What is Canine Compulsive Disorder?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental disorder causing the afflicted individual to have obsessive thoughts, and feel the compulsive need to repeat certain behaviors, such as repetitive hand washing, checking things a repeatedly, or continually counting items. The canine equivalent is canine compulsive disorder. Although we are unable to determine if obsessive thoughts are part of canine compulsive disorder the behaviors displayed by dogs are clearly compulsive. Although many of the behaviors that are exhibited can be found in mentally healthy dogs, the reactions seen with canine compulsive disorder are magnified to the point that they interfere with the normal life of the dog and often even the dog’s family.
Canine compulsive disorder is the canine equivalent of obsessive-compulsive disorder in humans. This disorder causes compulsive behavior that can become destructive to your dog's health.
Book First Walk Free!
Symptoms of Canine Compulsive Disorder in Dogs
Most of the behaviors exhibited by dogs with CCD are coping behaviors that in moderation may not be considered abnormal. Canines with CCD take these actions to extremes, such as licking or sucking on the skin until they damage their skin, or tail chewing on their tails during tail chasing. Compulsive behaviors that dogs exhibit can take several forms. The most frequent compulsive behaviors observed in dogs include:
- Air licking
- Chewing or licking self
- Eating inappropriate items (pica)
- Excessive eating or drinking
- Flank sucking
- Licking objects
- Licking others
- Light or shadow chasing
- Nose licking
- Object sucking
- Snapping at nonexistent flies
- Tail chasing
Canine compulsive disorder has several clusters of symptoms, and not all symptoms are evenly spread across dog breeds. Some of the dogs that are over-represented for specific CCD related behaviors include:
- Belgian Malinois - Compulsive circling is common with the Belgian Malinois
- Doberman Pinschers - Dobermans are prone to flank sucking and destructive licking behavior
- Retrievers - Retriever type dogs with CCD are likely to exhibit destructive licking behavior or pica, the compulsion to eat inappropriate items
- Schnauzers - Schnauzers tend to demonstrate their disorder through compulsively snapping at invisible flies or chasing light or shadows
- Terrier and Shepherd breeds - These breeds are particularly prone to compulsive spinning and tail chasing; the Bull Terrier and German Shepherd breeds are the most likely to develop these behaviors
Causes of Canine Compulsive Disorder in Dogs
Referred to as canine compulsive disorder (CCD) in dogs, this disorder mimics obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) in humans and results in repeated frenetic behaviors which can be difficult to control. Canine compulsive disorder is often genetic at its core, although anxiety and stress can increase the likelihood of it developing. The CDH2 gene on the canine chromosome 7 indicates a dog with a high probability of developing canine compulsive disorder. Not all dogs with this gene will develop CCD, and there are certain circumstances which are more likely to instigate a behavior which can become compulsive. Situations that can encourage CCD behaviors to form include:
- Frequent aggression from other dogs
- Lack of socialization
- Loss of or separation from a companion
- Unpredictable punishment
Extreme examples of these situations may cause compulsive self-soothing behaviors in otherwise normal dogs as well.
Diagnosis of Canine Compulsive Disorder in Dogs
When you bring your pet into the veterinary clinic for behaviors related to canine compulsive disorder, the initial focus is on ruling out other medical causes. Symptoms consistent with this disorder can indicate other complications as well. Excessive licking and chewing of the skin, especially of the feet and joints, can also be indicative of allergies, a bacterial or fungal infection, or swelling in the joints. Other symptoms of CCD, such as compulsive circling, fly chasing, and inappropriate eating, can also be symptoms of neurological disorders as well, such as Cushing’s disease, canine cognitive disorder, and even brain tumors.
Circling and pacing behaviors may also originate from disorders of the liver, particularly when accompanied by the dog pressing the top of their head against a hard surface. Head pressing is not a typical symptom of canine compulsive disorder and is almost always a sign of serious distress in your pet. A physical exam, blood tests, and imaging assessments are all utilized to make the definitive diagnosis.
Treatment of Canine Compulsive Disorder in Dogs
Most cases of canine compulsive disorder can be managed with many of the same techniques as other behavior problems. Scolding or punishing the behavior is counterproductive with this disorder as the behavior itself often triggered by stress. That means that the best way to deal with this disorder is by using de-stressing and distracting techniques. Make sure that your dog gets the appropriate amount of exercise for their breed and condition in order to reduce the nervous tension that may trigger bouts of obsessive behavior. Giving your dog mental stimulation is also a good way to positively enforces appropriate actions. This can be done using puzzle toys designed for dogs, food-based toys and long lasting treats, or by creating games at home by hiding treats or toys and having your dog find them. Another good way to encourage your pet to use their minds is to work on training exercises with them, this not only stimulates their minds, but it also gives them a job to do, something that many dogs crave. If your dog begins to indulge in one of the problem behaviors, distract them with another activity. It is not a good idea to use food to distract them as this may unintentionally enforce the behavior, making the problem worse instead of better. Instead use the puzzle toys or training techniques to get your dog to focus on something other than their compulsion.
Some cases of CCD are severe and require medication to calm the compulsive urges enough to significantly improve the quality of life. Antidepressant medications are often effective for the management of CCD, however, they take several weeks to see any changes, and must be taken on a daily basis to remain active.
Recovery of Canine Compulsive Disorder in Dogs
Canine compulsive disorder in dogs is a serious behavior problem that can have unpleasant consequences if not addressed. Actions that may appear to be harmless on the surface, such as chasing light or turning in circles, can become destructive when practiced compulsively. Certain activities that accompany CCD, such as licking and sucking behaviors, can become damaging to the skin as well. In these cases, the risk of bacterial infection is high, and antibiotics may be prescribed to combat infections. If antibiotics are prescribed it is important to follow your veterinarian’s instructions and if your pet was prescribed any medication it is imperative that you give them the entire course of medicines to prevent the infection from reoccurring.