Dogs may not suffer from the classic obsessions and compulsions that plague millions of people, but they do engage in compulsive behaviors that can adversely affect and interfere with their lives. Compulsive behaviors are exaggerations of normal behaviors that occur for longer periods than normal or in situations that are abnormal.
Common obsessive-compulsive disorder (“OCD”) behaviors in dogs include such things as tail chasing, light chasing, chewing, spinning, staring into space, fly biting and sucking. These behaviors are typically caused by stress or frustration, and they tend to get worse over time. Without effective treatment, compulsions can lead to health problems and reduced quality of life for both dog and owner.
Treating Obsessions and Compulsions in Dogs
The primary goals of treatment are to eliminate or reduce abnormal behaviors and remove any underlying causes of the OCD. Before treatment can begin, contributory medical problems, such as flea infestations, food allergies, and other conditions must be diagnosed and resolved. Environmental stress sources should also be identified and reduced or eliminated to prevent relapse.
Traditionally, obsessions and compulsions in dogs are controlled through a combination of medication and behavior modification. Recently, increasing numbers of pet parents are seeking natural remedies for obsessive and compulsive behaviors in dogs to avoid unwanted side effects of medications. Treatment of canine OCD is often life-long.
Medication for Canine OCD
A number of prescription medications are currently available to treat canine compulsions, and new ones are being developed all the time. Most of these medications work by altering levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Drug classes such as tricyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors are frequently prescribed to reduce symptoms, but these medications can cause adverse side effects and interact with other common medications, including those found in flea and tick collars. These side effects and other problems increase the appeal of natural remedies. For severe cases, however, prescription drugs remain a first-line treatment.
Behavior Modification Techniques
Behavior modification is an important part of treating OCD in dogs. Some animals respond well to distractions when compulsions start, while others do better with increased exercise or soothing activities. Negative reinforcement and punishment should never be used to treat OCD and may actually worsen the condition.
To ensure effectiveness, a treatment plan should be developed by a canine behavior expert and then worked into the daily routine at home. It may take a while to notice positive effects from behavior modification techniques. Behavior modification is often used in conjunction with herbal remedies.
Natural Remedies for Obsessions and Compulsions
The use of herbal and other natural remedies for canine OCD is becoming more commonplace. Massage therapy also can help reduce anxiety and stress in dogs, and participation in performance activities such as obedience, tracking, fly ball, agility, utility, sledding, etc. has proven to be helpful to reduce stress and anxiety. Acupuncture is also growing in popularity, and many pet parents find compression wraps effective at reducing stress and anxiety.
Certain herbs, such as St. John’s wort, valerian root, passionflower, skullcap, chamomile and lemon balm have also proven to be effective at reducing anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behavior in dogs.
Things to Consider
While it may be tempting to purchase the first natural remedy for OCD you find in your local pet store, it is important to research OCD treatments before buying and using them. Because herbal remedies are not regulated by the FDA, it is not always possible to know exactly what ingredients are contained in each product. Plus, some of these alternative therapies lack controlled studies showing effectiveness, and a veterinarian should always be consulted before any therapy—traditional or otherwise—is implemented.
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