As people consider their pets as part of their family, they are much more willing to spend money on their animals to ensure they live an enjoyable and healthy lifestyle. As a result of this increased monetary funding into the animal health field, further research has been conducted to better understand how to properly care for domestic animals and any diseases or disorders they may have. This includes, but is not limited to, psychological disorders. Although it may sound strange that animals could develop psychological disorders, it is not as rare as you may initially think. Many of these disorders that affect animals are comparable to disorders their human counterparts may experience. Such is the case with Canine Compulsive Disorder (CCD).
Canine Compulsive Disorder is a psychological disorder affecting dogs that is comparable to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in humans. Symptoms of CCD include excessive tail-chasing, flank suckling, licking to the point of raw skin, and light or shadow chasing. Many dogs are often euthanized or sent to shelters as a result of disruptive behaviors such as these. Just as there are certain aspects that predispose humans to disorders such as OCD, there are factors, such as breed and living environment stressors, that increase the chances of a dog developing CCD. Several studies have been conducted to explore how these genetic and environmental factors contribute to a dog’s psychological state.
Breed is a genetic factor that contributes to an animal’s health. Breed can cause dogs to be predisposed to certain health problems, such as an increased risk for heart disease or hip dysplasia. Animal scientists have recently been doing studies to determine if breed can also cause a dog to become predisposed to developing CCD. Although it hasn’t been specifically proven that breed directly influences a dog’s probability to develop CCD, there have been several correlations linked to one breed in particular: the Doberman Pinscher.
Ogata et al. (2013) reported that “CCD is highly prevalent among Dobermans, with an estimated incidence of about 28% in a database including over 2,300 dogs.” Although this may seem like an insignificant amount reported, it is important to note that this correlation has even been made considering the relative newness of animal psychiatric studies. Other studies have also suggested that there is a specific locus on canine chromosome 7 that is linked to Canine Compulsive Disorder. Specifically, the most high-risk single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) array is located on the CDH2 region of chromosome 7 making it the first locus identified as a cause of an animal compulsive disorder (Dodman et al. 2010).
The CDH2 locus on the gene has been associated with autism in humans, as well. It is also significant to note that this locus was identified within a Doberman Pinscher, further suggesting that this breed of dog has a higher incidence of developing CCD. Studies performed in China have also indicated that Dachshunds and Shiba Inu breeds were inclined to obsessive tail chasing, as well as growling and biting at their tail (Goto et al. 2012). This suggests that more extensive studies should be performed to determine what breeds may have a predisposition to these obsessive compulsions, as well as if these are behaviors that can be linked to CCD or are just habits performed out of boredom.
Besides breed, scientists have researched the potential impact that environmental stressors could have on the probability that a dog develops Canine Compulsive Disorder (CCD). Many of the symptoms of CCD are behaviors that most pet owners would not think are worrisome, such as tail chasing or fly biting. However, it is when these behaviors turn repetitively compulsive and are disturbing the animal’s daily life or peace of mind that an owner may realize that something is wrong. Tiira et al. (2012) conducted an extensive survey composed of 368 dogs from 4 different breeds that raised several interesting conclusions about environmental factors that influence CCD, specifically the symptom of excessive tail-chasing.
They found that dogs that had been spayed or neutered had a lower incidence of tail-chasing behavior than the dogs that had not been altered. This result was seen more significantly in females, suggesting that hormones released from the female reproductive tract may have an association with obsessive tail-chasing behavior. Furthermore, there was a correlation suggesting that dogs who received dietary supplements that included vitamins and minerals displayed less tail-chasing behaviors than dogs who did not receive a dietary supplement. Although dietary nutrients did seem to have an effect, the type of food the dog was fed did not have an apparent correlation to the development of compulsive behaviors, regardless of brand of dog food, wet food, or dry kibble.
Just as in humans, psychological development can be heavily influenced by early life, known as the socialization period, in dogs. Being isolated or growing up in an unstimulating environment often leads to the onset of neurological disorders, such as OCD or CCD. There is a strong correlation between puppies that have been weaned from their mother too early or not socialized properly developing some of these compulsive behaviors, such as tail chasing. Due to the unstimulating environment or feeling of seclusion, puppies find ways to entertain themselves by chasing their tail or biting at shadows, creating these habits early that could spiral into uncontrollable behaviors that eventually interrupt their normal life (Goto et al. 2012). Veterinarians commonly stress the importance of socializing dogs at a young age and providing them with plenty of toys and stimulus to prevent the development of these behaviors or more destructive ones such as chewing furniture.
As demonstrated, Canine Compulsive Disorder is considered comparable to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in several ways. Both disorders are neuropsychiatric disorders that cause repetitive and often exaggerated compulsive behaviors or rituals. Sometimes these can be harmful or at the very least disruptive to daily life. Tiira et al. (2012) reported that “similarities between canine compulsive behaviors and their human analogs include repetitive nature, early-onset, and response to medication such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).” To support this, they went on further to document that some or all these symptoms had early onset of 3-6 months, which is comparable to the beginning of symptoms in humans which often occur following prepubescent age. Due to the numerous comparable characteristics between CCD and OCD, scientists have gone as far to say that the tail chasing component of CCD studies can be used as a model for human OCD.
Just as humans often opt to receive treatment to help with compulsive behaviors associated with OCD, there are treatments available to dogs. Increasing pharmaceutical research is being conducted so that multiple drugs are available to owners to ensure their animal is being treated properly. A study was performed in 2009 to test the effectiveness of memantine, a medication that blocks the NMDA receptor within nerve cells, as a new treatment method (Schneider et al, 2009). The dogs in the study received a dosed amount of memantine, either alone or in addition to other CCD pharmaceuticals, twice a day. Reportedly, 64% of the study population had decreased behaviors associated with CCD by the second week of the trial with only one dog reporting side effects of increased urination. Therefore, the study concluded that memantine does have the potential to be used as an efficient treatment for CCD; however, additional studies are necessary to determine if this product is safe long term and on a larger number of test subjects.
Currently, there are limited studies that have targeted CCD specifically. However, the studies that have been conducted have demonstrated similar results. It is suggested that genetics and breed play a major role in determining if a dog will develop CCD, such as the apparent correlation between the reoccurring CDH2 region of chromosome 7 found in Doberman Pinschers. Furthermore, scientists do believe that environmental stressors have an influence on exaggerated compulsive behaviors, including age of the dog, time before being removed from their mother, and frustration experienced from lack of stimulus. Surprisingly, diet and time spent alone were not factors that appeared to have an influence.
Although there have been studies conducted to allow humans to better understand psychological disorders, such as Canine Compulsive Disorder, that affect many domestic dogs, there is still much more research needed to fully understand the impact these disorders have on the neuropsychiatric state of animals affected. Furthermore, information obtained from previous and further studies can be utilized as comparison for scientists studying OCD in humans. Due to domesticated animals being integrated into people’s families and daily lives, more research will be funded to better understand this disorder, and others like it, as owners continue to take measures to ensure their furry friends are living the best life possible.
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