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By Traci Guthrie

Does your dog have compulsive disorder?

They say that a dog is a man's best friend. But what if one day that calm, well-trained friend starts exhibiting new behaviors in which they repeatedly do something like running in circles for no apparent reason? You may even ask yourself if your dog has suddenly developed obsessive compulsive disorder.

Can dogs even have obsessive compulsive disorder?

Technically, no. To be obsessive requires having obsessive thoughts, and since no one knows what animals are thinking, they can't be classified as obsessive. They can, however, have compulsive disorders. If an animal cannot control a repetitive behavior and is unresponsive to interruptions, it can be diagnosed with compulsive disorder. Some behaviors to look for in your dog are as follows:

  • light and shadow chasing
  • tail chasing
  • fly biting
  • excessive licking of objects or air
  • sucking on toys or body parts
  • walking in circles
  • pacing

What causes compulsive disorder?

Behaviors that occur over and over can be due to a number of factors. Conflict, stress and/or frustration are the main factors that lead to compulsive disorder. When one of these triggers occurs with the dog, there may be changes in neurotransmitters in the brain. These changes most likely cause the compulsive behavior.

Is there anything else that could cause compulsive disorder?

Repetitive behaviors can also be attributed to an underlying medical problem. It is very important to take the dog to a veterinarian if it displays any sign of compulsive disorder, to rule out any serious medical issues. Some possible medical causes are listed below.

  • Light and shadow chasing could be caused by an ophthalmologic or neurological problem.
  • Licking could occur due to infection, allergies, nerve problems or pain.
  • Tail chasing is a probable reaction to a neurological problem, swollen anal sacs, allergies, or an injury to the tail.
  • Excessive licking and sucking could indicate gastrointestinal disease.
  • Walking in circles could be a neurological problem or an ophthalmologic problem.
  • Pacing could be an attempt to decrease time spent lying down due to pain.

What are not behaviors associated with compulsive disorder?

It is common to hear that the following behaviors indicate compulsive disorder. None of these is a cause for compulsive disorder:

  • Boredom
  • Lack of exercise
  • Attention seeking

How are compulsive disorders treated?

Once the underlying cause of the dog's behavior is determined and addressed, the treatments below can be very effective. It is important to understand that changing the dog's behavior is a slow process, so patience is key.

  • Avoid triggers as much as possible.
  • Redirect the dog's attention to another appropriate behavior. Once the dog is redirected, offer chew toys or a treat.
  • Desensitize the dog to the trigger stimulus.
  • Use medications as needed.
  • Follow up with your veterinarian.

Compulsive disorder often starts as a seemingly normal behavior, but soon turns uncontrollable and repetitive for no apparent reason at all. Learning to recognize and treat behavioral problems is very important. If an animal exhibits behaviors that could be considered compulsive, it is imperative that, along with help from your veterinarian, you do everything possible to improve life for your pet.

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