Obsessive-compulsive Disorder In Dogs: Characteristics And Behavior

Like humans, dogs can also suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Identifying the condition is the first step towards improvement.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder in dogs: characteristics and behavior

OCD ( Obsessive Compulsive Disorder ), or obsessive-compulsive disorder, manifests itself through many different behaviors, especially when talking about mammals. Obsessive-compulsive disorder in dogs is a more common condition than you might think.

In animals, e.g. Periods of extreme stress trigger OCD.

However, many owners also encourage, albeit unintentionally, their dogs to develop OCD behavior by praising them or giving them attention as a reward for repetitive behavior.

Dogs can also inherit a certain genetic predisposition to obsessive-compulsive disorder. The cocker spaniel breed, for example, tends to become territorial over certain objects or its own personal space.

Is obsessive-compulsive disorder in dogs a recognized condition?

Yes, dogs can show a number of characteristics of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The most common are to run in circles, chase their own tail, chase light and shadows, lick the walls, guard objects and suck on their toys or blankets.

Other compulsive behaviors include hallucinations (such as biting flies), eating non-nutritious items such as dirt, stones or feces, swinging or swaying, and just staring blankly.

Some dogs may even act aggressively towards others.

In severe cases, dogs can begin to injure themselves and destroy objects in the home – a behavior that is often associated with separation anxiety. In this article, we take a more in-depth look at compulsive behavior.

1. Run in circles or chase the tail

Bull terriers, especially English bull terriers, have a special tendency to this behavior. But it is not the only breed that suffers from the disorder.

Chasing its own tail is an example of obsessive-compulsive disorder in dogs.

Recent studies suggest that tail hunting may actually be a form of autism. In 2011, Moon-Fanelli et al. a study and found that the compulsive syndrome of chasing its own tail was more common in males.

They also concluded that it appeared to be linked to a trans-like state and episodes of aggression.

This conclusion, along with a tendency towards phobias, led experts to conclude that tail hunting can be a form of canine autism.

However, it is important to point out that these conclusions are not definitive. The same study also noted that this disorder may be related to a condition called fragile X syndrome (FRAXA syndrome).

To diagnose autism in dogs

It is important to mention that there are diseases in dogs, such as anxiety and pain disorders, which are difficult to diagnose and which can cause similar symptoms as those associated with autism.

In order for a veterinarian to provisionally diagnose a dog with autism , it must show atypical repetitive behavior and a certain deterioration in social interactions with humans and other dogs.

First, as I said, other conditions that may also be responsible for these symptoms must be ruled out.

2. Territorial behavior: a clear sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder in dogs

Territorial guarding of an object is a dog’s way of protecting a “resource”. This “resource” can be food, a toy, other object or even its owner.

A dog guards his toy.

In nature, this behavior helps an animal not to lose a valuable “resource” to rivals.

The behavior can manifest itself in many different ways, and owners are often unaware that their pet is protecting an object until the behavior becomes more apparent.

Defensive behavior can quickly turn into aggression. In fact, defensive behavior and aggression can often look quite similar. If a dog is scared, its first instinct is to escape.

It is only if the dog’s attempt to escape fails that it engages in active aggressive behavior. Genetics can also be a trigger for this type of behavior. It is particularly common in the cocker spaniel breed, for example.

3. Licking or chewing on the paws

This type of behavior is often initially caused by an allergy or injury to the paws or legs. Over time, however, psychological problems such as anxiety can lead to a dog forcibly chewing or licking its paws.

Dog licking his paw.

Boredom, stress, inactivity and allergies can trigger episodes of compulsive licking. Constant licking releases endorphins in the brain, which helps in creating feelings of calm and well-being.

In some cases, a dog will forcibly repeat this behavior to feel the intoxication of endorphins and reduced anxiety.

The important thing is to try to identify what triggers the behavior so that you can address the underlying cause.

4. Fixation on lights and shadows

Fixing on candles and sows is a classic symptom of OCD. It can be caused by a variety of stimuli, but the most common actually creates the owners themselves.

It often starts by mistake when someone lights a candle and causes light or shadows to move around the room. The dog responds to the movement of light and shadows.

The owner finds it entertaining and therefore encourages the dog to repeat the behavior over and over again. And that is really all that is needed to develop compulsive behavior.

There are a number of other situations that can provoke this type of behavior in dogs. For example, it can be seen in dogs that are left alone at home for extended periods of time.

During the day, light shines through blinds and curtains. It causes light changes in the rooms. Without having anything else to do, a bored dog enjoys following the light as it moves through the rooms.

Again, this behavior produces endorphins, leading to the development of OCD.

Border collies are particularly prone to this behavior, although other herding dogs may also give in to this light and shadow stimulation.

In summary

Although the root cause of OCD is not always classic separation anxiety, compulsive behavior can be triggered by long absences. Experts believe that it may also be related to the development of canine dementia or Alzheimer’s.

There are treatments for this type of behavior, but curing a dog that suffers from compulsive behavior is not always possible.

Veterinarians often use serotonin, as well as sound therapy, to treat dogs and help break the cycle of OCD.

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