Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder that causes your dog to engage in repetitive behaviours. The behaviours they engage in tend to have no usefulness and can get in the way of healthy behaviours, such as play and sleep. Dogs can become agitated when you step in and try to stop them during an episode of engaging in obsessive-compulsive behaviours, so seeking professional help for your dog is essential, as your dog can hurt themselves if their OCD is allowed to continue unchecked. Here's an overview of the causes, symptoms and treatment approach for dogs with OCD.
It's not always possible to identify the trigger when a dog develops OCD, but there are certain situations that are thought to put dogs at an increased risk of this anxiety disorder. Being kept in a small space for a prolonged period of time, chronic pain and long-term illness are all thought to create heightened anxiety in some dogs. Additionally, if a dog has been moved around between different households or shelters, this can cause them to feel vulnerable and anxious.
Dogs with OCD often engage in obsessive-compulsive grooming. This takes the form of licking and biting a particular part of their body, often a paw, repeatedly until the area is bald and raw. Prolonged episodes of chasing their tail or spinning in circles also indicate a willingness to invest an increasing amount of time in behaviours that serve no useful purpose. When a dog develops obsessive-compulsive traits, they also tend to increasingly lose interest in healthy activities they once enjoyed, such as playing.
Your vet will diagnose OCD by taking details of your dog's symptoms and ruling out physical causes for their behaviour. Some neurological conditions, including a tumour on the brain, can cause similar symptoms, so the vet may want to test your dog's blood and arrange diagnostic imaging of their brain.
Once your dog is diagnosed with OCD, the vet will outline a treatment plan. Your dog will need behavioural modification therapy to break the pattern of carrying out compulsions when they feel anxious, and the vet may also prescribe a mild sedative or anti-anxiety medication to prevent them from causing themselves any further harm.
It can take some time to see improvements in your dog's behaviour, but behaviour modification therapy is considered highly effective. Your vet will refer you to an animal behaviourist who will spend time getting to know you and your dog and teach you techniques for conditioning your dog to replace unhealthy behaviours with behaviours that support their well-being. For example, teaching your dog to lie down and stretch their body out whenever they attempt to bite their paw will teach them to engage in an activity that makes them feel relaxed instead of one that supports their feelings of anxiety.
OCD is unlikely to resolve on its own, so if you're concerned your dog may be affected by this condition, take them to your vet as soon as possible.