Flank Sucking, Lick Granulomas and other OCD Behaviors

“I have a 7 year old male Rottweiler that has a really long lasting habit. He incessantly chews his upper hip near the base of his tail…… ” –Rayn Galloway, Cookeville, TN

This week’s question comes to us from Jackson County. The initial inquiry, posted at the top, is an intro that was followed up with great information from a pet owner who knows her stuff!! For the sake of this post – we are going to cover some of that same great stuff and go a little deeper.

The first step in diagnosing any behavior problem is to rule out any potential medical issues. We are grateful to have good working relationships with many middle Tennessee veterinarians, so communication between us and your medical team is typically easy and allows for a more complete analysis to be done. In this case, we want to start by ruling out parasites, allergies, anal gland impaction and make sure a complete physical is performed. If all checks out, we can proceed with addressing it behaviorally.

Like humans, many dogs will engage in Obsessive Compulsive Behaviors. Some involve licking, chewing and suckling on themselves. Others can include circling, “fly catching” (when there are no flies present), pacing and more.There are many theories on the subject, and research continues to paint us a better picture of why this occurs. One of the current, science supported, theories is that these dogs have a genetic predisposition to OCD and then there is an environmental component that “triggers” the onset. What this means is that if a dog is genetically predisposed, then stress or a medical issue can open the door for OCD behaviors.

A major component in solving a behavior problem is almost ALWAYS increase mental and physical stimulation. Most dogs are bored. If they were wild, they would have to hunt or scavenge their meals. If they were born into the job for which they were bred, they would be working a farm or flushing game, or some other mentally and physically challenging activity. But not our house pets. They are provided food in a dish and rarely get off of their own property. This frustration and boredom often results in the onset of behavior problems.

However, once OCD behaviors begin, just increasing your dog’s daily exercise and training doesn’t always cause them to stop. The reason for this is that performing the behavior results in the release of serotonin in the dog’s brain – which is pleasurable to the dog. Some dogs will lick/chew their forelimbs to the point of deep lesions to the bone, ignoring the physical discomfort to gain the pleasure sensation of serotonin release.

When a dog is diagnosed with OCD, we need to access how severe the issue really is. Some dogs just use the behavior to self sooth in the evening, or cope with stressful moments. In those dogs, there is no physical injury or irritation. It is much more irritating to the humans than the animal. In those cases, we simply don’t interfere. Increasing mental and physical stimulation is ALWAYS a good idea, and may reduce the occurrence. But if the dog isn’t hurting itself, we don’t draw attention to the behavior. We just monitor to make sure it doesn’t increase in frequency to something that does injure the dog.

In cases where injury is occurring we can step in environmentally, institute preventative measures, and/or medicate.

Environmentally, we can try to identify triggers to the dog’s stress and remove them from the situation. To institute preventative measures, we use bandages, elizabethan collars, taste deterrents or other things to physically prevent the dog from engaging in the behavior. With medications – we treat any injury that may be present, and also treat the brain with serotonin reuptake inhibitors. This class of medication prevents the brain from receiving the gratification it normally feels from a serotonin release. When the dog no longer feels the euphoric effect of serotonin, it is no longer a self rewarding behavior and often stops completely. In many cases, with appropriate intervention, OCD behaviors can be managed.

Thank you for the use of the photos: Valerie Crowell, Rhonda Rhines, Britney Croteau, Melinda Poston, Pam Stout & Sami Hannah

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