Canine Compulsive Disorder
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2015
N. Ogata, BVSc, PhD, DACVB
Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA

Clinical Signs and Breed Predisposition

Canine compulsive disorder such as tail chasing, flank sucking, and freezing are characterized by repetitive activity that seem to serve no apparent function and persist regardless of the environment. These behaviors are often derived from otherwise normal behaviors, like grooming and locomotion, so careful history taking and behavioral observation, are important following a medical rule-out.1

Any breed may develop a compulsive disorder; however, one study reported a strong correlation between articular breeds and types of compulsive disorders (Table 1), as well as familial morbidity. This suggests there are genetic influences underlying compulsive disorder manifestations. The same study showed that lack of training, lack of household stimulation, and social confinement does not appear to be associated with compulsive disorder.3

Table 1. Breed predisposition1


Type of compulsive disorder

Bull Terrier

Spinning, tail chasing, freezing

German Shepherd

Spinning, tail chasing, hallucination

Great Dane, German Shorthaired Pointer

Self-mutilation, stereotypic motor behavior or hallucination

Dalmatian, Rottweiler


Doberman Pinscher

Flank sucking

Border Collie

Staring at shadows

Australian Cattle Dog

Tail chasing

Miniature Schnauzer

Checking hind end

Shiba-Inu, Dachushund2

Tail chasing, self-mutilation

Large breed dogs

Acral lick granuloma

Differential Diagnoses1

 Displacement behavior

 Attention seeking behavior


 Central brain lesions

 Sensory neuropathies

 Infectious diseases

 Metabolic diseases

 Toxin exposure

 Dermatological disease


 Degenerative disease

Treatment Options

It is thought that compulsive disorder in canines can be a manifestation of anxiety or stress the dog cannot control4 and becomes pervasive in daily life after a period of time. Clinical case reports regarding canine compulsive disorder show treatment typically consists of a combination of environmental manipulation to reduce or remove initiatory stimuli and stressors, behavior modification to engage the dog in other behaviors, and pharmacological approaches.3-7 Although compulsive disorder cases identified early may be treatable without medication, most cases require psychotropic medication for improvement. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine or tricyclic anti-depressants (TCAs) such as clomipramine are commonly employed.3-7 These same medications are administered to treat obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) in humans. In addition to these serotoninergic medications, a new treatment that is a combination of fluoxetine with an NMDA receptor antagonist was also reported to be effective for canine refractory compulsive disorders.7 More recently biological evidence including genetic association, brain structural abnormalities in Doberman pinschers8,9, and elevated neuropeptides in Bull terriers10 suggests a link between canine compulsive disorder and human psychiatric disorders. Pharmacological treatments are not only beneficial for the patient but also for help in understanding the underlying neurochemical contribution to behavioral pathologies in both animals and humans.


1.  Horwitz DF, Neilson JC. Blackwell's Five-Minute Veterinary Consult Clinical Companion: Canine and Feline Behavior. Ames, IA: Blackwell; 2007:227–235.

2.  Goto A, Arata S, Kiyokawa Y, Takeuchi Y, Mori Y. Risk factors for canine tail chasing behavior in Japan. Vet J. 2012;192:445–448.

3.  Overall KL, Dunham AE. Clinical features and outcome in dogs and cats with obsessive-compulsive disorder: 126 cases (1989–2000). J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2002;221:1445–1452.

4.  Moon-Fanelli AA, Dodman NH. Description and development of compulsive tail chasing in terriers and response to clomipramine treatment. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1998;212:1252–1257.

5.  Hewson CJ, Luescher UA, Parent JM, Conlon PD, Ball RO. Efficacy of clomipramine in the treatment of canine compulsive disorder. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1998;213:1760–1766.

6.  Seksel K, Lindeman MJ. Use of clomipramine in treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder, separation anxiety and noise phobia in dogs: a preliminary, clinical study. Aust Vet J. 2001;79:252–256.

7.  Maurer BM, Dodman NH. Animal behavior case of the month. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2007;231:536–539.

8.  Dodman NH, Karlsson EK, Moon-Fanelli A, Galdzicka M, Perloski M, Shuster L, Kindblad-Toh K, Ginns EI. A canine chromosome 7 locus confers compulsive disorder susceptibility. Mol Psychiatry. 2010;15:8–10.

9.  Ogata N, Gills TN, Liu X, Cunningham SM, Lowen SB, Adams BL, Sutherland-Smith J, Mintzopoulos D, Janes AC, Dodman NH, Kaufman MJ. Brain structural abnormalities in Doberman Pinschers with canine compulsive disorder. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2013;45:1–6.

10. Tsilioni I, Dodman N, Petra AI, Taliou A, Francis K, Moon-Fanelli A, Shuster L, Theoharides TC. Elevated serum neurotensin and CRH levels in children with autistic spectrum disorders and tail-chasing Bull Terriers with a phenotype similar to autism. Transl Psychiatry. 2014;4:1–7.


Speaker Information
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N. Ogata, BVSc, PhD, DACVB
Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences
College of Veterinary Medicine
Purdue University
West Lafayette, IN, USA

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