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Dog Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders

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Canine obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) are behaviors that are repetitive, sometimes bizarre, and more persistent than the grooming or chewing seen in normal dogs.  Some examples of OCD in dogs include the following:

  • compulsive licking or other forms of self-mutilation
    flank sucking
  • pacing, circling, or spinning
  • chewing or sucking on toys or other objects
  • snapping at the air or chasing unseen objects
  • incessant or rhythmic barking
  • freezing and staring

Certain problems are more common in certain breeds.  For example, flank sucking is most commonly seen in Doberman pinschers, spinning in bull terriers, and fly chasing in miniature schnauzers.

Dogs with true OCD are not easily distracted and will continue their bizarre behaviors for prolonged periods of time.  For example, dogs with OCD may continue to lick themselves until the skin becomes raw.  Others will bite at the air for many consecutive minutes, and others will chew a bone or suck on a toy for hours without stopping.

Making a diagnosis of OCD begins by ruling out any possible underlying medical causes.  An extensive diagnostic evaluation may be needed to assess a variety of neurologic or skin conditions, as well as arthritis and other problems associated with pain.  Diagnosis and treatment can be time consuming and may require the specialized skills of a veterinary behaviorist.

Treatment usually involves medication and/or behavioral therapy.  Many behaviors can be controlled with medications similar to those used in human OCD.  Sometimes, several different medications need to be tried before finding the one that is most effective for your dog.  A variety of behavioral techniques are also used, including:

  • a consistent and predictable daily routine
  • reward-based training to reinforce desirable behaviors
  • regularly scheduled social interaction (eg, social play, exercise, and training)
  • a “settle-down” area that allows pets to rest and relax between social interactions
  • providing stimulating objects and toys that use food and textures to maintain interest

It is important to recognize that your dog has little or no control over these behaviors.  Punishment is neither appropriate nor effective and, in fact, is likely to make the problem worse.

Common signs and symptoms of OCD in dogs

Persistent, bizarre, or repetitive behaviors such as and of the following:

  • Biting, chewing, or licking
  • Flank sucking
  • Chewing or sucking on toys or other objects
  • Spinning
  • Snapping at the air
  • Persistent or rhythmic barking

Q&A

What is dog obsessive-compulsive disorder?

Canine obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) are repetitive and sometimes bizarre behaviors that are more persistent than normal grooming or chewing.  Examples include compulsive licking or other forms of self-mutilation; pacing, circling, or spinning; obsessive chewing or sucking on objects; snapping at or chasing unseen objects; incessant or rhythmic barking; or freezing and staring.

Can this condition be serious?

Dogs with OCD have little or no control over these behaviors, and some will lick themselves raw until they develop serious wounds that are slow to heal. 

What breeds are most affected?

Certain problems are more common in certain breeds.  For example, flank sucking is most common in Doberman pinschers, spinning in bull terriers, and fly chasing in miniature schnauzers.

How is this condition treated in my dog?

Treatment usually involves medications similar to those used for human OCD, and/or behavioral therapy.  Punishment is neither appropriate nor effective, and is likely to make the problem worse.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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