Obsessions are unwanted thoughts, images or impulses (such as that doorknob is contaminated or I think I might have left the stove on). Compulsions are the rituals or actions that a person performs in order to reduce the feelings of anxiety or distress caused by the obsession (like washing hands repeatedly, or checking to be sure the stove is off over and over again). People with OCD suffer. They often have trouble getting through day to day responsibilities, keeping healthy relationships, or enjoying life.
Our best friends, dogs, can also suffer from OCD. The cause of OCD in animals, like people, is thought to involve genetics, environments, and sometimes illness. A dog with OCD may be genetically predisposed to the disorder. The pet could be stressed by separation anxiety, or bored. Occasionally, an illness can cause an animal to show signs of OCD. Pets with OCD show repetitive behaviors that seem to have no purpose. These behaviors can lead to infections, poisonings, obstructions, and very annoyed owners. Most animals do these things from time to time (especially when young, bored or anxious). But dogs with OCD do these behaviors over and over and over again. Common OCD behaviors include:
- Tail chasing
- Barking at nothing
- Running after lights or shadows
- Eating or chewing (after puppyhood)
These behaviors are really compulsions—actions that a dog does to decrease fear or stress. But what about the “O” in OCD? Are dogs having obsessive thoughts? Well, some reasonable people believe that dogs don’t have thoughts—but those with dogs know that can’t be true. So here are a few speculations of the obsessions of dogs:
- If I don’t catch that hairy thing following me around, I might lose respect.
- I need to lick myself or I’ll get contaminated.
- I can’t stand that feeling, I need to scratch!
- Maybe if I keep barking, my owner will come home.
- That darn thing (light or shadow) keeps coming into my territory. I need to catch it!
- Maybe one more bite of that rock will fill my tummy.
Okay, that was pretty silly. I guess Fido doesn’t really have thoughts like that. And in fact, OCD can be quite dangerous. If your animal shows signs of OCD, first look at the environment. Increase activity if possible. That means more walking, playing catch, going to dog parks, or even considering doggie day care. Some people hire dog trainers or behaviorists to help. Another way to change the environment is to look at how you (the owner) are handling separation. Dogs, like kids, respond to your emotions. If you feel guilty every time you leave the house, then your dog will fear the times you leave and that increases the likelihood of anxious or OCD behaviors. If changes in your home environment do not diminish or stop OCD behaviors, or if your animal shows signs of aggression, please be sure to talk to your vet. Medications prescribed by your vet can be effective. But we like the idea of changing the environment or behavior before medications. That advice goes for people with OCD, too.