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Canine Compulsive Disorder: Symptoms and treatment options

Lethal White Aussies like Diga are much more likely to be diagnosed with CCD.
Lethal White Aussies like Diga are much more likely to be diagnosed with CCD.
Joy Austin

Canine Compulsive Disorder is similar to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in humans, however, since we do not have access to a dog's thoughts, the disorder is characterized primarily based on compulsive behaviors. CCD is most common in blind or vision-impaired dogs, as well as breeds like Bull Terriers, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers and Labrador Retrievers. While many of these behaviors may occur from time to time in normal dogs, the behavior becomes obsessive when it begins to dominate the dog's life, affecting normal feeding and exercise.

Symptoms of Compulsive Behavior

  • Tail-chasing
  • Spinning
  • Light chasing
  • Barking
  • Chewing
  • Staring into space
  • Sucking on a toy
  • Sucking on a body part
  • Pica

Examples of Compulsive Behavior

Spinning is a common compulsive behavior in blind dogs. Since they cannot see what is around them, blind dogs tend to walk in small circles through the part of the house or yard where they know what is around them. Diga, a vision-impaired Lethal White Aussie, normally navigates well on her own. However, when bright sunlight gets in her sensitive eyes, she begins walking in tight, anxious circles because she has lost what vision she had.

Just as cats can become addicted to chasing a laser light, dogs are vulnerable to the same addiction. In addition to simply chasing the light, compulsive dogs may constantly look for the light even when it is not being used. Using a laser light may not be the best option for your dog.

Just as humans with certain mental disorders engage in repetitive behaviors to soothe themselves, dogs can experience the same phenomenon. While the behavior itself, like tail-chasing, may not seem useful, for some anxious dogs, the process of repeating the behavior becomes self-soothing.

Dogs who compulsively lick and chew at their own fur may be reacting to a food allergy. Many dogs are sensitive to grains such as wheat or corn in their food. If your dog constantly licks and picks at his fur, then try switching to a grain-free food. This may solve the problem entirely after a few weeks to adjust to the new food. Anti-chew spray can also be purchased which is safe to spray on your dogs paws or legs to prevent chewing. These natural-based sprays are designed to be safe for your dog's body and to taste bad so your dog will not chew where they are sprayed. Most dogs will stop chewing on paws or legs once the anti-chew spray is applied. If your dog continues to lick and chew at his body even with the anti-chew spray, then a compulsive disorder is likely.

Causes of CCD

Canine Compulsive Disorder is typically caused by stress or frustration. Dogs have different tolerance levels for stress in their environment. Mild symptoms are not a cause for concern, however when the behavior becomes so frequent that it interferes with normal eating, sleeping and exercise, then the problem requires treatment. Dogs who chase their tails often end up chewing on their tails, sometimes to the point of requiring amputation. Dogs who constantly lick and suck on their fur can develop skin infections.

Certain breeds are genetically predisposed toward compulsive behavior. Bull Terriers and German Shepherds are more prone to chronic tail-chasing. Doberman Pinschers are known for flank-sucking behavior. Labrador Retrievers, just as in the movie Marley & Me, are known for pica, which involves eating non-food objects on a regular basis.

Treatment Options

The first step in the evaluation process is to have a complete physical exam and some basic bloodwork done at the vet to rule out any medical conditions that may be affecting your dog's behavior. Temporary use of an E-collar may help with compulsive licking and chewing as this breaks the compulsive cycle. If your dog has no medical issues, then an anxiety medication may be helpful. Behavior modification also helps. Encourage your dog to engage in normal and appropriate behaviors such as going for a walk or playing with toys. For a dog who has become so compulsive that eating is a problem, try mixing some soft Moist & Meaty food with your dog's regular food to make it more enticing. Purchasing some new toys may also serve as a helpful distraction. Chew bones can be another good distraction for dogs who chew or lick obsessively. A Thundershirt may also be helpful in reducing anxiety. With behavior modification and anxiety medication, dogs with Canine Compulsive Disorder can lead a more healthy, normal life.