Yes, pets can experience obsessive compulsive disorders. Technically they actually just suffer from “compulsive disorders” since the term “obsessive” pertains to thoughts, and we can’t know what our pets are thinking.
OCD in pets – not to be confused with Osteochondritis Dissecans, an abnormal bone growth condition – can occur in all kinds of animals. It’s most likely to be seen in relatively high-strung, anxious pets.
Defining OCD in Pets
What does OCD look like in animals? The condition is essentially a magnification of typical pet behaviors. The biggest difference between a normal behavior and a compulsive behavior is that the compulsive behavior happens out of context. Snapping at a fly is normal; snapping repeatedly at the empty air is not.
Here are a few of the ways compulsive disorders can manifest in pets…
Staring at walls
Sucking on a toy (“suckling”)
What Causes Obsessive Behaviors?
In general, compulsive behaviors are caused by stress, frustration, and/or conflict. It’s generally understood that these behaviors aren’t usually caused by one singular event, but they can sometimes be prevented with stable, nurturing environments. Some breeds are genetically predisposed to developing anxiety disorders such as OCD.
If untreated, OCD behaviors tend to get worse. Our pets shift from exhibiting the behaviors during the stress event to exhibiting them all the time. In severe cases, the behaviors can take over regular life and even disrupt sleep, cause infections, or lead to comorbidities like separation anxiety.
Treating OCD in Pets
It’s important to note right off the bat what you shouldn’t do if you suspect your pet has OCD. Never restrain your pet to prevent them from carrying out their compulsion; this just increases their anxiety.
Treating compulsive behavior is always a multi-pronged process. Your veterinarian will want to start with a thorough physical exam to rule out neurologic, endocrine, and orthopedic disorders. You’ll talk extensively about your pet’s symptoms and your vet may ask you to keep a behavior log for several days or even weeks before making a final diagnosis.
OCD can be successfully treated with prescription medications designed to lower stimulation arousal in many cases. Behavioral modification therapies are usually also recommended. Oftentimes, OCD treatment for pets is life-long.
It’s always more successful to prevent OCD than to treat it. Ensuring your pet stays in excellent physical condition, encouraging daily exercise, and providing a reliable routine are the best ways to keep potential compulsions from developing in the first place.