We learned in Part One that many dog owners have reported that their dogs experience symptoms similar to those seen in humans with mental illness. We also looked at depression and anxiety as specific conditions described in dogs as well as in humans. In part two, we’ll continue looking at the mental health of dogs with a focus on more conditions that may be similar in dogs and humans.
Humans with phobias experience a strong fear response and aversion when confronted with the object of their phobia. Common human phobias include spiders, heights, travel by air or confined spaces. A phobia is an intense and ongoing fear of one or more items, experiences or situations. A reasonable fear experienced in a situation where fear is normal is not a phobia.
In dogs, phobias are quite common. One of the most frequent dog phobias is thunderstorm phobia. Dogs with this condition will pace, drool and look for a confined space to hide when experiencing mild to moderate fear. If the fear is severe, affected dogs may destroy furniture or even mutilate their own paws and/or tail.
Phobias in both dogs and humans are most effectively treated with a behavioral approach emphasizing progressive desensitization. Talk to an animal behaviorist or veterinary behaviorist if you need help treating a phobic dog.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Canine Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in humans is characterized by obsessions–uncontrollable and repetitive, unwelcome thoughts–and compulsions. Compulsions are similar to obsessions but involve uncontrollable and repetitive actions, rather than thoughts alone. Some typical compulsions might include locking and unlocking doors a certain number of times or counting dots on ceiling tiles.
Canine Compulsive Disorder is one of the most recognized and studied mental illnesses present in dogs. It’s similar to human OCD, but, lacking the variety of possible actions enjoyed by humans, dogs often suffer from disturbing and dangerous compulsions. Some dogs with CCD chew their paws or tails to the bone or lick their haunches until they are raw. Less harmful compulsions are also common, such as spinning in circles or snapping at imaginary flies. Sometimes CCD symptoms appear when the disorder is not present, simply because a dog has accidentally associated a superstitious behavior with a desired result.
If you suspect that your dog suffers from CCD, call a veterinarian as soon as possible. Pharmaceutical options work well for some dogs. Other cases must be handled with a careful combination of behavior modification and management to prevent harm to the dog or those who interact with it.