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Anxiety and Compulsive Disorders in Dogs

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in Dogs

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in dogs manifests as a repetitive and relatively unchanging sequence of behaviors that lack an apparent purpose or function. These behaviors often stem from normal maintenance activities like grooming, eating, and walking but disrupt normal behavioral functioning, hence termed as “OCD” or “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.”

Common obsessive-compulsive behaviors observed in dogs include spinning, tail chasing, self-mutilation, hallucinating (fly biting), circling, fence running, hair/air biting, pica (consuming non-food substances like dirt, rocks, or feces), pacing, staring, and vocalizing. Additionally, some dogs may exhibit signs of aggression.

There’s no particular breed, gender, or age predisposed to obsessive-compulsive disorders, although certain types of OCD may correlate with specific breeds, such as spinning versus self-mutilation. Typically, OCD symptoms emerge early, around 12 to 24 months of age, coinciding with the dog’s developmental maturity (generally between 12 to 36 months of age). Early recognition of obsessive behaviors, particularly in dogs with a familial history of the disorder, is crucial for timely intervention.

Symptoms and Types

  • Indications of self-mutilation include hair loss, raw skin, with a common focus on the tail, forelimbs, and distant extremities.
  • The dog’s behavior progressively intensifies over time and cannot be halted even with physical restraint. It tends to increase in frequency or duration, significantly disrupting normal functioning.
  • Tail chasing occurs frequently, especially if the tip of the tail is absent, though not all tail-chasing dogs will mutilate their tails.
  • While onset may be observed in young dogs, it’s more prevalent during social maturity, with a decrease in playfulness and an increase in OCD behaviors.
  • While a singular trigger may appear to initiate the behavior (e.g., chasing a mouse unsuccessfully), often, no direct cause is evident.
  • Self-inflicted injuries and a decline in physical condition may accompany increased motor activity and repetitive behaviors.
  • Behavior tends to worsen over time.


  • Illness or painful physical conditions can heighten a dog’s anxieties and exacerbate these issues.
  • Spinning may be associated with kenneling and confinement.
  • Degenerative factors such as aging and related changes in the nervous system, anatomical abnormalities, infectious conditions primarily affecting the central nervous system (CNS), and toxic exposure like lead poisoning may contribute to symptoms. However, abnormal behavior is likely rooted in primary or secondary irregularities in nervous system chemical activity.


The veterinarian will conduct a comprehensive physical examination of your dog. You should provide detailed information about your dog’s health history, including symptoms, familial background, and any potential triggers for the behavior. The veterinarian will request a blood chemical profile, complete blood count, electrolyte panel, and urinalysis to exclude any underlying physical conditions or diseases.


If physical tests do not reveal a cause for the behavior, a veterinary behaviorist may be consulted. Treatment is typically conducted as an outpatient, but severe cases of self-mutilation may require hospitalization. During treatment, your dog will need protection from the environment until anti-anxiety medications take effect, which could take days or weeks of therapy, monitoring, stimulation, and care. Sedation may be necessary in severe cases.

Your veterinarian will prescribe anti-anxiety medication and implement a behavior modification program. Recording your dog’s behavior as soon as it starts is helpful for identifying patterns. Itchy skin diseases should be diagnosed by your veterinarian, as itchiness and discomfort are linked to anxiety.

Behavior modification aims to teach relaxation in various environments and substitute calm behaviors for obsessive-compulsive ones. Early initiation of desensitization and counter conditioning is crucial. Training may include a verbal cue to prompt a competitive behavior (e.g., teaching the dog to lie down with its head and neck stretched prone when told, “head down”).

Avoid punishment, as it can increase anxiety and worsen the behavior. Confinement or excessive physical restraint should also be avoided, as they can exacerbate anxiety. If necessary for healing, use bandages, collars, braces, and crates minimally and as recommended by your veterinarian.

Living and Management

To manage your dog’s condition, regularly record behaviors through weekly videotaping or written logs, noting times, dates, and preceding behaviors leading to obsessive actions. This will offer impartial evaluations of changes and aid in adjusting treatment plans. Your veterinarian will schedule biannual visits to assess complete blood counts, biochemical profiles, and urinalysis to ensure your dog’s overall health isn’t contributing to its anxiety or distress. Watch for symptoms like vomiting, gastrointestinal issues, and rapid breathing, and contact your veterinarian if noted.

It may take several weeks for medications to affect the target behavior, with initial signs of efficacy possibly seen in changes in frequency or duration of episodes rather than complete cessation of undesired behaviors. Realistic expectations for change are important for managing behavioral and medical interventions. Relapses are common, especially in stressful or new situations.

Avoid attempting to reassure your pet out of spinning, chewing, or other repetitive behaviors, as this inadvertently reinforces the behavior. Only reward your dog when it’s not engaged in the behavior and is relaxed. However, the behavior shouldn’t be completely ignored. Left untreated, these conditions typically worsen.

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