Canine Compulsive Disorder

I have a mixed breed dog that constantly licks everything. She does not lick herself so much that she gets sores, but she always wants to lick something, including us. Is this a medical problem?

Incessant licking can be a manifestation of canine compulsive disorder, which is a psychological syndrome characterized by repetitive activities. These activities can include fly-biting, tail-chasing, obsessive barking, circling and self-mutilation. Dogs that have this problem may be incapable of stopping their behavior, and it can interfere with normal eating, sleeping and play behavior.

Experts do not seem to know why these behaviors develop, but several possible factors have been theorized. Some breeds seem to be genetically disposed for certain behaviors, like flank-sucking in Doberman Pinschers or spinning in Bull Terriers. Sometimes the behavior starts as an attention-seeking tactic. Receiving the desired attention reinforces the behavior, which makes it more likely your dog will repeat it. Some dogs respond to local irritation or inflammation by licking themselves incessantly, which can cause hairless, inflamed patches of skin, usually on the lower legs, and other types of self-trauma. Some dogs, especially those left alone for long periods of time, can develop these types of behavior because they are bored or anxious.

First, your veterinarian needs to do an examination to rule out a specific medical problem, such as allergies, skin parasites, etc. After a thorough investigation, if it is felt that the dog is suffering from a compulsive disorder, the most effective treatment would be a combination of an antidepressant medication with behavioral techniques such as behavior modification, distraction, and stress and boredom relief. Punishment does not work and may actually worsen the problem by further stressing you dog.

Although the compulsive disorder cannot be completely “cured,” it can be effectively controlled with appropriate treatment, which will reduce or eliminate the unwanted behavior. Patience and persistence are important. It may take weeks or even months to see significant results.

One comment

  • Antoinette Combs

    Cynthia Burski D.V.M,

    I was given your name via a friend in Antigua. We will be leaving Guatemala to live in Curitiba, Brazil in mid-June. We lived there in 2007-2008 before coming here and I remember how much paperwork it took to get our Shih Tzu from Beirut, Lebanon to Curitiba. I would like to find someone to help organize the paper work for Gizmo and your name was given to me. I work at Colegio Maya in Guat. City. I have your phone number but I was wondering if you have an email address. It is sometimes difficult to phone from the classroom.
    If you have an email and would be willing to help us get Gizmo to Brazil (we are more than willing to pay you) I would be grateful to hear from you via email.

    Thank you so much!
    Antoinette Combs
    Gr 4 Teacher
    Colegio Maya American International School

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