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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in Dogs and Cats

101723373By Dr. Becker

Obsessive compulsive behaviors occur in many types of animals, including horses, dogs, cats, exotic birds, pigs and many zoo inhabitants.

Two of the most common behaviors in dogs are obsessive licking which results in acral lick dermatitis (ALD), also known as a lick granuloma, and tail chasing.

In cats, common obsessive behaviors include wool-sucking (pica, or the eating of non-food substances) and psychogenic alopecia, which is hair loss and baldness from excessive grooming of the hair and skin.

According to Veterinary Practice News:

"In people with OCD—and by inference in animals exhibiting compulsive behavior—the cycle goes something like this: Anxiety leads to engagement in a repetitive behavior (a compulsion), which affords temporary relief. Later a constantly recurring thought (an obsession) occurs that causes escalating anxiety. Engagement in the compulsion relieves the anxiety, and so the cycle is propagated."

Animals with compulsive disorders tend to be relatively anxious and high strung. It isn’t common to find OCD-type behavior in laidback animals. An anxious nature may be inherited, however, research indicates a component of ‘nurture,’ for example, a high conflict situation, is necessary for expression of a compulsive behavior.

In considering treatment for a pet with OCD, according to Veterinary Practice News:

"Environmental enrichment alone will not normally reverse a compulsive disorder, but a stress-free, user-friendly environment can prevent compulsive behavior from developing in the first place and make relapse less likely after successful pharmacological treatment."

Preventing a dog or cat from performing a compulsive behavior by physically restraining the animal in some way only leads to more anxiety, not less.

Dr. Becker’s Comments:

Unfortunately, I see a lot of pet dog and cat obsessive compulsive disorders in my practice.

It’s a curse among the many blessings of modern day life and convenience. As much as we love the animals we share our lives with, and as concerned as we are about their health and happiness, very few of us are in a position to allow our pets to live according to their true canine or feline nature.

In my recent interview with Ted Kerasote, we talked about understanding the essential nature of dogs, and how left to their own devices, our canine companions would live extremely active lives, with tremendous amounts of outdoor activity. This is their genetic destiny as descendants of wolves.

Our kitties are natural loners, hunters and athletes. Their place in our lives as indoor-only feline royalty really doesn’t afford them the opportunity to flex their genetic muscles.

Suggestions to Prevent, Control or Reduce OCD in Your Pet

First things first: optimize the physical health of your dog or cat.

If your dog or cat is well-nourished with species-appropriate food, is in good physical condition from plenty of heart-thumping exercise, and is neither over vaccinated nor over medicated, congratulations! You’ve already built a fantastically solid foundation for excellent physical and mental health in your pet.

I don’t see too many extremely healthy, physically active animals with intractable OCD at Natural Pet (my animal hospital).

I also recommend you take your dog or cat to the vet for a wellness exam to insure the source of the obsessive behavior is indeed behavioral and not a physical condition, such as thyroid disease, which needs to be addressed.

If Your Pet is a Dog

Most dogs, especially larger breeds, just aren’t as physically active as they’re designed to be. It can be a challenge to tire out a big dog, especially one of the working or sporting breeds.

If your dog is performing compulsive behaviors, try increasing his exercise. Some suggestions:

  • Walks and hikes
  • Take your dog for a swim
  • Play fetch-the-ball
  • Bike ride with a special dog bike leash
  • Play hide-and-seek with treats and toys
  • Roller blade or jog alongside your dog
  • Get involved in obedience or tracking events, flyball, agility or other sports

I also recommend you help your dog stay mentally stimulated with chew toys and treat-release toys like the Clever K-9. Also place small treats around the house for her to discover, along with other favorite toys.

You might also consider investing in a D.A.P.™ collar or diffuser for your dog. D.A.P.™ is an acronym for Dog Appeasing Pheromone and is designed to have a calming affect on dogs. The collar seems to work well for many dog owners with pups suffering from stress-related behaviors.

Talk with your holistic vet about homeopathic remedies for obsessive behaviors. You can also try a product like Spirit Essences Obsession Remedy.

If You’re Owned by a Cat

Changes in routine are extremely stressful for kitties. When you disrupt your pet’s routine, it translates to him as a loss of control over his very survival.

If a cat in your household is exhibiting OCD behaviors, the first thing you’ll want to do is dramatically limit the number of unusual external events your pet is exposed to.

Cats are independent. They like to set their own schedules, exert full control over their environment, and depend only on themselves for survival.

Just because your beloved feline lives in the house with you doesn’t mean he’s lost his drive to rule the roost. So the more you can do to help your cat feel in control and not an alien in a foreign land, the less stress he’ll endure.

Some suggestions for environmental enrichment for your kitty:

  • Feeding and routine care (litter box scooping, brushing, etc.) should happen at the same time each day.
  • Keep food bowls and litter boxes in the same spot – don’t move them around unnecessarily.
  • Keep litter boxes clean, as well as bedding.
  • Provide an assortment of appropriate cat toys, hiding boxes, scratching posts/trees, etc., and make sure your pet has plenty, if not constant access to these goodies.
  • Consider playing soothing music for an hour or two each day.

You might also consider treat or food-dispensing toys for cats, window perches, and kitty videos.

Spend some time every day playing with your cat, using interactive toys like a laser pointer or Da Bird.

