Goals of Treating OCD
Canine obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can interfere with a dog’s quality of life and health. It also can be very destructive to the relationship between the dog and its owner. Fortunately, this condition usually can be controlled through behavior modification and medication. The goals of treating canine OCD include reducing or eliminating the abnormal ritualistic behavior(s) and removing or minimizing any underlying causes of those behaviors that can be identified. Treatment options include behavior and environmental modification and prescription medication, and it probably will be life-long. Additional supportive care therapies may also help in certain circumstances. Punishment of OCD behaviors should never be used.
Any identified underlying medical problems, such as flea infestation, food allergies, urinary tract disease, constipation or other health conditions, should be resolved before specific treatment begins for obsessive compulsive disorders. The source of any particular environmental stressors should also be eliminated if at all possible.
Once that is accomplished, behavior modification is almost always recommended as a first-line treatment for dogs diagnosed with OCD. Pet owners will likely need to work closely with their veterinarians and possibly with canine behavior experts to experiment with different methods to see which ones help their dogs the most. Some dogs respond best to distractions, such as being played with or taken out for a nice long walk, when they start to engage in obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Other dogs respond better to an increase in exercise, or perhaps even a calmer, more soothing and predictable home environment. Usually, providing a regular daily routine also helps to minimize the symptoms of OCD. Dogs should not be punished for engaging in compulsive behaviors. Punishment is not a recognized or effective form of treatment and can actually increase a dog’s level of arousal and anxiety, which in turn can exacerbate signs of the disorder. Punishment or other forms of negative reinforcement can also interfere with a dog’s ability to learn new, non-ritualistic behaviors successfully.
There currently are a number of prescription medications that also can be used to help treat canine obsessive compulsive disorder, and new medications are being researched and developed all the time. Basically, these drugs are designed to alter the neurotransmitters and the neurochemical balance in the dog’s body and brain. They presently include a class of drugs called tricyclic antidepressants, and another class called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Both can be given orally by owners at home with little difficulty, under the general supervision of the prescribing veterinarian. These medications can have adverse side effects and can react adversely with some other drugs if they are used at the same time, such as medications contained in flea and tick collars and other parasite preventatives. A veterinarian is the only one who can decide which treatment options to use, and in which order. He may change the treatment protocol over time if the dog’s condition does not progressively improve. If sufficient progress is not seen, owners may be referred to a veterinary behavior specialist for further guidance.
Other techniques that may be appropriate, in addition to medical treatment and managed behavior modification, might include massage therapy to reduce anxiety and stress; training and participation in performance activities such as fly ball, obedience, agility, tracking, utility, field trials, sledding, weight pulling, etc.; possible application of acupressure techniques; use of herbal or other non-regulated supplements or “remedies”; or other forms of exercise and supportive care which might help to promote wellness, calmness, confidence and comfort. Some of these more non-traditional, alternative or adjunct approaches lack controlled studies of their effectiveness and may not have established quality control methods or ways to assess their benefit to dogs with this disorder.
The prognosis for dogs with obsessive compulsive disorders is quite variable. Successful treatment depends largely upon the owner’s commitment to the process, as well as on identification and resolution of the underlying causes of the stress, anxiety or other problems. As with most disorders, the prognosis is better for dogs that are diagnosed and treated early and consistently. If your dog displays signs consistent with obsessive compulsive disorder, you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. The behaviors associated with this disorder almost always worsen without treatment, so the sooner treatments are started, the better.