Sunday, April 10, 2011

Notes from a conference Part 1: Compulsive Disorder Across the Species

Hi! I went to a conference in Rhode Island last weekend, organized by IAABC. I took lots of notes in a semi-disjointed style, writing down particularly intriguing points in my notebook. In the interest of purity, I will transcribe my notes here pretty much exactly as they are in my notebook, across a 4-post series spanning 6 conferences (I took more notes in some than in others; some talks were mostly geared towards professional animal trainers and thus I couldn't quite relate). Here is the first one:


Compulsive Disorder Across the Species

"Obsessive-compulsive disorder" was introduced as a term in 1992 by Judith Rapoport.

OCD cycle: obsession => anxiety => compulsion => relief => repeat

There can be a compulsion exhibited without an obsession present.

Pyromania and paraphilias are included in the OCD spectrum.

Compulsive behaviors were previously known as "stereotypies"– repetitive behavior that causes relief from displacement; exhibited by captive animals in suboptimal conditions. E.g. "weaving": the swaying that elephants and horses (among other ambulatory species) display in captivity.

Horses have reverse tolerance to morphine – they get more stimulated by it as time passes. Also, when stimulated by morphine, they start pacing in their stall (or digging, or 'cribbing'); when given a morphine blocker they stop. The morphine blocker works the same way with dogs' acral lick (overlicking certain areas - wrist, carpus, or back leg - to the point of baldness or bleeding [note: if this is presented elsewhere it's not acral lick, could be a skin issue]).

In dogs

Dogs with Acral Lick Disorder respond the same way as human OCD sufferers to anti-compulsive medications.

Some canine compulsive behaviors: fly snapping, flank or blanket suckling, light chasing, tail chasing.

Fly snapping is most common in spaniels, dobermans, Bernese mountain dogs, springer spaniels, labs, German shepherds, Norfolk & Norwich terriers. It consists of the dog snapping at imaginary flies and following them with their eyes.

Flank/blanket suckling, which consists of the dog suckling for a prolonged period on a blanket or on its own flank (the entirety of it; they wrap their mouth around their whole body if possible) is present in dobermans, weimaraners, and dachshunds – all German breeds. It's genetic, present on chromosome 7. Scientists are currently investigating whether this gene is present in people and other species with OCD.

Tail chasing: most present in bull terriers, is accompanied by staring at walls and seizures - is more similar to autism than OCD.

Light/shadow chasing: is triggered by a flashlight or laser pointer, but chasing behavior continues even after the trigger disappears. Most common in fox terriers, sheepdogs, schnauzers, rottweilers, golden retrievers, border collies. Deaf dogs are more prone to it.

Other canine compulsive behaviors: rock chewing, stick/ball playing (to the degree of being inseparable from the stick/ball), food bowl fetish, compulsive swimming, digging obsessive-compulsive behavior, "shopping" (arranging objects obsessively in sets or shapes).

Behavioral treatment:
  1. Identify and avoid overstimulation (remove conflict)
  2. Optimize management (consistent schedule, puzzle toys), get the dog a job
  3. More enrichment – dog needs a job! Agility, clicker training, hiking, herding. Accomodate to dog's breed.
Pharmacological treatment:
  • Floxetine: serotonine reupdate blocker
  • Namenda: glutamate blocker, currently marketed for Alzheimer's and works for OCD better than Prozac
In cats

Disorder takes form of:
  • Eating: wool sucking. Can also be acrylic or some other fabric, so long as the texture is similar, as this is a texture-specific disorder. Asian breeds are more prone to this.
  • Grooming to the point of baldness (this starts as displacement behavior and turns into compulsive habit if not curbed promptly), inside back & front legs and along sides. If present along spine, it might be eczema instead. Can be brought on by stress. More common in females, starts at an early age. It's not just constant licking; they also grab tufts of fur with their teeth and pull them off.
  • Grooming with aggression. Starts at 2 or 3 years of age; there is always a stressor/precipitator, usually Asian breeds. Prozac cures or helps a lot.
    • Type 1: pupils are dilated, skin ripples (twitching as if bothered by a fly), frenetic grooming along spine.
    • Type 2: includes tail as well as spine, and there is tail chasing.
    • Type 3: possible hallucinations – ducks to avoid invisible object, follows invisible things with eyes.
    • Type 4: any of the above leading to grand mal seizures.
Behavioral treatment: Alleviate stress, enrich environment, add challenges to distract the cat and keep it occupied.

In birds

Trichotillomania in birds is identical to humans': pluck, examine, nibble on bulb. This behavior responds to Prozac but with higher proportional doses than one would use for humans, because birds have higher metabolisms.

Etc & conclusion

Pigs are the best model for human OCD behavior. Personal note: this only further strengthens my opinion that pigs are uncannily creepy.

Horses can have Tourette's.

While pacing back and forth so much as to wear a trench into the ground is a very common OCD behavior in wild cats, observable in zoos where they don't have a rich enough environment, domestic cats do not exhibit this behavior.

Coprophagia is a learned behavior at first; puppies learn it when they watch their mother cleaning the nest by eating the puppies' feces. Most puppies grow out of it by age 1; those who don't are most likely obsessed and it has become a compulsive behavior.

Causes of OCD across species:
Genetic factors, type A personality (being a 'worrier'), suboptimally stimulating environments, stress.


I hope you found this readable/interesting. Leave comments, I love comments! Next post will be on the psychological aspects of abuse and neglect, and is probably going to be pretty depressing, so between then and now I will put up some photos of the other two bats I just finished, to mitigate the effect.


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