Signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in dogs generally start to appear when they are a puppy. The condition, which is an anxiety disorder, is characterised by repetitive behaviour that has no useful function or purpose and interferes with your dog's normal behaviour.
Your dog may react with aggression if you try to intervene and prevent them from carrying out their obsessive-compulsive behaviours, so the condition needs to be addressed promptly to minimise the risk of injury to you and your dog. Here's what you need to know about OCD in dogs:
OCD is not confined to specific breeds and there's not always a clear cause when your dog starts to display obsessive-compulsive behaviours, but the following situations can trigger the disorder:
- Prolonged confinement in a small space such as a boarding kennel bay
- Pain or illness, which can heighten your dog's anxiety levels
- An unsettling start in life such as being moved between several homes or shelters
Symptoms of OCD may include:
- Patches of missing hair or raw skin, which can be a sign your dog is biting or scratching itself
- Your dog engages in OCD behaviours, such as chasing their tail, staring at an object or spinning in circles, more frequently and spends an increasing amount of time on these behaviours
- Your dog loses interest in normal behaviours such as grooming and playing
Your vet, someone from a place like Fernlands Veterinary Practice, will take a detailed account of your dog's health history and current symptoms. They will ask you about any incidents that could have triggered your dog's current behaviours such as a bad experience in a boarding kennel. It's important you're completely honest as this will help the vet and your dog.
The vet will organise routine blood tests and a urinalysis to check your dog's symptoms aren't being caused by a physical illness such as a tumour. If your dog's test results are clear, the vet may feel confident diagnosing your dog based on their symptoms or they may have your dog assessed by an animal behaviourist who has a special interest in anxiety disorders. The behaviourist will evaluate your dog in their normal surroundings and make a diagnosis based on their observations.
If no physical cause for their obsessive-compulsive behaviour can be found, your dog will be treated with a combination of anti-anxiety medication and behaviour modification therapy. Occasionally, sedatives may be prescribed if your dog is engaging in severe self-mutilation.
The aim of behaviour modification therapy, which is carried out by an animal behaviourist, is to teach your dog to replace obsessive-compulsive behaviours with behaviours that help them relax. For example, if your dog chases their tail they may be taught to replace this behaviour with lying down and stretching their neck out across the floor, which promotes a feeling of calm.
Behaviour modification therapy will take time, patience and commitment from the whole family, but it can greatly improve your dog's mental health. Follow the behaviourist's instructions carefully and avoid punishing your dog when they display OCD behaviours as this will only make their anxiety worse.
OCD can worsen if left untreated, so schedule an appointment with your vet as soon as you notice your dog engaging in obsessive-compulsive behaviours or if you regularly find scratch or bite marks on their body.