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Anxiety and Compulsive Disorders in Dogs



If all of the physical tests fail to confirm a cause for the behavior, a veterinary behaviorist may be consulted. Treatment is usually conducted on an outpatient basis, however, if your dog is showing severe self-mutilation and self-induced injury, it may need to be hospitalized. Your dog will need to be protected from the environment until the anti-anxiety medications reach effective levels, which may require days or weeks of therapy, constant monitoring, stimulation, and care. Sedation may be necessary in severe cases.


Your veterinarian will prescribe anti-anxiety medication along with a behavior modification program. If possible, videotape your dog as soon as the behavior begins. A pattern may become clear. Any itchy skin diseases should be diagnosed by your veterinarian, since itchiness and pain/discomfort are related to anxiety.


Behavior modification will be geared toward teaching the dog to relax in a variety of environmental settings, and to substitute a calm, competitive, or desired behavior for the obsessive-compulsive one. Desensitization and counter conditioning are most effective when instituted early, so it is essential to begin these techniques as soon as you become aware of compulsive behaviorisms in your dog. The training may be coupled with a verbal cue that signals the dog to execute a behavior that is competitive with the abnormal one (for example, instead of circling, the patient is taught to relax and lie down with its head and neck stretched prone on the floor when it is told, “head down”).


Punishment should be avoided, as it can lead to greater anxiety and may make the behavior worse, or lead to the dog’s being more secretive. Confinement or excessive physical restraint should also not be used to the anxiety that is provoked. Avoid bandages, collars, braces, and crates; all serve to focus the dog more on the center of its distress and will make it feel worse. If these are needed to ensure healing, they should be used for a minimal amount of time or as your veterinarian recommends.


Living and Management


Monitor behaviors via weekly videotaping and/or written logs, with times, dates, and the behavior leading up to the obsessive behavior tracked. This will provide unbiased assessments of change and help with alterations in treatment plans. Your veterinarian will schedule biannual visits with you and your dog to obtain complete blood counts, biochemistry profile and urinalysis, to be sure that the body is healthy and not contributing to your dog's anxiety or distress. Observe for vomiting, gastrointestinal distress, and rapid breathing. If these symptoms are identified, contact your veterinarian.


Medications may take several weeks to show an effect on the target behavior - the first sign of efficacy may be changes in the duration or frequency of bouts rather than total cessation of the undesired behaviors. Setting realistic expectations for change will help you manage the outcome of behavioral and medical intervention. Relapses are common and to be expected during stressful or new situations.


Don’t try to reassure your pet that it does not have to spin, chew, or perform other repetitive behaviors; this inadvertently rewards the repetitive behavior. Reward the dog only when it is not engaged in behavior and is relaxed. However, the behavior should not be entirely ignored. If left untreated, these conditions almost always progress to more serious levels.



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