This pup is being treated for obsessive-compulsive disorder in dogs.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in Dogs

Obsessive-compulsive disorder in dogs isn’t seen the same way as it’s seen with humans. For starters, without a dog translator, we can’t be sure that dogs are thinking obsessive-compulsive thoughts.

However, given they can exhibit obsessive-compulsive behaviours, it’s still cause for concern. Especially when it’s your woof who’s compulsively licking, scratching, or spinning and snapping their own tail. In such a case, what can you do?

Let’s find out…

What causes obsessive-compulsive disorder in dogs

Understanding possible causes is always a good place to begin because these can range from behavioural to physical. Often, a problem that is physical quickly escalates and becomes behavioural too. And this can also happen in the inverse.

For example, a dog with a painful medical condition that scratches the infected area can become stressed. The stress can contribute to them scratching more, or more compulsively.

On the other hand, a dog who’s stressed might compulsively lick themselves until they create a lesion which causes further compulsive licking.

This pup suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder in dogs.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder in dogs: Underlying reasons

Here are some examples of possible reasons for obsessive-compulsive disorders in dogs: 

  • Skin problems
  • Neurologic diseases
  • Allergies
  • Genetic predispositions
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Under-stimulation


As you can see, causes range from behavioural to physical. Given we can’t send our fur kid to psychiatrists or counsellors; we can instead turn to behaviourists, trainers and vets. More on that further on…

The other OCD in dogs (just an FYI)

In humans, obsessive-compulsive disorder is often referred to as OCD, however, in dogs, it’s often called canine compulsive disorder. In fact, there’s a condition called Osteochondritis Dissecans that affects dogs’ cartilage. This condition is also referred to as OCD.

That said, obsessive-compulsive disorder in dogs is still often also referred to as OCD.

Just to clarify, Osteochondritis Dissecans is a developmental disorder in the cartilage, bone or joint, and typically affects larger dogs. This condition may cause a dog to limp or make them lame and often requires surgery.

All our pet insurance plans include cover for hospitalisation, prescription medication and operating costs.

Canine compulsive disorder

How do you know if your dog is playing harmlessly, or if they have canine compulsive disorder? Firstly, normal behaviour is occasional, rather than repetitive or ‘ritualised’ behaviour. Secondly these compulsive behaviours don’t make your dog happy and have a sense of urgency rather than playfulness. And thirdly, these behaviours are often accompanied by some sort of physical pain.

Here are some examples of canine compulsive behaviours:

Compulsive tail chasing in dogs

If there’s an uncomfortable urgency in the spinning, tail chasing may be a symptom of seizures. Or your dog might have an infection or other painful physical condition. This could be in the area at the base of their tail, or even somewhere in the region of their bottom.

Compulsive licking

Repeatedly licking the same area can cause the skin to break and a wound to open. This condition is called acral lick dermatitis and it can be caused by arthritis, food allergies or stress among others.

Flank sucking in dogs

Some breeds, like for example, Dobermans seem more predisposed to flank sucking. This is when a dog holds a part of their flank (their side, between the chest and the rear leg) in their mouth. This can be caused by a genetic disposition or by stress and can result in lesions.  

There are plenty of other compulsive behaviours, such as becoming fixated with an object, like shadows. Watch this video where a dog’s compulsive guarding behaviour makes them sees their leg as a threat:

Although this might look funny to some, it’s a compulsive disorder that could result in the dog seriously injuring itself.   

Treating canine compulsive disorder

As mentioned earlier, it’s a good idea to treat your dog’s behaviours and check for physical conditions that need treatment. For this two-pronged approach here are some options:

Medical therapy. A visit to the vet is your first line of defence. Have your vet diagnose any physical conditions that are causing or resulting from compulsive behaviours. Ask your vet the way forward in terms of a treatment plan.

Behavioural treatment. It’s a good idea to have your dog see a behaviourist or dog trainer to speed up the recovery. An expert can do more than fast track your dog’s progress. In addition, they can tool you up with a plan for how to help your pup recover.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder in dogs can result from separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety & obsessive-compulsive disorder in dogs

Separation anxiety in pets can be the cause of stress or anxiety. Especially with the chopping and changing rhythm of COVID restrictions that have some pet parents working from home then going back to the office.

If your dog is stressed because of under-stimulation, you may need to schedule more playtime and/or training.

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

Get obsessed with NZ dog insurance

Did you know we offer free puppy insurance when your pup is between six and 30 weeks old? Or if your pooch is a bit bigger, they might be eligible for one month of free dog insurance when your purchase your member policy online.

Why not leap in and grab insurance now, before you pet develops any conditions that won’t be covered otherwise..?

*T&Cs apply.

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