Also consider feline stress remedies by Spirit Essences and OptiBalance cat and kitten formulas. Discuss homeopathic remedies for obsessive behavior with your holistic vet.

Pharmacotherapy for Pet OCD

As you might have guessed, I’m not a big fan of the use of SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Prozac and Zoloft) or N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) blockers in the treatment of obsessive behaviors in animals.

They are sometimes appropriate in extreme, intractable cases and/or when an animal is causing harm to himself. Sometimes they can be used as an interim measure to interrupt the cycle of behavior at the same time other less harmful remedies are being attempted.

But my general recommendation is to try a wide variety of natural remedies first, since every drug has side effects.

October 6, 2013 Posted by | animal behavior, Animal Related Education, Dogs, Dogs, Pet Friendship and Love, Pet Health, Pet Nutrition, Pets, responsible pet ownership | , , , , , | 4 Comments

The New Rules About Who Gets Your Family Pet in a Divorce

Story at-a-glance
  • Nowadays, when pet owning couples break up, it’s less likely the family dog or cat (or bird or other companion animal) will be viewed as just another piece of property to be distributed.
  • Both pet owners and those in the business of settling divorces realize pet custody issues can be as thorny as child custody disputes. These days, divorce mediators and judges are more apt to consider the best interests of the pet.
  • In deciding who should get custody, the courts take into consideration such things as which party takes care of the animal’s basic daily needs, veterinary visits, socialization and training, and who is better equipped financially to care for a pet.
  • Couples who are splitting up should keep their pet’s interests in mind and make custody decisions based on providing the best care and stability for the animal.
  • Depending on many factors including the type of animal involved, it makes sense for some couples to share custody, while others will do the right thing by relinquishing a beloved pet to the person better able to care for it.

pet-custody[1]

By Dr. Becker

Not so long ago, when couples got divorced, their pets were viewed as property to be divvied up right along with the furniture and fine china. And in fact, in the eyes of the law, that’s what a pet is – personal property. But more recently, with both divorce and pet ownership rates soaring, pet custody has become a stickier issue when couples split up.

Pets are often viewed as family members these days, and divorcing couples are more apt to battle each other for the right to keep a beloved dog or cat. In recognition of the human-animal bond, and because pet custody is a sensitive subject not unlike child custody disputes, divorce mediators and family court judges are recognizing the need to consider what’s best for the pet.

According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF):1

"Although animals are considered property in the eyes of the law at this time, some courts are beginning to recognize that one’s relationship with this particular form of property known as the family cat, dog, bird etc., is much different from one’s relationship with other forms of property such as your couch, your watch or your coffee pot."

In deciding who should be awarded custody of a family pet, the court may consider such things as:

  • Which party takes care of the animal’s basic daily needs for such things as food, shelter, potty walks or litter box maintenance, exercise, grooming, and supervision?
  • Who takes the pet to the veterinarian?
  • In the case of a dog, which party insures he gets plenty of social interaction with other dogs and people, and sees to his training?
  • Who has the greatest ability to financially support the pet?

If you and your spouse or significant other (or roommate, in some cases) are splitting up and there is a pet involved, my hope is that you will put the animal’s best interests first.

Doing What’s Best for Your Pet

Some “who gets the pet” situations are clearer than others. For example, if you came into the relationship with a pet, that pet should stay with you unless for some reason your spouse or partner developed more of a bond with the animal than you did. Also, if your pet is much more attached to one of you, in most cases he or she will be the person who assumes custody.

Equally obvious is what to do in situations where one or the other of you is moving to a residence that doesn’t allow pets. In that case, you can consider having the non-custodial owner visit the pet, or take her for walks, or to the dog park, or on vacation.

If you and your spouse share joint custody of children, you might think about having your pet go back and forth between residences with the kids. This plan can work with dogs, but not so much with cats, who attach to a familiar environment. Most kitties will suffer stress-related issues if forced to shuttle back and forth between homes.

If there is more than one pet and they can be easily separated, all other things being equal, it might make sense for each of you to take a pet. Another option, if there is only one pet, is for the person keeping it to help the other party with the cost of acquiring a new pet.

Pets Need Consistency – Especially During and After a Family Breakup

Your dog or cat should live where there’s an established daily routine in which things happen on a predictable schedule. For example, if one of you is always home by 5:30pm while the other works a lot of overtime, the pet should spend most of his time with the spouse who’s home in the evenings.

If you don’t work, work from home, or are able to bring your pet to work with you, it makes sense for the pet to stay with you. Like kids, pets do best when there’s a parent around to supervise and keep them company.

If you and your ex are both able to provide consistent care for your pet and want to share custody, it’s best for the sake of stability and consistency not to shuttle your dog back and forth too frequently (and I don’t recommend shuttling kitties at all). If you can work out a monthly arrangement, it’s preferable to a weekly back-and-forth schedule.

If you’re sharing joint custody of a pet or pets, as part of your separation negotiation, it’s a really good idea to decide ahead of time who will be responsible for which pet-related expenses. This would include regular wellness exams, unplanned visits to the vet, and emergency care. You might want to look into pet health insurance plans as well.

October 6, 2013 Posted by | Animal or Pet Related Stories, Animal Related Education, animals, Dogs, Dogs, If Animlas Could Talk..., Just One More Pet, Man's Best Friend, Pet Friendship and Love, Pets, Political Change, responsible pet ownership, We Are All God's Creatures | , , , | 2 Comments