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Troubling pet behavior could be OCD

December 19, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
If you've ever seen it, you know how troubling it is to see pets plagued by offbeat and sometimes bizarre behavior. Owners don't know what's wrong and struggle with what they can do to help.Imaginary fly biting, non-stop licking and repetitive shadow hunting are all obvious signs that something's not quite right with your pet.

Deborah Santti's 10-month-old dog, a shepherd mix named Lucas, was compulsively chasing his tail.

"It was out of control. I thought it was just a fixation for a moment," said Deborah. "He whines, he bites the tail and just grips it, and he's still going in circles. He'll change direction."

Deborah was worried, so she brought him to animal behaviorist Dr. Nick Dodman. The diagnosis was obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

"OCD in pets is a real phenomenon," said Dr. Dodman.

It's the same condition that plagues millions of Americans who suffer obsessive thoughts about things - like germs or safety - and then engage in compulsive behaviors, such as repetitive hand washing or locking doors.

It's not just dogs; other animals like cats and horses can get OCD, too. Dr. Dodman says it's caused by genetics or the environment -- or both.

Certain breeds are predisposed. Boredom can also triggered OCD. If symptoms are severe Dr. Dodman advises using prescribed medications like Prozac or Zoloft for your pet; these are the same drugs often given to humans with OCD.

Dr. Dodman sees lots of similarities between animal and human patients. Around 75 percent of genes in their DNA makeup look similar to those in humans.

Much research still has to be done, but experts and pet owners are hopeful through combined research, researchers will find an answer.

"I'm hoping to get him so he doesn't look frustrated," said Deborah. "And you know, I just want to have a balanced dog."

Dr. Dodman says about 1.5 million pet dogs suffer from OCD.


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