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What are Obsessive Compulsive Disorders?

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) in dogs is also known as canine compulsive disorder (CCD). It is characterized by normal dog behaviors that have become repetitive and excessive to the point that they interfere with the dog’s ability to function normally, with the dog often having little control over when they start and stop.

A veterinarian may describe CCD as a stereotypic, locomotory, or grooming behavior that is performed in such a way that is extreme and out of place. Any dog breed can develop CCD, but it appears to be more common in certain breeds. 

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Symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorders in Dogs

A normal behavior that has become compulsive may indicate that your dog has OCD. What exactly that behavior is varies for each dog, so the symptom isn’t the behavior itself, but the extent to which it is performed and whether or not the dog has the ability to stop it.

For example, many dogs spin when they’re happy, then stop after a short time. A dog with OCD, however, might spin excessively and find it difficult to stop; the main difference is that the behavior occurs out of context to the dog’s current situation and goes on for an abnormal amount of time.

Types of compulsive behaviors include:

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Causes of Obsessive Compulsive Disorders in Dogs

The causes of canine compulsive disorder are still being studied, but may include: 

  • Genetics
  • Lack of physical and mental stimulation
  • Chronic or recurrent anxiety
  • Frustration
  • Arousal 
  • Insufficient attention
  • Lack of outlets for normal behaviors

While any breed can display CCD, certain breeds seem to be more prone to developing specific types of compulsive behaviors. For example, German Shepherds and Bull Terriers are known to spin or chase their tail, fly snapping is most commonly seen in Miniature Schnauzers, and a genetic locus for flank sucking has been found in Doberman Pinschers. In these cases, symptoms usually start when the dogs are young. 

Additionally, research has shown that Dobermans with CCD and humans with OCD have similar structural brain abnormalities.

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Diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorders in Dogs

A diagnosis of canine compulsive disorder begins with a good description of your dog’s behavior. When you go to your vet, it will be very helpful to bring video recordings, as well as a record of when and how often the behavior takes place. Since there is a genetic component for many compulsive disorders, your vet will likely ask whether the behavior is set off by any particular situation and how old your dog was when it started. 

Your vet will also try to rule out any possible underlying medical conditions first. Because the signs associated with CCD can be caused by neurologic diseases, dermatologic disorders, or painful conditions, they may order a diagnostic workup in addition to performing a physical exam and looking at your dog’s history. In some cases, a therapeutic response trial involving medication to control seizures, pain, or itchiness may be recommended.
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Treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorders in Dogs

Effective treatments for canine compulsive disorder include medication and behavior modification. 

Medication

Like people with OCD, dogs with CCD may have altered serotonin transmission, wherein communication between the brain cells and nervous system cells is affected. Drugs that inhibit the reuptake of serotonin can help reduce some compulsive behaviors, but will likely need to be combined with behavior and environmental modifications. 

Behavior modification

Consulting with an animal behaviorist can help you understand how to interrupt your dog’s compulsive behaviors and teach new ones. Common treatments and techniques include setting up a predictable daily routine to reduce anxiety; providing regularly scheduled play, exercise, and training sessions to release pent-up energy; using reward-based training to shape desirable behaviors; giving rewards only when desirable behaviors are performed; and providing a rest area with interesting toys where they can relax but not become bored.
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Recovery of Obsessive Compulsive Disorders in Dogs

Since many compulsive behaviors are associated with CCD, recovery and management will vary depending on the individual dog’s situation. 

Acral lick dermatitis

Acral lick dermatitis, seen in many medium and large breeds, refers to the skin lesion that results from excessive licking caused by an underlying medical condition. To facilitate wound healing, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory agents, bandages, and/or collars will likely be required. Additionally, behavioral therapy consisting of regular play sessions, exercise, and training will be needed to help prevent CCD. Psychotropic drugs for compulsive disorders may be part of the treatment plan as well. 

Flank sucking 

Flank sucking, where the dog holds a section of flank in their mouth, is not always serious. However, it can be caused by underlying anxiety related to understimulation or separation anxiety. It is recommended to review your dog’s daily routine and make sure they have consistent interactions and an enriched environment. For dogs with separation anxiety, it may be helpful to leave the TV on while you’re gone. If flank sucking causes physical injuries or contributes to other behavior issues such as aggression when approached, then the same drug and behavior therapies as for other compulsive disorders are necessary. 

Tail chasing

Compulsive tail chasing is sometimes seen in active herding breeds that lack proper outlets for physical activity. It can also be caused by a seizure disorder, pain or medical illness that will need to be treated first. Dogs who chase their tail or spin will benefit from wearing a head halter, which helps interrupt the compulsive behavior and redirect the dog to more appropriate actions such as focusing on their human, sitting, and settling. Regular interactions, a predictable routine, and exercise can also help treat tail chasing in most dogs. Over time, the desire to perform this behavior may decrease.

Obsessive compulsive disorders can be expensive to treat. If you suspect your dog is at risk of developing OCD, start searching for pet insurance today. Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like PetPlan and Embrace. Find the “pawfect” plan for your pet in just a few clicks!
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Cost of Obsessive Compulsive Disorders in Dogs

The cost of treating obsessive compulsive disorders in dogs depends on the severity of the condition. Drug therapy and behavior modification can cost hundreds of dollars every month, while medication and surgery can reach into the thousands.

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Obsessive Compulsive Disorders Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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