How to Identify and Treat OCD in Dogs

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OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder may sound like a problem that’s unique to humans. Unfortunately, dogs can suffer from OCD too and it’s not as rare as one would think. A lot of times OCD in dogs is dismissed as “behavioral problems” and without treatment, the issue only gets worse.

What is OCD in Dogs?

Before we delve deeper into identifying and then treating OCD in dogs, it’s best to start with the basics. Much like human OCD patients, dogs can become “obsessed” with a type of behavior to a point that they keep on repeating it for hours on end.

Dogs with OCD are often seen chasing their tails for long durations or licking their paws incessantly for hours. OCD behaviors such as biting or licking a particular area can actually lead to other health problems.

Instances of dogs licking and biting their skin and causing infections are not that uncommon. In short, if you find your dog repeating a particular behavior for long durations without giving itself a break, then there is a good chance your pet is suffering from canine OCD.

ocd in dogs dog snout with broken chew toy

What Causes OCD in Dogs?

To understand why dogs get obsessive compulsive disorder you must first understand how dogs deal with stress. Dogs can get stressed for a number of reasons. The stress is often induced when they are in unfamiliar territories or when they don’t feel safe in their own homes. Dogs also get stressed if they are left alone for long periods of time or if they suffer from separation anxiety.

Sometimes It’s Our Fault

There are certain things people do that can result in dog OCD. One of the most common examples is that dreaded laser pointer. It may seem entertaining to watch your dog chase (and not catch) the light of the laser, but what happens when they see any other lights that resemble it? They go crazy trying to catch any light they see.

No matter what the cause, dogs have a way of dealing with stress that’s similar to how humans deal with stressful situations. To cope with the stress, dogs start performing a routine task. It can be anything from chewing on a toy to licking themselves.

Now, this activity helps in reducing the stress as the dog becomes distracted from whatever is causing the stress. As the feeling of stress reduces, the pet starts recognizing the activity as an instant stress reliever.

The Cycle Begins

With an aim to relieve stress, dogs keep on performing the activity every time they feel stressed. The regular repetition of these tasks creates a compulsive behavior. Once that happens, the pet doesn’t need to feel stressed and the behavior becomes a habit.

In most cases, dogs start repeating the task more intensely as time goes by. For example, dogs with OCD can chew on a toy all day long, which can end up hampering their sleep and other routine behaviors.

dog with ocd barking

Identifying OCD in Dogs

If you know what it is, OCD is fairly easy to spot in dogs. Is your dog performing a task over and over again? Are they going crazy at certain triggers? Lookout for seemingly normal behaviors such as licking a particular spot, chasing tail, and digging a specific area.

The difference between normal behavior and OCD is the degree of repetition. A dog licking its paw is normal but when it licks it without a break and for no reason, then you need to act.

OCD vs Attention Seeking

A lot of times pet owners think that their pets have OCD when in reality their dogs are just trying to get their attention. Dogs can display a particular behavioral trait to get you to do something they want.

There is a simple way to distinguish between attention seeking behavior and OCD. If the dog stops performing the activity after it gets attention or is rewarded in some way, then it’s probably not OCD.

Apart from keeping an eye out for signs of OCD in dogs, it’s important to take your dog to a vet for a thorough checkup. Sometimes the behavior can be a sign of a health problem that’s causing the dog discomfort. Vets perform a thorough physical examination to rule out any diseases and conditions that might be plaguing your pet before diagnosing the issue as OCD.

How to Treat OCD in Dogs?

OCD may sound like a trivial problem, but it can turn out to be fatal. The extreme repetition can lead to a long list of secondary health problems. Therefore, a certain degree of urgency is highly warranted when trying to treat dogs with OCD.

The first thing you need to do is consult a veterinarian. He or she would likely recommend a battery of tests to rule out any other health problems. This is important because if misdiagnosed as OCD, these health problems can later lead to fatal consequences.

If a vet thinks your dog is completely healthy, you might be dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder. At this point, there are several treatment options. Vets may prescribe medications to help your pet fight the compulsion of performing the behavior.

A Job for the Professionals: Animal Behaviorists

Vets may also recommend animal behaviorists who can train and guide dogs out of an obsessive state of mind.

No matter what, treatment for OCD is usually long term. Don’t expect the problem to go away overnight. However, with proper treatment, you start seeing results within a few weeks.

An experienced vet may suspect the onset of OCD and suggest ways to reduce stress before a particular behavior becomes chronic. You can also look out for behaviors that are increasingly becoming repetitive. Once you spot them, you need to mitigate the problem that’s causing that particular reaction or trigger in your dog before it turns into a compulsive disorder.

sad dog with ripped toy in its mouth

Yelling and Scolding Can Make Things Worse

While a proper course of treatment for OCD does work, what doesn’t, is harsh training tactics. A lot of pet parents think they can resolve the problem simply by training their dogs. It’s not uncommon to see parents desperately yelling “No” or “Stop” to make their dogs understand that the behavior is undesirable.

The reasons why it almost never works is because OCD is linked to stress. Yelling or scolding can increase the stress levels in an already stressed dog. This can cause dogs to react undesirably and display other behavioral problems.

Stress being the root of OCD, creating a hostile environment for the pet can indirectly reinforce the behavior. This often causes dogs to aggressively repeat the behavior to cope with the rising stress levels.

Author Bio:

Having been the parent to two beautiful dogs, Roger Dutta knows a thing or two about pet care. He intends to share his canine-care wisdom with anyone who is willing to learn. Roger loves to write detailed posts on specific pet-related topics and he presents them in a way that appeals to everyone. 

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