Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Can Dogs and Cats Have OCD?

By Langley Cornwell

Who knew that when we rescued our dog three years ago she would give me so much material to write about? Granted, she was in pretty bad shape when she came to live with us – but the physical ailments were relatively easy to fix. What’s been more of a challenge is helping her get over her emotional wounds. If you regularly read this blog you know that we’re making tremendous progress with her social skills. In fact, I’ve recently taken on a new job outside of the home and I’m able to take her along with me. That’s right, I get to take my dog to work! That alone has been a fantastic opportunity for her (and for me; it’s great having her at the office all day). The stimulation of being in a new place and interacting with new people is helping her grow.

We’re delighted that she’s getting less skittish. There was a time when she’d either cower in the corner or lunge and bark aggressively when a stranger approached. Now, as long as people don’t focus their attention directly on her, she’s okay. One day I hope to say she’s fully relaxed in a variety of environments, but we’re not quite there yet. Something about a stranger looking at her in the eyes makes her uncomfortable. And if the person speaks to her in a sing-song voice she becomes completely unhinged. The guys in the office have gotten used to her behavior; they’ve learned you have to let her come to you. They basically go about their business and if she approaches one of them they understand that’s their cue to give her a scratch behind the ears. That’s a huge step in the right direction. 

Our dog has another issue that we didn’t understand until lately. There’s this one specific spot on her backside, on the left of the base of her tail, that she licks constantly. She has to contort into an unnatural position to reach the exact spot, which is no larger than the size of a half-dollar. It can’t be comfortable to assume that position but she licks the area for long periods of time. She’s gone after that spot since she first came to live with us and she licks it so frequently that it’s discolored. We thought it was because of a skin allergy, fleas, a hot spot, a mosquito bite or some other medical reason.

We’ve taken her to two veterinarians and all of those things have been ruled out. Recently, a new vet joined the clinic where we go. After she conducted a thorough examination and pronounced our dog healthy, we started talking about some of her ‘odd’ behaviors. Since there is no medical reason our dog hyper-focuses on licking this small spot, the vet said it might just be a quirk or nervous habit. She likened it to a human biting their fingernails and that the act of repetitive licking soothed and comforted our dog. That made sense and seemed to fit with some of her other proclivities. 

I’ve always known our dog was anxious, but I’m beginning to think she has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. According to Dr. Karen Becker at healthypets.mercola.com, obsessive compulsive behaviors arise in a variety of animals including domestic animals, farm animals and even zoo animals. Further, the two most common OCD behaviors in dogs are obsessive licking and tail chasing. There’s no tail chasing going on at our house, but there’s plenty of obsessive licking.

Dr. Becker offers a list of suggestions to help pets with OCD tendencies, the first of which is to ensure they are getting a nutritious and well-balanced diet. Premium quality CANIDAE dog food and FELIDAE cat food fits that bill. Another important component in helping your dog overcome compulsions is to provide regular and consistent exercise as well as daily mental stimulation.  

I have noticed that when our dog and I have a day full of exercise and activity she licks less; when we’ve been busy what was once a comforting activity becomes more of a boredom-buster. And when she’s dog tired (groan), she isn’t interested in licking at all. Because of that, I’ve ramped up our exercise – which is good for both of us. 

For cats that display OCD behaviors, the suggestions are a bit different. A regular routine is important for cats, and even more so for anxious cats. Eliminate or drastically reduce the number of unusual external events in your household so your feline friend feels like he is in full control of his environment. Keep the food and water bowls, litter boxes and cat beds in the same location. Make sure the litter box is clean. Furthermore, it’s important to spend interactive time with your cat every day. If your cat is particularly troubled, soothing music and feline stress remedies may help.

With love and empathy, there are ways to help a dog or cat with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder live a full, healthy and reasonably balanced life.  

Photo by David Poe

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell


  1. I rescued an Ibsen Hound once, he was 5 and a half old at the time. He licked his leg so badly that I had to bandage it everyday for over a year before he would stop licking his leg. It took that long before he was sure of his new home!!!

  2. Happily we've not had to deal with OCD ever! But it is so true that routine and calm environments are very good for our pets :)

  3. Great advice about how to help pets with OCD tendencies. Congratulations on landing a job where you can take your sweet dog with you!


  4. Here's a great informative article on Dogs and OCD:


    Poppy digs and circles 3x around his bedding and before he passes stool, which is instinct telling him to watch out for protruding things in these places. As a human with OCD, I suspeected it was OCD in my dog. He also constantly groms his paws, head, and occasionally his body like a cat - also normal dog behavior that I suspected to be OCD. For a second, I thought my disorder was contagious!

    I know people who medicate their dog and/or very young children daily for behavioral unpleasentries and personality traits that have been labeled as disorders. As you briefly mentioned, there are techniques and methods to help your little buddy without the prolonged use of medication. I think it's great that there is a label for such behaviors for people as well as animals, but I fear that people will abuse perscriptions to remedy such behaviors or excuse dangerous behaviors as a disorder, like a crutch or excuse. Also, the FDA monitors people medication so poorly and since they're so careless about dog food contents, could you imagine how loosely doggy mood stablizers would be monitored?! We're well on our way to that and it's very sad.


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