to help alot. She’s gone on this med and no grain salmon food for about a year. I can differently tell a different. They aren’t as frequent and not as serve. Yes still still fly bits here and there but nothing as bad as it was.