24 October 2007

Constant Licking Sign of OCD in Dogs

As found on gazettes.com, dogs may have emotional or behavioral disorders that in many ways are similar to human compulsive disorders. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by behaviors that are repetitive, constant and seem to have no obvious purpose.

There are many reasons why OCD may occur in dogs. These may include anxiety, boredom, stress, conflict or fear. Often these disorders cause your dog to chew up your shoes (usually your favorite ones) or bark for hours on end. Sometimes dogs will internalize their disorder and have self-destructive behavior. In small dogs, the most common type of OCD is a compulsive chewing of the front paws and nails, while larger dogs tend to develop lick granulomas, or self-trauma resulting from excessive chewing. These lesions often become infected and in some cases may even turn cancerous.

Similar to nail biting in people, it is believed that the pain from licking and chewing releases endorphins. Endorphins are hormones that the body produces and are similar to morphine. Anyone who has ever experienced runner’s high will understand. These hormones are very addictive. Also, there is evidence that some breeds and family lines of dogs may simply be more predisposed to this behavior. Physiological causes such as genetics or localized skin infection may be to blame and should not be confused with OCD. Arthritis and joint pain can attract the dog’s attention to a particular area and allergic skin disorders can mimic OCD.

Treatment should begin with a visit to your veterinarian to rule out any possible medical problems. This usually includes a physical examination and laboratory tests including a complete blood count, urinalysis and biochemistry profile. It is extremely important to understand the difference between allergic skin conditions and OCD skin lesions. While they may look the same to you, your veterinarian should be able to tell the difference and prescribe a proper course of treatment. Chronic licking usually leads to a deep skin infection and long-term antibiotics may be needed to cure the secondary bacterial infection.

There are some things you can do on your own to help your dog that may have OCD. Walk your dog! Some breeds, for example, hunting dogs and guard dogs, were specifically designed to walk all day long. Not giving them this outlet often leads to OCD. Walking your dog reduces its arousal and anxiety level. Dogs like to sniff, hear, and explore new things on their walk. When you keep them in the house or backyard where things are the same, anxiety levels increase. Never punish a dog for exhibiting signs of stress disorder as this may increase the behavior.

With your veterinarian’s help, you can correctly diagnose and treat OCD and help your pet return to its happy normal self.